Joburg council drama dents national cooperation flirtations — and heralds post-2024 deal-making
Coalition-making and breaking as it unfolded in South Africa’s economic heartland, Johannesburg, spells out a post-2024 future, with no-confidence motions the tool to clinch power that proved elusive at the hustings.
The ANC, which for a second consecutive time lost Johannesburg in a municipal election in November 2021 when it garnered just 33.6% of the votes, must be smiling at the prospect of a potential return to power in the city, with other parties doing the heavy lifting.
That’s the elegance of what unfolded in the no-confidence motion that ousted DA Johannesburg council Speaker Vasco da Gama in a tight vote of 136 for and 132 against. Key were the votes from within the so-called multiparty government that went against supporting one of their own.
Cope councillor Colleen Makhubele, two of the three African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) councillors and one of the seven IFP councillors failed to toe the party line, throwing their lot in with the ANC, EFF and other parties like the United Democratic Movement (UDM), African Transformation Movement (ATM) and Al Jama-ah.
At Monday’s briefing by these self-described “minority parties”, the talk was of not being “voting cows”, but “voting according to conscience” — Makhubele used strong political language of “cheap black votes” and “bullying” — to explain their support of that Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) no-confidence motion. At the televised briefing it also emerged that Al Jama-ah would sponsor a no-confidence vote in DA Mayor Mpho Phalatse. It may happen as soon as the council meeting at the end of September.
Officially, the ANC had nothing to do with anything — yet it would be the key beneficiary.
Meanwhile, the ACDP has instituted disciplinary proceedings, Cope is investigating, and the IFP said it’ll take a decision after its national council — which already has a report — hears from its councillor.
While claims of ANC bribery have been dismissed, the background deals must still emerge. But what happened fits right into the ANC 2017 Nasrec resolution on consolidating political power that talks of emphasising ANC programmes’ superiority and of “exposing the divisions and moral bankruptcy of the opposition”.
Remaining the “strategic centre of power” is key, according to this resolution.
“Where the outcome of an election does not give the ANC an outright majority, it must consider entering into strategic governance partnerships or other forms of coalition arrangements in order to gain access to state power.”
Unless the December 2022 ANC elective conferences changes this resolution, it stands — and it will direct the shaping of South Africa’s post-2024 body politic.
In this context, it’s political hypocrisy to allow talk of a vote of conscience by the four Johannesburg councillors from Cope, the ACDP and IFP that within the ANC itself is meaningless and politically self-limiting.
Ahead of the August 2017 motion of no confidence against the then president, Jacob Zuma, talk of a vote of conscience by Makhosi Khoza, then an ANC MP, got her slapped with disciplinary proceedings by her KwaZulu-Natal structures.
And the ANC bigwigs — they arrived in Parliament talking about how this constitutional no-confidence vote was tantamount to regime change and an opposition coup d’état — were intent on identifying the 40 or so ANC MPs who had supported the opposition motion that was defeated by a narrow margin of 198 against and 177 for. That was canned only when it became clear ANC MPs were not volunteering to come forward — and thus remained protected by the secret ballot.
It is no small measure of political irony that the DA, which brought the most no-confidence motions against Zuma, is getting a taste of its own medicine in Johannesburg’s multiparty governance.
But it’s in line with ANC strategy and tactics. The 2017 Nasrec resolution cannot be separated from coalition deals that emerged as an urgent discussion point at the earlier July policy conference. Less than a year before that, the ANC had lost Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros and other towns in a devastating slippage of eight percentage points in the 2016 municipal elections.
The ANC held on to Ekurhuleni through an agreement with the African Independent Congress (AIC) — later it repeatedly complained how the ANC was ignoring its coalition demand for the return of Matatiele to KwaZulu-Natal — and also in towns like Rustenburg, where a community group was persuaded to switch side with a deputy mayorship.
What happened this month in Johannesburg — and that pending potential no-confidence vote against the DA mayor — fits right into such ANC strategy and tactics.
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As do the various pushes to regain and retain power in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro since 2016. Or in eThekwini, where the ANC got to be in charge despite only polling 42.14%, courtesy of a coalition with a bloc of 17 parties led by the Abantu Batho Congress, whose leader, Philani Mavundla, got to be deputy mayor.
Nothing right now suggests a change in ANC strategy and tactics should the local government losses of support — the ANC dipped to 45.59% in the 2021 municipal poll — also play out in provinces and nationally in the 2024 elections.
While early polling seems to indicate the ANC is not assured of majorities in 2024 it’s really too early to tell — factors like voter turnout and opposition appeal remain unpredictable. And it cannot be discounted how, traditionally, the ANC in times of trouble has come together to pull a rabbit out of a hat. The year 2024 may just see such a move, again.
Given past polling, the ANC would be set for control of South Africa’s traditional rural provinces like Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, where it has polled consistently in the high 60 and low 70 percentages, according to Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) result tables.
The Northern Cape and North West also fit into this electoral pattern, albeit with support polling in the low sixty percentages, as does Free State, although the impact of the home-grown secretary-general Ace Magashule’s continued suspension and criminal trial may be a dampening factor.
The DA-controlled Western Cape is unlikely to see a successful challenge.
The tricky provinces for the ANC will be KwaZulu-Natal, where its electoral fortunes have waned after the Zuma years — in May 2019, the ANC polled 54.2%, down from 64.5% in 2014 and 62.9% in 2009 — and Gauteng, where the ANC already in 2016 lost control of the province’s three metros, and did not stem the electoral slide in the 2019 elections.
This comes as some of the municipal opposition coalition agreements have cooperation at national level, although it’s not that straightforward. In Parliament, the DA, Freedom Front Plus and ACDP more often than not are on the same page alongside the IFP, which seems to keep an eye on KwaZulu-Natal dynamics. Frequently, this also includes the EFF and UDM, but not always, as both often join forces with the ATM as, for example, in the Section 194 inquiry to impeach the now suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Political cooperation and control interventions have been controversial in South Africa and have mostly benefited the ANC.
From 2002 to 2008, floor crossing facilitated a break-up of the DA in a political deal reached between the then senior ANC leaders, Steve Tshwete and Mosiuoa Lekota, and New National Party (NNP) leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who wanted to leave the alliance.
It was through this that the ANC clinched control of the Western Cape in 2003, and gained a two-thirds parliamentary majority when not only NNP members joined, but also 14 MPs from the UDM, which, left with only four MPs, never really recovered. Ultimately in 2004, the NNP that left the DA merged into the ANC.
Floor crossing, legislated for a specified 15-day window once a year, triggered governance and political instability. Following the ANC 2007 Polokwane resolution — which talked of the “unforeseen consequences” of implementation and that “the political terrain which necessitated floor crossing has changed” — it was abolished in January 2009.
This period, however, has taught lessons about what may be possible to consolidate power and control beyond the ballot box.
It can work both ways, for opposition parties and the ANC. But the Johannesburg developments have shown a measure of political sophistication as the self-proclaimed minority parties, amid service delivery rhetoric, took steps that could ultimately benefit the ANC.
What happened in the Johannesburg council has crystallised the stakes of post-2024 deal-making. DM