The Greek word for “catastrophe” sounds a lot like their word for “opportunity”. Well… It does not actually. Or it might. To quote the US President: “Who knows?” Bottom line – it has finally happened. The DA’s tenuous grip on power in Nelson Mandela Bay is no more.
This somehow happened after one Victor Manyati abstained in some other speaker vote, thereby swinging the 60-60 deadlock that would presumably see the DA speaker remain in an act of “betrayal” (and some technical stuff, parliamentary scuffling etc…). I will not go into technicalities here, but the ANC, EFF, UDM and two other obscure parties have resolved to elect a UDM councillor mayor.
This is a major blow for the DA. A coalition with the UDM was never going to be easy. But they managed to keep what is essentially a minority government afloat in both Johannesburg and Tshwane. With the support of none other than the EFF. NMB seemed like the safer municipality of the three. Alas, it was not.
The DA, as South Africa’s main opposition, has had a rough time since the local government election in 2017. Mmusi Maimane, the so-called “Obama of Soweto”, was a much stronger candidate while the alternative was Jacob Zuma. Compared to Cyril Ramaphosa, he does not look as threatening. Add to that the disastrous drought that hit the DA’s heartland of the Western Cape, along with the not-so-natural disaster that is the seemingly open-ended public feud between the party and Cape Town Mayor Partricia de Lille, and the party seems to have lost most of its 2017 momentum. I find this alarming, as the oh-so-important 2019 general election is less than a year away and the DA is the only consolidated opposition force in this country.
So what about that “alternative fact” Greek phrase for silver lining?
The events of NMB are a pivotal moment for the DA. The shock of this defeat must be seized as an opportunity to unite the party and launch a full-scale offensive in Gauteng. The EFF and UDM have (and must be seen to have) betrayed the wishes of the voters to do away with the complacency of an ANC that all too frequently takes its voters for granted.
“A vote for the UDM/EFF is a vote for the ANC.” I expect this will make for a rather potent slogan in the DA messaging arsenal ahead of the 2019 election. COPE can also run with this message to maybe regain ground against the EFF and UDM.
As for the DA’s grip on power in Johannesburg and Tshwane? Well, the EFF can at any point call a vote of no confidence and side with the ANC, replacing Mayor Herman Mashaba and Mayor Solly Msimanga. The DA should certainly try to keep it together, as demonstrable progress in service delivery is their most effective campaign message going into a general election. But if things become untenable, one way of cornering the EFF would be to spread a narrative that they are becoming an “ANC lapdog”. Should the EFF bring down the current administrations in these cities, they will be walking into the trap, validating this message ahead of the 2019 election. By publicly taunting the EFF to side with the ANC, the DA could speak in the only language which the EFF seems to understand: brazen provocation.
It will be interesting to see how the coming months play out. This may be as good an opportunity as the DA leadership will get to unite the feuding party and change the current perception of a stagnating, stalling, slumber party. Let’s hope they can pull it off. Our democracy desperately needs a more robust opposition.
(Two apparent laws of nature that we mostly overlook: Betraying your party to join an opposing party out of self-interest usually backfires as nobody in the new party will place much trust in the deserter – as Victor Manyati will soon find out. Second, minority partners in a coalition government usually bear the brunt when things go South.) DM