Both the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance on Wednesday held their press conferences setting out their positions, talking about their principles and values, and mapping a way forward in key metropolitans following the election results that created 27 hung municipalities across the country.
The EFF held their press conference in Alexandra while the DA, a few hours later, held theirs in one of South Africa’s wealthiest square miles. Location and venue are crucial to setting the stage and shaping the message. It is critical, not only in the property business, but it also true for our politics. The selection of that venue and tent in Alexandra by the EFF was not accidental but rather was a conscience decision to position the party very carefully.
South Africa has had the odd flirtation with coalition politics. Some hold the view that coalition politics have a crucial role to play in removing the African National Congress from office. Supporters of this view often point to the effective nature of compromise and strengthened governance in European countries. Europe is used as the standard-bearer for the benefits of compromise and coalition politics. But South Africa is not in Europe.
Others are more sceptical, often viewing the arrangements simply to be forced or convenient marriages, which are expedient, unstable and unpredictable. Perhaps this sentiment feeds into why some on social media, as the conferences were under way, would be remembering a kiss. A very specific kiss which symbolises the last talk of “merger” or “coalition” that captured South Africa’s attention for a week in January 2014 before the May election.
The decision by the EFF not to enter into a formal coalition (as COPE, UDM, ACDP, FF+ and IFP have) with the DA was not accidental or carelessly taken but rather shrewdly considered and executed. However, there does appear to be an “arrangement” which will see the EFF acting as an opposition party, except on the issue of electing the mayor and Speaker to the minority-coalition governments that it enabled to govern. The council sittings in Tshwane on Friday and in Johannesburg on Monday will be a critical test for this entente. However, the niggling bit of this arrangement appears to be whether the EFF will in fact support the election of candidate Herman Mashaba in Johannesburg on Monday. Julius Malema has gone on record, during an interview with eNCA on Wednesday, to say that although the candidacy of Mashaba “is not a deal breaker”, the EFF are discussing the substitution of Mashaba with the DA.
Many South Africans may wish to hold on to this historic moment. However, we must not forget that politicians are able to talk about principles and values yet conclude these arrangements, which demonstrates the ability for fancy footwork. After all, so much is at stake, and perhaps the justification is that a certain degree of expediency and pragmatism are required.
Expediency is a dangerous game and many will remember the disastrous week-long coupling in January 2014 between Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele. That debacle would end with a very icy and private conversation between a biltong-chewing Helen Zille, sipping an Amstel, and Mamphela Ramphele by the end of that bruising week. That kiss would be the final nail in AgangSA’s coffin. Crucially, the DA-led conference on Wednesday avoided the unnecessary theatrics.
The ideological divide between the EFF and DA are very clear but we must not forget that there are many differences between the DA, FF+, ACDP, COPE, UDM and the IFP. We must not pretend that multiparty arrangements are simple, especially when one of those “silent partners” will be working to push the minority-coalition government on service delivery issues and for policies that are pro-poor.
The multiparty forum, established in 2006 in order to secure Cape Town, had its own meltdowns and fractures including an attempted putsch by the African Muslim Party in 2007 to oust Helen Zille as mayor. The theatrics in Cape Town ultimately would lead to the merger of Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats and the DA.
The news cycle this week may close on the EFF’s “masterstroke” manoeuvre and the DA-led coalition’s imminent control of municipalities across the country, but we must not pretend that this is the end of the story. The reality of minority-coalition governments is that they come with their own intricacies, idiosyncrasies and potential instability and uncertainty.
This may indeed be a new day for politics in South Africa but we must not be blind to the abnormality, expediency and manoeuvring that are at play. There are difficult days ahead. We will require coherence and extensive growing up as South Africa will be forced to model a new kind of politics across the country, especially in those 27 hung municipalities. DM