Opinionista Faiez Jacobs 2 February 2018

Maimane’s actions show a desperate Democratic Alliance

This was always going to be a disastrous scenario for Maimane and the DA. While most South Africans were overjoyed with the early Christmas present delivered by the ANC’s 54th National Conference, Maimane’s worst nightmare came true on 18 December 2017.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane seems to be positioning himself to take over from Patricia de Lille as Mayor of Cape Town. Alternatively, the leader of the Democratic Alliance has concluded that Tony Leon’s communications agency has been propping up De Lille for long enough, so he, Maimane, has decided to intervene in the water crisis which has besieged the City.

Residents of Cape Town and all South Africans who’ve heard Maimane on radio attempting to communicate on the drought could be forgiven for thinking that the leader of the official opposition in the National Assembly is the new spokesperson for the City of Cape Town, not least because the mayor’s spokesperson, Zara Nicholson, has gone quiet in recent weeks.

Sensible, perhaps, given that De Lille is about to be lynched by her own party. Maimane and his faction in the DA have been at pains for many months now to hold her to account for serious governance lapses amid allegations of corruption, incompetence, associated cover-ups and claims that De Lille and other DA councillors have been handing out jobs to their friends and family.

It seems the executive mayor and her colleagues were so busy sweeping corruption under the carpet and putting their people in well-paid public service positions that they paid scant attention to multiple warnings from experts – over more than a decade – that the City was running out of water.

City Manager Achmat Ebrahim was the first to resign in the wake of this scandal and other senior City officials close to De Lille are also in the firing line.

But, characteristically, Aunty Pat was never going to go quietly. There is a backlash from within the DA’s ranks because Maimane has yet to hold Premier Helen Zille to account for the serious allegations of corruption in the Western Cape government – and he has yet again had to publicly berate Zille for her new controversial tweets about colonialism.

Perhaps he will now summon the courage to fire Zille after he failed to do so last June, three months after Zille’s initial offending tweets. To an outsider it’s clear that there are widespread irregularities within the DA. The DA’s problems, however, should not detract from dealing with the crisis in Cape Town through the right structures.

Let’s be clear and honest about it: Cape Town’s water crisis is a grave governance failure on the part of the DA-run local and provincial administrations. No amount of dishonest finger-pointing at national government will deflect attention from the irrefutable fact that this crisis has put the lie to the Democratic Alliance’s claims that it is South Africa’s saviour.

The DA would have South Africans and the world believe that they are a “government-in-waiting”, ready to unseat Africa’s oldest liberation movement. The ANC is by no means perfect but we are not in denial about our internal problems and we are dealing with them. With their latest experiences where they govern, the DA would be well advised to revise their website which unashamedly claims that “Under the DA, Cape Town is a living example of what is possible with the right government in power”.

Ian Nielsen, the deputy mayor whom Maimane has instructed to take charge of the crisis in the City, is clearly incompetent; he couldn’t answer basic questions which News24 put to him four days into the job – and it’s all over YouTube.

Mmusi Maimane’s desperation has been exacerbated by the infighting in the City but his conduct throughout this recent PR-stunt is very problematic and begs some serious questions about his role in this unfolding crisis. We suspect that Maimane’s misdirected attempts to take charge of this crisis is a response to the landmark election of Cyril Ramaphosa as President of the African National Congress.

Maimane is suddenly faced with a political crisis of his own; the new leader of the ANC is a force to be reckoned with and South Africans, both black (African, Coloured, Indian) and white, have expressed resounding confidence in his leadership abilities. This was always going to be a disastrous scenario for Maimane and the DA. While most South Africans were overjoyed with the early Christmas present delivered by the ANC’s 54th National Conference, Maimane’s worst nightmare came true on 18 December 2017.

This goes some way to explaining why Maimane is wanting to assume control of the crisis management in the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Provincial Government. The problem is that Maimane has no constitutional mandate to do so. Of course Maimane is entitled to express his views as a political leader, not least because the Democratic Alliance has been the governing party in the City of Cape Town for almost 12 years since it won the local government elections in 2006. Therein, though, lies the problem for Maimane. The DA’s control over its prized political possession is under serious threat.

On what basis is Maimane seeking an “urgent” meeting with the deputy president of the country? It was widely reported this week that Maimane has demanded to see Ramaphosa. The leader of the DA, as a party-political leader, has no standing in the governance of the City of Cape Town or the Western Cape Provincial Government. Unless Maimane is requesting a meeting with Ramaphosa in his capacity as president of the ANC. Or perhaps Maimane wants a photo opportunity so that he can be seen to be taken more seriously. Even more bizarre is the fact that Maimane made the call for a meeting with Ramaphosa after the deputy president had told CNN that he would be intervening in the water crisis in Cape Town. Maimane’s was a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the news that the deputy president, in his capacity as a government leader, would be marshalling all the necessary forces to tackle this crisis in all its dimensions.

Whatever the case, Maimane would do well to better understand the “constitutionalism” that he so often pretends to champion. There are clear roles and responsibilities assigned to the various government structures. Maimane’s antagonistic statements aimed at national government, e.g., “I will be taking the fight to national government”, and threatening “legal action to compel national government to act” undermine his message that we should all work together to avoid a disaster. This is hardly the stuff that co-operation is made of, especially when a basic human necessity such as water is the issue.

Indeed, the ANC holds the view that we should all do our utmost to reduce water consumption and manage the inevitable consequences of a drought which shows no signs of abating. Local, provincial and national government leaders and officials must do everything in their power to work with residents as well as civil society structures, labour formations and organised business to mitigate this crisis. This includes augmenting the current water supply and managing what we have.

Rest assured, a detailed and workable plan will be rolled out shortly – and all responsible leaders should support government’s intervention, regardless of which political party we support. We as the ANC will work hard together with all stakeholders, community-based organisations, civic and ratespayers associations to find both short-term practical solutions and long-term sustainable options to avoid Day Zero. DM

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