Defend Truth


The undemocratic power grab in Tshwane must be rejected for the sake of our democracy


John Steenhuisen is the leader of the Democratic Alliance.

The ANC’s actions are an insult to the people of Tshwane, whose only power is their vote. How must they trust the democratic process if the losing party can simply sneak back in through the back door? It is electoral fraud and the DA will not stand for it. 

The ANC’s announcement of its decision to place the City of Tshwane under administration must be called out for what it is: A flagrant subversion of our hard-fought democracy. Invoking Section 139 of the Constitution to dissolve the Tshwane council has nothing to do with governance challenges in the metro. It is not in response to any “exceptional circumstances” that may warrant such an intervention. It is simply a way for the ANC in the province to grab back what the ANC in the city lost in the last election. It is a coup, in very poor disguise. 

This is the desperate action of a party that has shown, over and over again, that it simply cannot and will not accept any loss at the ballot box. A party that considers its indefinite rule in South Africa a divine right and regularly makes pronouncements to this effect. 

What is becoming clear, however, is that the people of South Africa do not accept this version of the story. For the past decade-and-a-half, more and more South Africans have chosen, with their votes, to end the ANC’s rule in towns, metros and provinces. This is a sign of a maturing democracy in which the ability to deliver services and opportunities to the people begins to overtake struggle history as the primary reason to vote for a party. 

When this happens – when people run out of patience and decide to fire a former liberation movement with their votes – we see for the first time what that party is really made of. How will they let go of power? It is a test of their commitment to the sacred principles of democracy and to a Constitution which they swore to uphold. In the case of the ANC, it is a test they are failing.

None of the reasons put forward to justify the dissolution of the Tshwane Metro Council hold any water. This is all just smoke and mirrors. The service delivery concerns put forward either had perfectly good explanations (water was capped in some regions because of low levels in the Vaal Dam), or they had already been resolved (the water treatment plant in Region 7 had been operational again since mid-December 2019 and the deterioration at the Wonderboom airport had been resolved), or there was a clear plan in place (a contract has been signed with ERWAT to address the water issues in Hammanskraal). 

But it is clear that these issues were never the real reason behind this move. The city issued a 200-page response to all the concerns that Gauteng Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) MEC, Lebogang Maile, raised in December 2019. He hasn’t even acknowledged receipt of this document, let alone replied to it. 

Importantly, aside from the notice in which it stated its intent to place the city under administration, there had been no engagement from the provincial government at all. And this is a crucial point, because this goes against the very spirit of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act, which calls for “a concerted effort by government in all spheres to work together and to integrate as far as possible their actions in the provision of services”. Section 139 is a final step, to be used in exceptional circumstances, and once all avenues of cooperation had been exhausted. 

Clearly, there was no intention from the Gauteng ANC to work together in order to help local government. The City of Tshwane was prepared to do so, but the ANC provincial government’s strategy was always to hide behind Section 139 of the Constitution in order to circumvent the will of the voters and take back power. 

This strategy was also very clear in the behaviour of ANC councillors in the metro in the months leading up to the decision to dissolve the council. Their continuous sabotage of council meetings by breaking quorum meant that no decisions could be taken and implemented. And so the impasse in resolving some of the big issues in the metro – electing a mayor, a city manager and a mayoral committee – was not because of a dysfunctional council, but rather the result of a strategy to render the council dysfunctional.

The ANC’s actions are an insult to the people of Tshwane, whose only power is their vote. How must they trust the democratic process if the losing party can simply sneak back in through the back door? It is electoral fraud and I assure you the DA will not stand for it. With 93 out of a total of 214 seats, the DA is the largest party in this minority government. We represent the biggest block of voters in the city and we owe it to them to fight the undemocratic actions of a party that simply could not make a case for re-election after two dismal decades in office. 

Let us not forget that this is nothing new for the ANC. Wherever they have been relegated to the opposition benches, they have struggled to accept the will of the people. Nowhere was this more evident than in the City of Cape Town back in 2006. This loss, in an incredibly tight election and to the most unlikely coalition of parties, came as a seismic shock to the ANC. It was not meant to happen at all. Of course, since then, the ANC has lost many more elections in municipalities, metros and even a province, but Cape Town in 2006 represented a watershed moment.

And that is where the ANC’s dirty tricks and manipulation of laws and the Constitution began. That’s where the mask slipped and the real ANC showed its true self. Exposed by the voters and vulnerable to defeat, it demonstrated that it would do anything to restore what it considered the natural order. 

Back then, the Western Cape ANC’s Minister of Local Government, Richard Dyantyi, thought he could wrest back Cape Town from the DA-led coalition by simply issuing a proclamation that he was changing the City’s government structure from a Mayoral Committee to an Executive Committee. This would have meant that the DA’s six coalition partners would have been marginalised, and that a new three-party, 10-member executive committee made up of the DA (four members), along with the opposition ANC (four members) and the ID (two members), would be established. 

No prizes for guessing how this new executive committee would have voted. It was a blatant ploy by the ANC, hiding behind the Municipal Structures Act, to steal back the city it had just lost in the elections. It didn’t work though, as the ANC was ultimately forced to concede that this would be unconstitutional. But the intent was there for all to see and the ANC’s marker was laid down. Now the world knew how they would react to election results that didn’t go their way.

The biggest irony is that the very same ANC is now fighting tooth and nail in the town of Makhanda in the Eastern Cape against a decision to place that municipality under administration. And if ever there was a textbook case of the “exceptional circumstances” that warrants the dissolution of a council, Makhanda is it. It cannot provide water to its people, it owes tens of millions of rands to Eskom as well as several other entities and it continues to receive qualified audits from the Auditor General. 

Makhanda is as dysfunctional as a municipality could be and the ANC considers this par for the course. Yet Tshwane, which has none of these issues, but just so happens to have voted out its ANC government in the last elections, must be placed under administration? Let us not fool ourselves about what is at play here. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. 

The DA will not allow the ANC to subvert the will of the people and make a mockery of our hard-fought democracy. We will fight this power grab all the way to the highest court if we must. And fortunately we know that our courts take a dim view of those who try to undermine our democracy. 

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know that coalitions and minority governments are going to play a far bigger role in South Africa in the near future. The ANC dominance is sliding at all spheres of government and next year’s local government elections could see them relinquishing power in even more towns and cities. If we don’t establish a firm principle now of respect for the outcome of our democratic process, we risk our entire future as a democracy. DM


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