South Africa


Whose city is it anyway? Power-grabbing coalitions are killing local politics and our future

Whose city is it anyway? Power-grabbing coalitions are killing local politics and our future
Thapelo Amad of Al Jama-ah. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

On Friday, the Joburg City Council elected Thapelo Amad into the top political position in the city, a man the ANC in Joburg described as a ‘transitional mayor’. It is clear that this is a stopgap measure, and that the real action involves negotiations between the ANC and the EFF. While this may provide short-term gains for those involved, the people of Joburg have nothing to gain.

Any moves by any of the players towards coalitions will involve serious long-term risks and it seems that there is not much strategic thinking involved. Voters are watching these political parties more closely than ever, in the lead-up to the highly contested elections of 2024. If there ever was any principle, the remnants of it have flown out of the window.

On Thursday evening, following the removal of the DA’s Mpho Phalatse as mayor of Joburg, the ANC in the city released a statement. It confirmed that it would support Thapelo Amad, who would serve as the “Transitional Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg”.

As Amad’s party, Al Jama-ah, has just three seats in the council, this is certainly a well-informed description.

Amad claimed on Friday after his election that residents would be able to see “a difference” in just 100 days.

Considering the appalling state of the city, two questions emerge.

The first is, could anybody make a difference in just 100 days? The services are so bad, the roads so poor, the traffic lights so broken, the electricity infrastructure so damaged, to list just a few, that that seems impossible.

The second is, will Amad still be mayor 100 days from now? When someone’s appointment is described as “transitional”, it’s obvious they are the midpoint of a change, from one appointment to another.

To its credit, the ANC in Joburg has been transparent. Its regional chair, Dada Morero, confirmed on Friday morning that Amad had been selected because he was acceptable both to them and the EFF, as part of their ongoing negotiations. He confirmed that the two bigger parties were still discussing some form of coalition agreement.

Earlier, on Thursday morning, both the ANC and the EFF failed to arrive for an eThekwini council meeting to elect a new deputy mayor, meaning it could not go ahead. This is likely to have been planned, a sign that the two parties were not yet ready to vote because they had not reached an agreement.

Meanwhile, in Ekurhuleni, where the EFF is still adamant that it wants the mayoralty there, a council meeting on Thursday afternoon was cut short after the Speaker refused to hold a vote. This led to EFF members surrounding him and appearing to push him.

Then, on Sunday morning, it emerged that EFF leader Julius Malema had told all of his members who were deputy mayors in councils controlled by the IFP to resign. It appears this was in response to the IFP’s failure to vote for Amad in Joburg. In other words, the EFF is now removing the IFP from power in up to 13 municipalities.

This is a stark example of how powerless residents are in these situations. Because of events in other places, the party, or person, who governs them could now get the chop.

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The fragility of the entire system

Thirteen councils in KZN could now change hands because of events in Joburg. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened, but it still underscores how fragile the entire system is. 

The new Joburg mayor does not have a strong constituency and will have to do the bidding of other parties, not the people who elected him. This is exactly what happened in Nelson Mandela Bay after 2016, where the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani was kept in power as mayor by the ANC, while his party was a minuscule minority.

Meanwhile, there is the relationship which, for the moment, is underpinning all of this: that between the ANC and the EFF.

While they may be getting closer towards some agreement, there are still complicated issues to sort out.

It was Herman Mashaba who claimed that after the 2021 local elections, he convinced the EFF to vote for DA speakers and mayors in Joburg and Ekurhuleni. That was not long ago. So, what has changed since then that would now allow the ANC to work with the EFF?

Also, it was as recently as 2022 that talks in Joburg and Ekurhuleni between the ANC and EFF failed to reach an agreement. While negotiations are generally meant to make progress, it is hard to understand what has changed since those negotiations and now.

There are other problems to consider.

If Malema is prepared to deal with the ANC, how far will he go? While these negotiations around various metros are under way, just this weekend he claimed that the ANC was “on a path to completely destroy South Africa” through load shedding.

