The political power-plays in the hung metros of Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) last week do not bode well for stability in several local councils in the run-up to the election next year.
The poll is set to be closely fought, with the possibility of coalitions at both provincial and national levels. But events in the councils raise questions about the political maturity of the parties entering into these complex political arrangements.
After months of attempting to remove Athol Trollip as mayor of NMB, a clutch of smaller parties finally succeeded by outpoliticking the DA.
A newly forged alliance between the EFF, ANC, UDM, African Independent Congress and the United Front pulled it off when a DA councillor, Mbulelo Manyati — who has since left the party — abstained from voting in support of DA speaker Jonathan Lawack. That was all it took to open the door to Trollip’s removal.
Three days later in Tshwane, DA mayor Solly Msimanga escaped two motions of no confidence. In the first, the DA argued that the EFF had not motivated in writing why the motion was urgent, as council rules require. Speaker Katlego Mathebe therefore ruled the motion inadmissible. The EFF stormed out, thereby evading taking part in the second, ANC, motion against Msimanga.
Supporting the ANC motion would have been anathema to the EFF, whose game is to maximise support in hung councils and claim victories wherever possible. It did this in NMB, where an EFF motion unseated Trollip.
Objectively speaking, the DA-led coalition in NMB did well in the metro, which was little more than a looters’ trough before the DA-led coalition replaced the ANC in the 2016 local election.
But just as the Trollip cat was not skinned until political chicanery dismembered the DA-led coalition, it is not over yet for Msimanga. The ANC’s motion of no confidence is still on the agenda. And the EFF is seeking legal advice on the speaker’s decision to disallow its motion. The EFF will either go to court or table a new motion. In short, Msimanga will only hold onto the mayoral chain for as long as the EFF wills it. The ANC for its part has shown that it will vote with the EFF to scupper any DA-led coalition.
The EFF, the third-biggest party in the country, has made it clear that it will use its votes to remind the DA that it only governs courtesy of the red berets. It’s a recipe for instability when a party can change its stance on a whim, and it puts the DA in a precarious position.
EFF leader Julius Malema has also threatened to oust DA Modimolle/Mookgophong mayor Marlene van Staden.
Speaking after the week’s high drama, DA Gauteng leader John Moodey outlined the turbulence ahead: "This fight is not over. This was one battle fought, but this is a war. We know there will be more battles as the fight for Gauteng intensifies towards 2019."
When the official opposition coalition was formed after the 2016 local election between the DA, UDM, COPE, African Christian Democratic Party and Freedom Front Plus, its message was clear: this would be the blueprint for the 2019 national election. The DA’s pipe dream is to push the ANC below 50% of the vote, especially in Gauteng and the Northern Cape. A coalition is probably vital to achieve this.
It should ideally have a solid agreement in place before the election to deal with the intricacies of horsetrading. But Trollip’s ouster has made this less likely.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa must now decide whether his party still wants to be a part of the coalition after it played a leading role in axing Trollip.
But a week is a long time in politics and, as seen in NMB, allegiances change more quickly than dieting trends.
Political backs have to be watched over the coming months, and when the office of the auditor-general releases its 2018-2019 municipal report, voters would do well to scrutinise it to gauge if the political manoeuvring was really about looting.