South Africa


Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA learns the hard way it is all about structure

Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA learns the hard way it is all about structure
ActionSA Gauteng chairperson Bongani Baloyi has resigned. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

The resignation of the party’s Gauteng chairperson demonstrates the problems it is having in creating durable systems.

ActionSA likes to portray itself as a party with an important future, a party that is on a mission, as its leader so often describes, to “remove the ANC from power”. This is unlikely to be easy. 

The resignation of its Gauteng chairperson, Bongani Baloyi, demonstrates the problems it is having in creating durable structures. Like other smaller parties, it is also attracting people with personal agendas, rather than any discernible ideology.

On Monday afternoon, Baloyi explained why he was leaving ActionSA. In his version, it was all about the frustration he was having with managing the party structures. He said you could not have a party without structure and discipline, which were both lacking. He also complained that, in some cases, ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba was overshadowing the entire Gauteng machinery.

Baloyi also said he had been told that Mashaba had trust issues with him, and wanted him to resign as Gauteng chairperson, but was prepared to trust him as a national spokesperson.

To sum it up, per Baloyi’s version, it is all about his relationship with Mashaba, and about how the party is actually being run.

But it may also be about strategy, and the fact that Mashaba has said many times that he formed his party to remove the ANC from power but others believe the party should work with the ANC.

That small fact is hugely damaging for ActionSA. Baloyi was seen as a star hire by ActionSA, and part of what appears to be a policy to attract black leaders away from the DA. His history as a mayor of Midvaal, and what many presumed to be his future as a national leader, suggested that he would be important to the party. 

But this is also occurring in a context where there are clearly problems in Tshwane for ActionSA.

Some of these were overshadowed by last week’s events surrounding Cope’s former councillor, Murunwa Makwarela. Never before have we had a mayor removed for being a “rehabilitated” insolvent. And his actions, in submitting what must be a fraudulent document as “proof” that he had been rehabilitated were probably criminal.

But earlier in the week something perhaps even stranger had occurred.

On Monday, 6 March, a group of EFF councillors burst into the ActionSA offices in Tshwane and disrupted a series of lie detector tests. The tests were being conducted by ActionSA’s bosses to find out which of their councillors voted for Makwarela instead of the DA’s candidate.

ActionSA alleges the EFF members stole their polygraph machines.

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While this may appear to be just another incident in which the EFF used some form of forceful disruption to get its way, there could be another motive. It seems likely that if ActionSA councillors did vote against their instructions (the vote was very close; mathematically it should have gone the way of ActionSA and the DA, and was by secret ballot), then the EFF was trying to protect them.

Then a week later, on Tuesday, EFF councillors disrupted a council meeting, demanding that DA and EFF councillors be “protected” from polygraph tests.

All of this suggests there may be a relationship between some ActionSA councillors and the EFF.

This comes against the backdrop of a series of events involving ActionSA in Tshwane, where members of the caucus were accused of bullying.

Last week it emerged that an ActionSA councillor Nkele Molapo was being expelled for passing on party information to her husband. He happened to be Abel Tau, who was expelled from the party late last year, and started his own organisation. Molapo is not the only person in the party to be married to a member of another party: the party’s Brutus Malada is married to former Johannesburg mayor, the DA’s Mpho Phalatse.

Molapo now says that she will go to court to challenge the decision to expel her.

Put all of this together and it suggests that ActionSA has very real problems with structure. If Baloyi was frustrated, he may not be the only person, and others could well follow his route to the exit.

At the same time, this may also be about Mashaba’s personal leadership style. As has been noted many times, there is a significant difference between the skills needed to run a business and those needed to manage a political party.

The first requires initiative and direct personal action, politics requires consultation and taking people with you. While there are some people who have all of these skills, there are many who possess only one of these skill sets.

It could be that his own style is making it difficult to create structure, and to grow leaders in the party.

It is probably worth repeating that in our democratic history only two parties have been able to do this successfully: the ANC and the DA. While the EFF is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it has never had a contested leadership election, and the IFP has changed its party leader precisely once in its 47 years of existence.

As Baloyi clearly revealed his frustrations at his press conference yesterday, he also showed admirable maturity. While being honest about his position, he said that people who left a party should not immediately try to damage it.

But one of the problems parties such as ActionSA, and to a greater extent Cope, have is the fact they may well attract people with few morals.

Makwarela is an obvious example. This was a person who took an oath of office knowing that he was not qualified to hold that position. And then, when he was caught out, was willing to participate in fraud to achieve his ambition.

But in ActionSA, the actions of Tau, and others expelled for bullying, suggest that some have joined politics not out of any ideology but for the much more narrow agenda of their own advancement.

ActionSA’s leadership may have itself to blame for this. It has shown that it will accept people for the position of councillor without much vetting.

One small, but revealing, example of this is Edwin Nshidi. He was on the party’s list to become a councillor in Johannesburg in 2021, while working as a journalist for EWN. The party must have known this. And he must have known this, despite keeping it from his employer. And yet there is no evidence of Mashaba or anyone else in the party confronting him about  his dishonesty.

If the party’s leaders are prepared to accept this lack of honesty, then it should not come as a surprise that they are now reduced to conducting lie detector tests to see who voted against their instructions in Tshwane.

The same holds true for many other parties.

For example, Cope’s Gauteng leader, Tom Mofokeng, now says the party was aware the Makwarela had been accused of sexual harassment while working in the Joburg Fresh Produce Market. But the party did not say this publicly, or complain about it in public, while he was holding the position of Speaker in Tshwane.

This kind of behaviour is unlikely to see Cope, or other parties that behave in the same way, growing sustainably in the next few years.

And it may be that the relatively new party that makes the most progress is in fact the first to be able to create durable structures. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The root of the problem is the lack of any discernible policy beyond the removal of the ANC, and absolutely zero ethics.

    What are the economic policies of this party? Without understanding this, and it having at least a modicum of being based on realities, all else is just a wish-list.

  • Rob Rhodes-Houghton says:

    Mashaba showed his true colours when he unceremoniously dumped the COJ during his term as mayor.

  • Alan Paterson says:

    That Mashaba overshadows the entire Gauteng machinery is reminiscent of the EFF where the party is the fiefdom of one fascist megalomaniac. Without Julius the EFF would fade into history very fast.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Mashaba is the main funder of ActionSA, which means he holds disproportionate power. Mashaba is also an egoist – just listen to his interviews, all I’s and no we’s. (And it would be better if others would assist in the talking.) From where I sit, Baloyi is a major loss. I don’t really understand Grootes’s use of ‘structure’, but I could see these factors potentially limiting the party. Since I believe the party has a big role to play, I hope my ‘tough love’ comments can be taken constructively.

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