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Love, death, redemption… and backstabbing – Joburg’s mayoral mess gets the medieval treatment

Love, death, redemption… and backstabbing – Joburg’s mayoral mess gets the medieval treatment
From left: Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie. (Photo: Edrea du Toit/Rapport/Gallo Images; EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Julia Evans); Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images). Graphics: Midjourney

There is no place for principles in coalition politics. There is only power – and not the solar kind.

Citizens, netizens and denizens of the great city of Johannesburg are rather confused about what’s going on at mayoral level. Mayors are coming and going even faster than when the ANC was fully in control but its mayors were being struck down, presumably by the hand of God, one after the other.

The ANC is now busy trying to avoid the curse of another ANC mayor. Or, refusing to take responsibility in that position, it is juggling its coalition partners and finding new mayors from little parties no one had ever heard of before, except for their 4.5 followers. Yes, as we were warned, coalition politics is very messy.

The DA’s big chief, John Steenhuisen, for instance, still has grease on his shirt from when he tried to form a new coalition with the FF Plus and the Patriotic Alliance (PA) around a braai. (He is fully aware of a new detergent called Zille, which washes whiter than white, but we think he’s hesitating about applying this bleach because it may piss off the DA choice for Joburg mayor, just as it pisses off everyone who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to inject it.)

Daily Maverick has now put together an explanation, in the form of a play script, to help citizens, netizens, denizens and other critters hiding in the rubbish dumps spreading across Johannesburg to understand what is going on and why the rubbish dumps are spreading across Johannesburg.

The script is in the style of the medieval mystery play, which some of our readers may remember from their university days, when they studied drama and film I for a year because it looked easy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Chilly King Cyril warmed by thoughts of Dr Nandi in the absence of magic beams from Eskom

In the medieval mystery play, the characters are personifications of larger principles or ideas – Love, Death, Redemption, that kind of thing. You can, if you like, imagine Gauteng Premier Panyaza “The Great Manipulator” Lesufi as the face of the ANC in this scenario – almost as though he were personally acting the role of “ANC” in this script. You could also see Gayton “Rob That Bank” McKenzie as the face of the PA, if you can bear to imagine Gayton McKenzie, and so on.

This is not the politics of personality cult, or at least not in this script – but we do think it’s an apt form because the politics of the ANC and EFF in Joburg and in coalition is, indeed, something of a medieval mystery play.

[The scene is a brightly lit mayoral chamber with the various parties lined up in their party finery, expensive suits, magnificent coiffures and sparkling jewellery.]

Citizenry: Oh ANC, oh EFF, former enemies, now bosom buddies, what’s going on? You formed a coalition in the City of Johannesburg even as the EFF was embarrassing itself and the nation in Parliament!

ANC-EFF: Babble, babble, shout, shout!

Citizenry: Please don’t all speak at once. It’s hard enough to work out what you’re really saying most of the time.

ANC-EFF: Burble, burble, uuuurgh…

ANC [whose voice now drowns out the EFF]: Power! Power! It’s about power! You remember “Amandla”? From the struggle?

Citizenry: The old struggle? The one about liberating South Africa from apartheid and white supremacy? Or this new struggle, in which the ANC struggles to cling to power by whatever means necessary and unnecessary?

ANC: Yes, the new struggle! Power! It’s all about power! Seek ye first the political kingdom, then you can seek the kickbacks and irregular expenditure! Without power, the ANC will not be able to fulfil the aims of our glorious revolution and do a little something for the starving masses!

Citizenry: Oh, those masses you’ve been neglecting all these years? The masses for whom you can’t build houses? The masses living with sewage running down their streets because the ANC can’t maintain or fix any infrastructure?

ANC: Yes, those masses! And, in tandem with our totally inexperienced cohorts, the EFF, who have never run anything of any note, let alone South Africa’s biggest, richest city, as well as our dear colleagues from the parties that got less than 1% of the vote and have never run anything either, we promise to uplift those masses! For their sake, we will win and win and win until we, and they, are tired of winning!

Citizenry: Hang on a minute, ANC. Aren’t you the provincial ANC? Are you supposed to be meddling in the politics of the city? Surely you should let the citizens of that city decide, and you should be good losers and abide by that decision?

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ANC: Nonsense! The ANC is one! Nationally, provincially, etc, etc, we are united. Totally united, down to the last grain of sand! We are as one.

Citizenry: Didn’t a few ANC MECs object to your manipulations, in tandem with the EFF’s? After all, the EFF has been bad-mouthing you for ages.

ANC: That’s politics, dear Citizenry! And you will note we crushed those MECs pretty quickly. There is no place for principle here. We have to cut our coat to fit our cloth, or cut our budgets for infrastructure repair so we can funnel some money to our most desperate coalition partners!

Citizenry: So that would be the PA? The so-called kingmakers? The party willing to go back on any signed coalition agreement with any party in the country?

ANC: Yes, that PA.

PA: Er, excuse us, can we get a word in? We’re just following the ANC’s lead here. My enemy’s enemy is the friend of my second cousin’s mother’s dog, right? And that’s politics – you don’t have to fulfil your promises, you don’t have to stick to any agreements. If there’s a better offer on the table, and the chance to get our fingers in the city’s funding pie, well, then, by any means necessary or unnecessary, as you say. We elevate backstabbing to an art form!

DA: Sorry to interrupt, but we just want to say…

ANC, EFF, PA, etc: Shut up! Shut up! We don’t want any of your white middle-class nonsense here! You’re racist! You just want to fix the potholes in the white suburbs! We won’t fix anything until we fix everything! We’ll give solar to every shack!

Citizenry: Right. And how will that be paid for? You objected to your previous sock-puppet mayor’s idea of borrowing a lot of money from some loan sharks, no?

ANC, EFF, PA, etc: We’ll try to steal a little less from the city coffers. We have already drafted a policy position in that regard. More backstabbing but less stealing. If we are successful in that regard, and if our new sock puppet does what we say, and we can spread a few financial portfolios around our partners in the PA and those other little parties whose names we can’t remember, we should be able to definitively promise solar – Amandla! – to every shack and every mansion in town by, er, about 2050!

Citizenry: Ah! You want power, we want power. So what are you doing about fixing the infrastructure?

ANC, EFF, PA, etc: We faithfully promise to –

[The lights go out.] DM168

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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