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The tragedy of Johannesburg’s soap opera coalition mess


Michael Beaumont is the national chairperson of ActionSA.

The DA has sought to blame all of the other parties in a bid to distract from their role in collapsing this government. in doing so, the DA has revealed that any coalition it runs will fail.

In just 30 days, the multi-party coalition that governed Johannesburg fell apart. It was never a happy place, but parties were making it work for the residents of the city.

Why should we focus on why it fell apart, especially when residents are gatvol with the squabbling? In a future of coalitions, South Africans need to ask themselves who is fit to run coalitions and who is not.  

It started in the early hours of the morning on 1 September 2022. At a chaotic council meeting, a motion of no confidence was successfully passed by the ANC against the multi-party coalition Speaker from the DA, Vasco da Gama. This was a shock outcome that arose from a handful of councillors from three parties that were induced by the ANC to support the motion.

Those political parties acted decisively and affirmed their commitment to the coalition by firing the errant councillors, replacing them and returning the majority rightfully back to the coalition.

Within days, ActionSA notified all coalition parties (including the DA) that the vacant Speaker position should be filled by the IFP. There was no benefit to ActionSA for this and it wasn’t a power play. It was about stabilising a coalition increasingly notorious for being unstable.

The IFP was horribly under-represented in the coalition. They had been promised positions that did not materialise and were constantly under pressure from the ANC and EFF to leave the coalition. Putting them into leadership in the City would have played a critical stole in stabilising this coalition so that it could achieve continuity in the work of reversing the ANC’s failures.

The great irony is that DA mayors would have been the greatest beneficiaries of this move by locking down the next four years of their terms.

Every party agreed, all except the DA who insisted that the original agreement made the position theirs. While this argument has all the maturity of a pre-school “it’s mine don’t touch it”, it missed the most important point.

A bit of history here is important. The DA was elected into the positions of Mayor, Speaker and Chief Whip in Johannesburg against their will. They had collapsed coalition talks two days prior, and it took a variety of parties (including ActionSA, other current coalition partners and the EFF) to put them into government in order to stop the return of the ANC. The coalition agreement, including its power-sharing arrangement, had to be negotiated after these elections and around the fact that the executive and the legislature would be run entirely by the same party (the DA).

Among many other elements, coalitions require power sharing and co-governance. Different political parties need to be involved in leading the government and the work of running the municipality must be shared. That one party would hold all of these critical positions is bad for coalitions because it means that that party will govern with the support of others and not jointly govern in the spirit of coalitions. It was only when the vacancy emerged through the removal of Vasco da Gama that it became possible that this historical imbalance could be remedied.

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It was precisely this, alongside, the need to stabilise the coalition by locking down parties like the IFP that was the motivation behind the move to get the DA to agree to fill the position of Speaker of Johannesburg from the IFP’s ranks.

Subsequently, the DA has been sanctimonious about how coalition agreements cannot be amended. This is objectively false. Coalition negotiations in February 2022 amended the original agreement of December 2021 in order to accommodate the Patriotic Alliance. The IFP was meant to serve as MPAC chairperson but this never materialised and the DA has been blocking the establishment of a deputy mayor for nearly a year. Their sudden inflexibility around the coalition agreement was driven by self-interest.

The effort to renegotiate to accommodate the IFP is actually provided for in the coalition agreement. The right for a party to fill a vacant position they previously held is limited to those negotiated in the agreement — and, as mentioned, the DA Speaker was elected before an agreement was reached. More importantly, the agreement requires decisions that strengthen the coalition:

“The parties agree that the selection of the positions mentioned above should be beneficial to the coalition with the view of an effective and cooperative coalition” – Section 5.4 of the agreement.

In addition to this, Section 5.9 states:

“Any changes to the agreed composition, without following due process, will constitute a major dispute in terms hereof.”

It would follow from this that changes can indeed be negotiated by following due process. This is exactly what coalition partners sought to do with the DA.

At a national coalition meeting this week, senior leaders of every party in the coalition urged the DA to accommodate the IFP. Leaders explained the benefits to everyone and the DA in particular. Leaders spoke of the importance of stability for the coalition project. Most of all it was made clear that by not accommodating this change the DA would probably lose the support of the PA and possibly the IFP. As it turns out the PA left with their eight votes and the coalition lost its majority, the position of Speaker and ultimately the entire government.

The DA has sought to blame all of the other parties in a bid to distract from their role in collapsing this government. If you want proof of this consider that every other coalition partner, including ActionSA, voted for the DA candidate for Speaker. These parties put aside their disappointment and frustration of the DA’s short-sightedness and put the coalition and residents of Johannesburg first.

So why does this colossal, soap opera-style mess matter? It matters because the DA has revealed that any coalition it runs will fail. It matters because in two years’ time South Africans will be asked to consider who they will vote for again. If coalitions are the future of South African politics we need better stability and decision-making.

We need to ask ourselves which parties are fit to run such a coalition. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Sounds like sour grapes from a party that has absolutely no hope to stand on its own.
    Absolutely no hope. If these clowns are happy to rely on the benevolence of other irrelevant parties, then that’s the limit of their ambition right there. Screaming in the public domain while being complicit in gifting Johannesburg straight back to the criminals in the ANC really does highlight a distinct naivety and petty name-calling. Good luck going forward, but you’ve made your bed . . .

  • jeyezed says:

    A self-serving and incomplete statement which completely excludes (avoids) the moral issue of adhering to an agreement. If this kind of behaviour is tolerated, this country will never enjoy stable democracy.

  • Colin Louw says:

    Methinks that the DA forgot the classic expression “to die with your rights on”. They claim to be adhering to the absolute letter of the agreements (but having walked away from adhering to a previous agreement!) left them in the wonderful position of becoming irrelevant in the running of Joburg, although they are absolutely clean from an agreement pov. This total lack of flexibility is exactly why the DA is in such deep poo.

  • Hans Wendt says:

    So sad to witness how morally corrupt these minority parties are. Pathetic excuses to justify selling your soul to the ANC. The call of feeding at the trough.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Just what the ANC wants – a party that does not know it rear from its front, the DA! Coalitions cannot work in SA sadly when we have tribalism, all races incidently, not wanting to work with each other. such a tragedy that this wonderful country is in ruins because of all political parties lacking in maturity and keep telling us what is wrong, which we know actually, but no solutions being offered. my solution is revisit the Dinokeng Scenarios – 3 Futures for South Africa. whilst this high powered group differed, they did so in a mature manner that gained acceptance showing that all races can work together. the three scenarios are, Walk Apart, Walk Behind and Walk Together. we are still at Walk Apart! we need a healthy mix of young (enthusiasm and not steeped in tradition) and wise (elders) to Walk Together and solve the problems we face.

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    “Within days, ActionSA notified all coalition parties (including the DA) that the vacant Speaker position should be filled by the IFP”
    The grandstanding by ActionSA is one of the elements that makes the coalition fragile. They lose no opportunity to publicly undermine the DA….

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    You, Mr Beaumont, and all your colleagues in politics are like two-year olds in a sandpit, fighting about toys. None of you are worth voting for. Mpho is right person for the job, not because she’s black, female or DA, but because she’s been doing what is necessary. Shame on the lot of you!!

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      Well said. It’s infantile to say the least, especially coming from someone with so little, if any credentials. Noisy child in a sandpit indeed.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    The DA should get rid of Helen Zille. She is caught in a time zone.

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