A few weeks ago the EFF lodged its own court application to force Parliament to change its decision not to proceed with an investigation into the Phala Phala farm robbery scandal.

If the EFF were to do a deal with the ANC, what would happen in Parliament? Would it really be able to serve in a coalition with the ANC while continuing to attack the ruling party, particularly President Cyril Ramaphosa?

At the same time, Ramaphosa now appears stronger in the ANC than ever before, with the list of people elected to serve on the National Working Committee confirming that. (Ramaphosa was also in charge of the process that ultimately expelled Malema from the ANC.)

It is unlikely that the ANC would take a decision to work with a party against the wishes of its leader. And would Ramaphosa really sign off on it?

Then there’s the electoral politics of the 2024 elections, which are now galloping towards us.

When the DA lost support in Gauteng in the 2019 elections, one of the reasons put forward for this was that some voters believed its Joburg mayor at the time, Herman Mashaba, had been too close to the EFF. This suggests that parties have to be very careful of who they are seen working with.

Thus, it is entirely possible that both the ANC and the EFF could lose support through working together.

For the ANC, it is likely that among its more reliable voters are older people, perhaps many who live in rural areas. They are unlikely to be pleased by the approach of the EFF.

Complete and utter change

Meanwhile, many of the EFF’s voters are younger people who want complete and utter change in South Africa. The EFF claims to be a revolutionary party, dedicated to uprooting the status quo. It is hard to see how it could continue to claim that while working with the governing party it has railed against for so many years — both parties may need to consider their next steps very carefully. While there may be a short-term gain in some metros, there is also a lot to lose.

This leads to a bigger question: Where is the principle in all of this? The answer is obvious.

There is none.

The ANC claims to be trying to govern better but will negotiate with a party that wants to overthrow the government. The EFF wants to overthrow the government but now gives the impression of being perfectly happy to work with the party in control of that government.

The voters may simply ignore them both, and voter turnout could be lowered again.

Next year’s elections may also explain some of the DA’s decisions in the last few weeks.

While many have blamed it for the collapse of the coalition in Joburg, the DA has said that it could no longer work with Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance. It says the PA had left the coalition, then asked to return and to be given more seats than it had had before on the metro’s mayoral committee.

For many, this is an intolerable sign of betrayal.

What undermines this argument is that the PA claims the DA was offering deals up until the last minute, and the fact that the DA went into a coalition with the PA in the first place. The PA has been explicit in its approach, saying many times it will go to whoever gives it the most.

This makes it difficult to work with them in the longer term, as there will always be someone more desperate for power.

However, the DA may now be trying to focus more on the long term, and be more aware of the dangers of short-term decisions when it comes to national and provincial elections.

As always in our politics, it is difficult to predict the future. But for both the ANC and the EFF, to sign a deal with the other may be a difficult Rubicon to cross.

And while those wishing for stability may believe it’s currently the only option, it could lead to more instability. The two parties’ relationship has always been incredibly difficult and is likely to remain so.

In the meantime, life in our councils and metros is unlikely to improve. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pet Bug says:

    It’s obvious: vote for DA and have hope for a better place.

  • Derek Silberblatt says:

    Regardless of the various parties involved in these coalitions, politics and politicians are all about power and greed, they’re not concerned about the efficient running of the various councils and metros or the people they represent.

    • Paul Zille says:

      The neanderthal perspective. Google comparative service delivery indicators etc for Western Cape and CT vs provinces and cities where the DA doesn’t govern.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      That does not apply to the DA. Check these … Cape Town. uMgeni. Midrand. Western Cape. +++

      Cape Towns suburb Pinelands is next door to Langa, one “White”, one “Black”. Their sewerage system is the same one. There have been problems in the past, got fixed. The DA led Cape Town words for us all! Now the problems are all caused by the ANC’s rolling blackouts.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Change the last sentence to “In the meantime, life in our councils and metros will get worse.” The current situation shows two things. 1. Neither the ANC nor the EFF cares anything for the people of the metros. 2. The EFF is really nothing more than another ANC faction, and we have seen before how ANC factionalism is destroying South Africa

