In his recent Opinionista article, “Does ActionSA want Gauteng coalitions to fail? The perplexing politics of Herman Mashaba” (Daily Maverick, 14 November 2022), DA national spokesperson Cilliers Brink demonstrates the difficulty the DA has when it comes to defending the many deficiencies it has revealed in the party’s “leading” coalitions.
Brink demonstrates this in the “whataboutism” style of defence that has become synonymous with the current DA — we are not guilty because you are guilty. So, in response to ActionSA’s departure from the coalition in Ekurhuleni — arising from ActionSA’s findings about service delivery failure — Brink’s approach is to argue that ActionSA’s strategy is to undermine DA mayors.
Brink offers no argument in defence of the fact that, according to a survey conducted by ActionSA, nearly two-thirds of residents in Ekurhuleni believe Mayor Tania Campbell is failing to deliver change, or that only 16% of residents believe things have improved, or that she appears reluctant to appear in any township in her municipality.
For this and other DA failures of governance, the DA expects ActionSA to provide unconditional support and adoration, cheerleading their failures of governance.
If voters wanted the DA to have a blank cheque, they would have given the DA a majority. As it happens, they did not. Rather, voters reduced the DA’s mandate in Gauteng significantly and nationally by more than 360 councillors.
Brink has my sympathies, but an organisation that is in such a state of decline would be advised to introspect rather than blame others for their own misfortune.
To underwrite his argument, Brink relies on a series of misrepresentations of facts and events. It would appear that the DA plans to use coalition instability to patronise voters into believing that, as voters, they are to blame for this chaos by not unconditionally uniting behind the DA.
The DA conveniently leaves out their role in creating the coalition chaos on which they now seek to electioneer.
Brink raises issues of collegiality and trust without regard to how these governments were formed.
The DA collapsed coalition talks on the Saturday before inaugural council meetings to elect mayors on the Monday. They did this because their coalition partners wanted at least one metro to be led by a different party. Rather than tolerating this, the DA was happy to employ a tactic that risked the return of ANC governments.
It was ActionSA and other parties that prevented this from happening.
If this is how coalitions were formed, it illustrates how insincere Brink is when using words like collegiality and trust.
It was to address the imbalance of a single party represented in leadership of governments, arising from the DA being forced into office against their will, that ActionSA proposed the IFP to fill the vacant position of Speaker in Joburg.
ActionSA stood to benefit nothing from this proposal, but it served to stabilise the coalition by diversifying the parties represented in leadership of the city.
Ironically, a DA mayor had the most to gain from this proposal, but, according to Brink, merely suggesting this was enough to cause the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to leave the coalition.
Naturally, Brink ignores that the PA left publicly, attributing their departure to the DA’s arrogance in coalitions.
Next, Brink raises the matter of the appointment of Johann Mettler as the City Manager of Joburg. In ActionSA, we all agreed that Mettler was a strong candidate — if you want evidence, please note that ActionSA supported his appointment in Tshwane.
The issue of his candidature in Joburg arose when Mayor Mpho Phalatse tainted the highly regulated process by meeting Mettler before the interview and not disclosing this to the panel — a fact that an independent legal opinion found created sufficient risk to stop the proposal going to Council.
It was later agreed at a national coalition meeting that the process should be restarted because of its flaws.
Brink argues, quite bizarrely, that ActionSA raised this issue because we secretly want governments — of which we are a part — to fail, but he does so without regard to the role of a DA mayor in creating a crisis of governance that ActionSA had to clean up.
Brink goes on to claim that ActionSA’s opposition to the infamous Kratos unsolicited bid in Tshwane was a conspiracy to fight a noble plan of energy independence.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
Regrettably for Brink, national leadership of coalition parties, including his own, issued a statement 10 days ago echoing the views of an independent legal opinion that Mayor Randall Williams has a prima facie case to answer in terms of his conduct in breaching the code of conduct governing all councillors.
The coalition structures also expressed a view that if we are trying to achieve energy independence, and all subscribe to a competitive, free-market system, the process should be open to the market to get the best possible result.
If the DA wishes to argue the intentions of the plan to be noble, the same argument could be made about former president Jacob Zuma’s nuclear deal — a not altogether inappropriate comparison as it relates to politically driven procurement.
Brink continues down a few more rabbit holes — into which I shall not follow — in what must now be seen as a seriously discredited argument from someone who presumably drew the short straw to defend the indefensible.
Rather, I move to address the soft underbelly of Brink’s argument: what these stories say about the DA and why he won’t be thanked for inviting this consequent analysis.
The notion that the DA governs well is a myth; a fact that no resident of Ekurhuleni will argue against. It arises from the bar being set so low in government in South Africa. However, should ANC governance be the benchmark against which to gauge government performance?
Even with just some of the issues raised by Brink, it reveals a DA that cannot work well with other parties in coalition.
As we approach the 2024 elections, the DA is going to have to face the fact that they were willing to allow ANC governments to return in these metros in November last year — not exactly a trait that voters are looking for.
Further to this, the DA’s public demonstration of an inability to work in coalition — when coalition governments are the future — makes the party as useful in South African politics as an official opposition that cannot win ANC votes.
Coalitions around the world have demonstrated the need for the anchor party to demonstrate a level of maturity and magnanimity that does not exist in the DA since the return of Helen Zille.
In these next elections, voters will need to ask which party they trust to lead coalitions and this, by any objective measure, does not bode well for the DA.
These events similarly reveal that DA mayors are not necessarily the answer to the governance challenges in South Africa.
In Ekurhuleni, the ActionSA 3,000-person poll has revealed that the mayor has proven incapable of delivering demonstrable improvements, with 63% of residents saying the city has moved in the wrong direction over the past 12 months of her tenure.
In the Kratos matter in Tshwane, the national coalition structures have concluded that “a case exists to be answered for in terms of Mayor Williams’ instructions to municipal officials being potentially outside of the scope of his authority; in violation of the code of conduct of councillors, and in breach of the council-approved system of delegations”.
In Johannesburg, Mayor Phalatse has not only been found to have failed to disclose an inappropriate meeting with a candidate for city manager, but she recently has been exposed for seeking to appoint a service provider herself to investigate a senior manager who was competing with her preferred candidate for city manager.
Cracks are now emerging in the DA’s dam wall of support that threaten the last selling point of the party as the beacon of good governance.
This is emerging, because, for the first time, the DA has a coalition partner that will hold them to account when they fall short of the standard committed to by the coalition.
If the DA wants the accolades of leading coalition governments, they need to accept the accountability which comes with it.
If they are unwilling to be held accountable in the way that they preach from the opposition benches, they have the option of stepping out of the way and handing the reins to another party with some backbone. DM