Opinionista John Matisonn 15 August 2016

On Strategy: DA-EFF vs ANC?

The signs are that a DA-EFF coalition will be announced in days. They will be in charge of Pretoria, Krugersdorp, Port Elizabeth and probably the jewel, Johannesburg. I’m betting that the DA and EFF coalition will govern the major cities far more effectively than many armchair critics expect. To understand why, examine their strategies.

Nelson Mandela’s generation had one – a long-term strategy. Thabo Mbeki had one, but it was arguably less durable. Helen Zille had one. Mmusi Maimane has one, and so does Julius Malema. What is the strategy of Zuma’s ANC?

Mmusi Maimane’s and Julius Malema’s strategies arise out of hunger. They are hungry to show what they can do. Both feel entitled to nothing. They are up against a monolith, a monolith with state power and resources behind it. They know they won this time because of the ANC’s temporary disarray facilitated by the leadership of Jacob Zuma.

Zuma is working overtime to prevent the ANC acting against him, but his time is not infinite. Some time in the next three years he will go. Maimane and Malema have an incentive to create new realities on the ground, in governed municipalities successfully, before they have to confront Zuma’s successor.

The DA and EFF are hungry to get their hands on the levers of power and show they can deliver services well enough to retain their gains in future elections. They know they are on borrowed time, and must use it well.

The DA know they won votes because of a combination of factors that are not guaranteed in the future: they had a big war-chest, R350-million, good leadership and highly motivated supporters. Crucially, they had that arch-DA recruiter, Jacob Zuma. People vote against governing parties more than they vote for opposition ones.

The EFF continued its growth from 2015, but it also faced a hard fact: with only R10-million to campaign throughout the country, they were lucky to add 2% to their total. Against R1-billion in the ANC’s coffers, and the ANC’s misuse of government advertising, even Zuma’s misrule looked better.

Some critics were derailed by Malema’s comments when he said he would talk to the ANC. But if you observe Malema carefully, he is not that opaque. He went to Parliament and said he would get Zuma to pay for Nkandla. Zuma is paying.

He said he would get Zuma out of the presidency. Last week he offered the ANC a coalition on condition they removed the president immediately – knowing full well, as a former ANC youth league president, that the ANC can’t do that. Its processes take time. But here’s the strategy: every ANC member losing a job next week, when the municipalities change hands, will remember that he or she might still be driving the big car if only Zuma had stepped aside. Malema has incendiarised intra-ANC warfare. That’s strategy.

So the fact that Malema seemed to contradict himself by saying he would not go in with the ANC was a distraction. He is not likely to go in with the ANC because he would be the Nick Clegg of the coalition. Remember Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom under David Cameron, now an ordinary member of his much-reduced Liberal Democratic Party?

You don’t have to lose all cynicism to say that Malema’s promise of service delivery rings truer than the ANC’s. First, he is much more specific about taking decisive action against councillors who stray. Second, he has more incentive. And third, he has more wiggle room to act against party miscreants than the calcifying ANC has under Zuma.

Then there is the DA’s Maimane. He bet his leadership on this election. While he would probably have survived a defeat in the big metros, all hope, and glamour, would have been deflated. He too knows the ANC’s comeback is substantially in the ANC’s hands. While the ANC seems to have perfected the art of failing to do the right thing, there is always a chance they could stop ignoring reality.

So prepare for explanations that local government is not about the major national policies that bitterly divide the DA and EFF. Their voters, and the country, are hungry for better governance, for a clawback from oozing corruption. We want to be proud again.

Besides corruption, if there was one other word that characterised rising opposition to the ANC it was arrogance. This weekend on CTV’S BETWEEN THE LINES veteran Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg deplored it. He said his own letters to the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, went unanswered. When a senior colleague saw Mantashe, he declined to report on the meeting to Goldberg on the phone because it’s now commonly believed that senior ANC leaders’ phones are illegally bugged by South African intelligence agencies.

That’s the answer of veterans to Mantashe’s criticism of Dr Frank Chikane, former director-general in the presidency, that Chikane should not criticise them in public because he had access to the ANC leadership in private. Former leaders, no matter their anti-apartheid credentials, often don’t have access any longer. Chikane had made his views known to the ANC in writing long before the election, but was convinced he was not being heard.

Even more serious on the arrogance vs strategy continuum is the experience of Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor of the University of Free State, whose immense stature as a leading and committed South African educationist has not been sufficient to get his voice properly heard on education policy. Meetings occur, but experts like Jansen are not listened to or taken seriously.

Leadership requires that a fundamental decision be taken on university funding now. Again, the country cries out for leadership with a strategy, and there is one for the asking. Of course it is more painful than it would have been if the government, when demanding big increases in student numbers, had also budgeted for them. It did not.

Instead, it took the easy route of giving excessive salary increases year after year to public servants, whose union is an increasingly important affiliate of Cosatu. As Cosatu became a white-collar union federation, eventually shedding its biggest union, the blue-collar National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the ANC treated white-collar unions as voting blocks, not servants of the poor.

At national level, government is faced with a choice: does it want better education for those poor and black students who cannot afford private education, or will it appease public servants’ and teachers’ unions and forfeit future mass support?

What is required is a re-prioritisation of resources. Commit to cutting bloated government salaries and perks, double housing, new foreign-made cars, for politicians and civil servants. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has made a start, but it’s only that. The public have begun to notice, and they will not be ignored.

It’s a question of strategy. Nelson Mandela’s generation had one. They chose allies willing to sacrifice for principle, supported them in hard times, and stood up to factions they thought got in the way.

If the ANC cannot make the tough decisions, it will be facing a full-scale nationwide university student strike, while its more strategic opponents in the DA and EFF put their heads down and show themselves delivering services in the townships of Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg while firing corrupt officials.

This battle has just begun. DM

John Matisonn is the author of GOD, SPIES AND LIES, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, and host of CTV’S BETWEEN THE LINES.

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