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    The situation in Johannesburg is indeed depressing, and gives little hope that the crises in the city will be addressed. Yesterday much of the city was without water, on top of load shedding. Meanwhile, as the city is rapidly crumbling, the politicians are focused on having power, at the expense of the city and residents. At local government level, it seems better to have a system where there are not parties contesting, residents vote for the mayor and their ward representative. Then there is not instability created by party shenanigans, and the focus is on addressing the local issues. Things certainly do not bode well for 2024, if parties who one minute say that they are vehemently opposed to the ANC and want them out of power then are quite willing to go into coalitions with them when there is the potential for positions. A coalition of the ANC and EFF would be absolutely disastrous. The DA may also be perceived by many in metros as not having indicated an ability to govern effectively and address the critical issues. There certainly are people in Johannesburg who say they have not seen any progress, and perhaps this will harm the DA in the national elections in Gauteng.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    It’s all about who feeds at the trough and how much can be eaten, Stephen, and not one shred of policy and principle. Viva, ANC, Viva.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Again our politicians are showing that their actions reflect the wishes of the party, not the electorate. This flaw in our constitutional process insulates the politicians from those who chose them and shows that the electorate are nothing more than a flock of sheep who bleat once every four years while the shepherds fight over grazing land

  • Derek Jones says:

    Too many pigs in the same trough.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    If the DA would be able to get a responsible and credible black person to lead the party nationally, its chances would increase exponentially to be accepted by many more voters across racial divides. But has Madame Zille the foresight to go this route?

    • Willem Boshoff says:

      In all fairness, HZ has not gotten the credit due to her for predicting the failure of coalitions in South Africa’s my-turn-to-eat politics. Her foresight around the evils of cadre deployment and dark side of identity politics are also well justified by now, even if she was ridiculed at the time. I really hope she knows what she’s doing with the DA’s current leadership configuration.

    • Paul Zille says:

      As the DA has learned, to its considerable cost, this should be a marginal concern in the choice of its leadership – at any level. The ‘credible black leader’ strategy backfired spectacularly whenever it was deployed – remember Lindiwe, Mamphele, Mmusi – and the DA should never fall for that ruse again. Competence has to trump race every time – in this and every other aspect of the DA’s and the country’s operation. We ought to have learned this by now. Not much runway left.

  • Paul Botha says:

    We really need to change the electoral system to enable us to vote in who we think would run our Metros best. That way all of these useless coalitions would fall away and we would get progress and services.

    • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

      How do we do that?

      • Warren Wilbraham says:

        Vote directly for the Mayor and not a Party. De Gaulle changed the French election process after an assassination attempt. You may have run-off elections but it’s infinitely preferable to this fiasco.

    • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

      How do we change the electoral system? This current one is messy to say the least.

    • Carsten Rasch says:

      That’s the jackpot question. Only those in power can make those changes, and since any important change will limit the options of the parties, they can be counted on to maintain the status quo.

    • Johan Buys says:

      So one system that might work: when registering for any election, party A must nominate legally binding their coalition vote nominee. Nominee kicks in if A gets less than 5% or 10%. If their first nominee also does not get 5/10 % then A and B votes are grouped with B’s first nominee. Then, when people choose to vote for ONS = Obscure No Sense, they legally bind their vote to a coalition path. No gap for the number one ONS cadre to flip for whomever offers the most Smarties.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    In the meanwhile Chaos reigns
    In Ekurhuleni large areas have not had power since Saturday, for the second time this month . Refuse is not collected
    Cables are stolen in front of a police station, cops watch
    It is not the short lived mayor who is at fault, but the Official Cadres who run departments and are sabotaging stuff to make things look bad
    Meanwhile the political Hyena’s, are scrapping it out to get the snouts back in the trough.
    I do not know the answer.

