The future of politics in South Africa shifts after coalition window closes with seismic changes at metro level
The decision by the EFF to vote for the DA mayoral candidates in Joburg and Ekurhuleni may well lead to seismic changes in our politics. It may mark the end of the EFF and the ANC of Ramaphosa ever forming any kind of coalition. It could also be a final shift in the nature of our politics, where decisions are made solely for short-term gain, and sometimes to cause chaos.
That said, there are still many questions to answer about how the next few months will play out. Key to this will be the decisions made by the DA, and how it will operate in these councils. This may depend on if and how they form coalitions. Meanwhile, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema may believe he has shown how useful, and powerful, a small fraction of support can be in important metros.
The first indication of the seismic events of this week, the election of the DA’s Raymond Dlamini as Speaker of Ekurhuleni, must have sent shockwaves through the political establishment, and particularly Luthuli House. The electoral maths of that council showed this could only have happened with councillors from the EFF and Action SA joining to vote for the DA.
And so it proved, in the end, the DA’s mayoral candidates for both Joburg and Ekurhuleni were duly elected, with the support of both ActionSA and the EFF.
On Tuesday, the ANC did not put up any candidate to oppose the DA candidates, thus denying the EFF what would have been perceived as a clean sweep of political spectaculars.
On Tuesday morning, ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba told SAfm that it had been his idea, that he had gone to the EFF leadership and suggested that they vote together for the DA candidates.
Mashaba has been consistent in his claim that his main mission in politics is to remove the ANC from power wherever and whenever he can. He says this action is consistent with that.
But it also leads to questions about his behaviour.
Before Monday afternoon’s voting, he had spent several days lamenting the way he had been treated by the DA, claiming it had betrayed him. And here he was, claiming credit for the election of the DA’s mayors in two metros.
The Chair of the DA’s Federal Council, Helen Zille, was then asked if she believed Mashaba. She said that she would like to see corroboration of his claim. She also said that she was very “sober” about the results.
In other words, she could see it for what it was, there was no gesture of support for the DA here, it was all about damaging the ANC, and removing them from power where possible.
One of the more important issues, especially with the longer-term implications, is how this may change the nature of our politics.
As Professor Steven Friedman suggested on Tuesday morning, there has been a new level of almost deceit in our politics. He said that it now appeared that political parties would say something in public about who they would work with, and then not feel beholden to that in any way.
In other words, there has been the introduction of a new level of lying in our politics, which is likely to feed upon itself.
As Friedman put it: “You may find at the end of this that the only party in the entire country which made a public agreement and kept its word, is one which is led by a man who served time for crime.” This was a reference to the Patriotic Alliance, which appears to have stuck to its promises to support the ANC.
And, in bitter irony, it has lost some of what it hoped to gain by doing this.
If it is the case that there is a new level of deceit in our politics, it will make forming any kind of coalition harder in the longer term. As it is possible that both national government and provincial governments will need coalitions to be formed in just three years’ time, this could be a very significant development.
If parties cannot trust each other it may mean prolonged periods of no governance at all, with no proper direction for the country, or for provinces.
It could all be worse than Nelson Mandela Bay.
There are other longer-term implications, too.
Before Monday’s vote the ANC’s Mayoral candidate for Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, had been widely viewed as sharing the political aims of Malema. He once tweeted that he preferred the economic policies of the EFF to his own party, for which he was publicly rebuked by Luthuli House.
Now, he has been cast aside by Malema, who has instead ordered his councillors to vote for the DA, a party that holds very different beliefs to Malema and Masina.
While Malema tweeted on Tuesday that it was “nothing personal”, and that he was sending Masina strength “my brother”, Masina may see it differently.
It may also be that another impact of Malema’s decision here is that it becomes virtually impossible for him to ever form a coalition with the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa.
It may now be that the presumed first choice coalition partner for the ANC is simply no longer the EFF. Which could be a momentous change in itself.
For Malema, there are other questions here too.
Is it really the case that he decided to do this just because Mashaba suggested it? If so, it may mean that Mashaba and Malema are much closer than previously assumed, that the DA was not wrong to claim that Mashaba was “EFF’s mayor” when he was “their” mayor in Joburg.
But perhaps more important for the long-term future of the EFF, is what do those who voted for the party think of this move?
Before Monday there was a significant risk that Malema was going to end this election weaker than in the previous local elections five years ago. That he would have perhaps some small influence in one or two rural councils (the EFF has elected its first mayor, leading a coalition in Metsimaholo in the Free State), but nothing in the metros. This would be a sign that his party is going backwards.
It may be hard for him to now sell to his supporters that he supported the DA. This could be claimed, by his critics, to be another sign that he is a flip-flopper, that he cannot be trusted and changes his tune at the drop of a hat.
This may cost him support in what could be our most important elections yet, in 2024.
Within all of this are the decisions that will now be made in the short term, by the party which appears to have won the most from all of this: the DA.
The first question it faces is whether it will form coalitions in the metros where it now has mayors. The party’s national leadership has already indicated that it will, and that it will make generous offers to smaller parties. This may well be enough to keep in power for some time in some councils.
But at some point, it may need the support of either every single smaller party, or the ANC or the EFF, to pass budgets. If it fails to do this it could lose the metro.
There are many ways this could end, the other parties could combine to simply vote the DA out, at a moment convenient to them. Particularly if our politics has sunk to new levels of deceit.
But it could also be the case that the DA treats this as a life line, and works incredibly hard at forming durable coalitions.
It is even possible that if relations between the ANC and the EFF have now fallen to a new low, that the ANC feels it can support the DA on some occasions (there is some slight precedent for this, at the start of the pandemic the DA voted with the ANC on Joburg’s budget). The ANC’s Gauteng Provincial Secretary, Jacob Khawe, told Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday afternoon that such a decision would depend on the “material conditions” of the moment, if such a situation occurred.
There is one last point to consider about our politics, a point which may go a long way towards improving it.
Friedman also suggests that one of the reasons this kind of situation can happen is because councillors are allowed to vote for positions in council by secret ballot. Thus there is nothing to tie them to their voters. Voters do not know what they did. His point must be correct. Councillors are elected, they are not voting for themselves, they are voting for people who voted for them.
Thus, as is the case here, there is nothing to stop them from betraying their constituencies. As the EFF has arguably done here.
Of course, it may be difficult to get such a change through Parliament at the moment, because it would require agreement. But it may be an important change to make which could make our politics more honest.
It is clear that going forward, honesty in our politics may soon be in short supply. DM
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