The ousting of Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip is the first concrete example of the new rapprochement between the EFF and the ANC. This rapprochement was evident early in the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa, who wasted no time building bridges with the EFF, saying in March that he would "love" to have EFF leader Julius Malema back in the party because "he is still ANC down deep in his heart".
But it’s almost guaranteed that the party and Ramaphosa will live to regret taking a sip from this poisoned chalice. Historically, the ANC made all kinds of short-term compromises in order to become the party in power or to retain power, and yet it is seemingly oblivious to how this plays out among the electorate. The short answer is it plays badly.
The first problem is that winning power through enticing opposition party members to join the ANC or vote against their own party doesn’t actually change the electoral dynamic on the ground. Arguably, it makes it worse for the ANC.
Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring is viewed suspiciously by the electorate, because it breaks bonds of trust. It also tends to fire up the opposition turnout. In the case of Nelson Mandela Bay, it means the problems of the metro, never easy to solve in the first place, will now be attached to the ANC, not the DA, when the elections come around in 2019.
All of this has played out before in Cape Town, where the DA narrowly won the city, then lost it, then re-won it, and now the city is almost a DA fortress.
THAT THE ANC AND EFF COMBINED TO OUST TROLLIP … MAKES IT SEEM THE TAIL IS WAGGING THE DOG
The fact that the ANC and the EFF combined to oust Trollip further integrates the brands of the two parties and makes it seem to ANC supporters that the tail is wagging the dog.
The ANC could reverse this perception if it runs the metro as well or better than the DA did. But as part of the deal, it is saddled with Mongameli Bobani, the UDM’s candidate, as mayor. The book How to Steal a City, by Crispian Olver, the ANC’s deployee to Nelson Mandela Bay prior to the 2016 local government election, makes Bobani’s shocking role in aiding and abetting corruption crystal clear.
Bobani launched a spurious legal challenge to have then city manager Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela dismissed. She left after her life was threatened. He scorned previous mayor Danny Jordaan’s anticorruption proposals. He was one of a trio of councillors who routinely postponed items that came before the human settlements committee. Olver found that land-use applications before the committee would not pass until a kickback was paid.
Bobani also opposed the appointment of corruption-busting city manager Johann Mettler, one of SA’s most successful "turnaround" officials in local government. The chance of a conducive relationship between the two seems slim, so a disrupted council for the foreseeable future seems likely.
The EFF has successfully "slit the throat" of a white mayor, which presumably plays well to its constituency. The party is relishing its role as kingmaker and its support is unlikely to be affected negatively. For the ANC, that too is not good news.
The EFF has argued that it intends opposing white mayors but will continue supporting the DA’s black mayors. That promise is likely to be short-lived since the party is supporting the ANC efforts to oust the DA mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga.
As a left-wing party, the ANC tends to look over its left shoulder by instinct. But its biggest challenge is on its right. SA has a largely urban population and the ANC has lost more ground to the DA than any other party since democracy. This is why the decline in ANC support in urban areas in the local government elections was such a shock to the party.
Ironically, the DA has been shooting itself in the foot on all kinds of issues. Yet now the ANC has unintentionally come to its aid, securing its base and guaranteeing the turnout of its supporters. As it is often said, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.