  • Marco Savio Savio says:

    It is a disgrace that seasoned politicians play games with their citizens desperate need for stability and all the benefits that come with running a country efficiently. It is a disgrace that the citizens keep voting for these self same politicians believing their promises of a better life going forward. Until both are prepared to make meaningful changes, the citizens will receive precise what is promised – nothing better.

  • William Kelly says:

    Remind me why we pay rates and taxes again? Surely there is a legal challenge to be made to with hold payments for services not being renderded?

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    Almost all of the small parties are built around single egocentric personalities. Parties like the EFF, UDM, COPE, PA, ACTIONSA, GOOD, etc all exist because of the egos of their leaders who were unable to function as team players within a larger party. There is therefore good reason to distrust all of them in coalitions. Some of the smaller parties such as the FF+, ACDP and IFP have fairly distinctive ideologies and are less leader-centric. They tend to make better coalition partners.

    Though Stephen is correct when he points to residents being powerless in the current situation, ultimately they are not powerless. They get the government they deserve. Voters have to stop supporting egocentric leader-centric small parties. Ideally, the constitution should be changed to constrain the influence of small parties within governmental structures, but I do not see this happening in the near future.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    And again the purpose is to get their fingers in the till

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Our electoral politics, and much else, is becoming the ‘laughingstock’ of the world.
    Can we not press for an electoral system where a specified minimum level of electoral support is necessary to partake in government, including through coalitions. Also I understand that in some parts of the world candidates for posts such as the ‘Mayor’ are chosen by a citizen’s vote. Whereas in many countries people stand for public office only after they are mature and have made their money or mark in life, our politicians regard political posts as a way to make money.

  • jeyezed says:

    The DA is focused on principle and serving the people. The other parties are focused on positions and serving themselves.

  • Gillian Dusterwald says:

    What is the point of being in a democracy when even the majority vote doesn’t count? It will be interesting to see what voter turnout is next year..

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The problem is actually that political parties contest the municipal elections. It would serve the people much better if we voted for individuals, not parties. That way, the winner doesn’t take all. It’s our broken system that allows this to happen, and since change away from this can only come from the parties presently in power, can we depend on them to make changes against their interest? Of course not. Snookered…

  • Steve Rogers says:

    It’s quite disgusting how these politicians are playing games of greed without any consideration for the voters who put them there. Our political system is broken with no viable option to replace it. We remain irrelevant to politicians.

    What happens if no-one votes for any of these people?

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      We become like Tunisia where one person (usually male !) like Saied Kais (not unlike Putin) decides on everything with a 11% electoral turn out ! In Putin’s case he usually gets 90+ % of the votes because no one lese is allowed to stand for election … and if they do they get Novichoked or die mysteriously … or end up in prison/gulag!

  • Berthold Alheit says:

    This spells out is the desperate situation in which SA finds itself. It is not even subtle. All that is important is to politicians is to control departments where there are the best opportunities for stealing. There is no hope for getting rid of corruption in SA, as confirmed by the despicable way in which the ANC handles whistle blowers.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Maybe the DA (and also ActionSA) should stop playing populist politics and face the reality in SA at all levels. The reality, as shown by the fact that when ex-ANC supporters stop voting for the ANC most of them just simply stay away rather than voting for any of these opposition parties, is that the ANC will have to be part of governance in SA, at least on the medium term. Now I know what the argument AGAINST working with the ANC is – they are corrupt and we don’t want to compromise with corruption and we also don’t want to be seen working with the corrupt guys, is the argument. And there is nothing wrong with that. But there are many people in the ANC that are not corrupt and somebody needs to get onto their side to get rid of the corruption. Nothing prevents the DA and ActionSA from trying to involve themselves into a coalition with the ANC ON CONDITION that none of cadre deployment, so-called “political positions” in municipalities and public administration, ward management (as opposed to service unit management), or any other corrupt practice will be part of the coalition. And if you really are serious with that, you may be surprised how many of the ANC leaders will be willing to work with you on that basis – many, many of the ANC people are as fed-up with the corrupt guys of the RET faction as you are. But they are on their own while the RET faction is being supported by the EFF, ATM, sometimes the PA and UDM, Putin and Russia and even maybe the Chinese.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . At the moment the corrupt guys inside the ANC have a lot of support that comes from outside the ANC; we can mention the EFF, the ATM, sometimes the PA and UDM, and they get support and probably funding from Putin’s government too. But those in the ANC, of which there are many, in fact indications are that they are in the majority in the ANC, who wants to get rid of the corruption in the ANC, are on their own; the national DA even supported the RET faction against the honest part of the ANC, and its keeps cosying up to the EFF and Malema although everyone knows that the EFF is corrupt to the core. For us to change SA around we have to realise that it can’t be done without those who are against corruption joining forces. That means that the DA, ActionSA, the VF+. the IFP and other moderate parties must stop playing party politics and start to tell the truth to their voters, namely that the problem is corruption and we have to oppose it ACROSS PARTY LINES.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . It is easy politics for the DA and others to win votes by bashing the ANC as a whole; it is not so easy to square up to the reality that at the moment the refusal of these parties to give support to those in the ANC who are right-minded are driving SA straight into an evil coalition between all these corrupt forces in 2024. Do you really want to live with the consequences of that? Is one Zimbabwe not enough for you; do you really want SA to also go that way? Fact is that those in the ANC who stay away from the elections are still supporting those in the ANC that are NOT corrupt and if you want to get credibility in their eyes you will have to show that you are appreciative of that. To play party politics just to get more support for yourself is not going to save SA; for the forces of good to up with each other is. Eventually, once the ANC is gone, they will then be willing to support you; but if you don’t, they will rather just vote for another ANC splinter in the hope of getting onto the honest part of the ANC, while that splinter will undoubtedly also have some of the ANC baggage coming with them, as the formation of COPE so clearly showed.

  • Craig Cauvin says:

    You get what you vote for….. don’t cry about it now.

    Nero fiddles, Rome burns……..

  • Riel Meynhardt says:

    Thieves in Suits – slowly but surely moving our wonderful country to their Utopian Vision of De-Colonization. Then we can all walk to the river to get water and dig a hole in the veld when nature calls. This can only be reversed when all people start voting for political parties who have shown that they can govern honestly and get the work done that is needed to make infrastructural systems function. Voting for the “Liberators” will only liberate people from electricity, roads, running water etc.

  • Johan Buys says:

    He said JHB will see a difference in 100 days – he did not specify that it would be a positive difference.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The fact that we have very unstable coalitions is not an accident but part of the political development of the country that has experienced a hegemonic kleptocracy for almost three decades with very poor service delivery and without a vision for the cities and our country. The failure of the opposition to capture the imagination of the electorate in particular the youth, the poor and even the middle class points to the crisis of leadership in the country. In a true democracy you will not have ex – convicts occupying a centre stage of the political landscape but this is South Africa anything is possible as Jacob Zuma became a President also. The whole zoo will come out and claim a stake in leadership. However, whilst one understands that the crisis the city and the country is facing cannot afford certain luxuries, the reality is that the crisis did not suddenly emerge. It has been in the making as ANC turned to BEE to extract value from the SOEs a deliberate policy and leaving a trail of destruction. It has done so in the Metros. The energy crisis was a result o extractive BEE in the name of transformation for a very tiny minority. That goes for Transnet, PRASA and other SOEs coupled with rank incompetence.
    One believes this situation as part of development with costs will enable the country to navigate future coalitions and the zero sum games will be a thing of the past. The DA is correct on ethics and anti – corruption values but not all its values are shared.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    The DA are the obvious choice but unfortunately, only for the white community and the more educated black community. I think that the unenlightened masses feel that it is almost treachery to vote against the ANC or more recently the EFF as well. The stigma of the DA being a “white” party is firmly entrenched and it will be very difficult to change that mindset.

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