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Mpho Phalatse. Picture: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg
Mpho Phalatse. Picture: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg

The ousting of DA Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse is not just a blow to the official opposition, but to the city itself and all the voters who had staked their prosperity and livelihoods on a functional coalition fixing the decaying municipality.

The parties involved in overthrowing the mayor and handing power over to the ANC are not only traitors to a coalition that they willingly entered, but to the voters they represent.

Political parties and politicians have obligations to their voters. Democracy isn’t a one-off transaction whereby voters put parties in power and are then ignored by them for another few years. For the privilege of being elected, a political party must do everything in its power to fulfil its mandate to the voters.

This means improving the area that they now govern, implementing policies that will benefit voters, and working together in coalitions if that means a stable and more prosperous scenario for their constituents.

Johannesburg under the DA was far from perfect, but it was always going to take time to repair the damage done by the ANC, not to mention the damage still being done by the ANC provincial and national governments. It doesn’t help that the DA has had to expend much of its political capital and energy on fighting its own alleged coalition allies.

Throughout its tenure as mayor of Johannesburg, the DA has faced sabotage after sabotage — often by members of its own coalition. The clearest example of this sabotage was the prevention of the appointment of Johann Mettler as city manager of Johannesburg. Mettler’s appointment could have been what the collapsing municipality needed to recover. But politicking by ActionSA to appoint the EFF’s candidate, Floyd Brink, torpedoed the possibility of gaining “Mr Fix It” for the city.

The next example of sabotage was in the ousting of DA speaker Vasco Da Gama by a collection of smaller parties — some proven to have been accepting bribes by the ANC to vote against the speaker. This was followed by ActionSA’s insistence that the IFP’s candidate should become speaker, a move opposed by the DA and supported by the collection of smaller parties. Perhaps this diversification of the city’s leadership could be good, if it hadn’t been precipitated by deceit, corruption, and betrayal.

All this sabotage has finally culminated in Phalatse being removed and replaced as mayor by the ANC’s Dada Morero, a vote pushed forward by the ANC, EFF, PA, AIC, Al Jama-ah, Good, COPE and six other councillors.

After months of coalition collapse, voters are despondent, distrusting and gatvol. While the parties bicker and betray their mandates, they damage the opposition as a whole. In exchange for petty bribes, smidgens of power and the satisfaction of hurting the DA, the smaller parties have possibly irreparably damaged trust in all of their parties.

And now Johannesburg is back in the hands of the ANC, the very opposite of what the majority of voters needed or desired. This does not serve the voters. This does not serve the opposition project. And it is all because of petty politicking and corruption.

The smaller parties that led to Johannesburg being returned to its previous abuser all individually represent a tiny minority of voters, far fewer than the DA. But because of bitterness, a desire to receive bribes or just complete incompetence, they have gone against the larger contingent of voters and handed the city back to their enemy.

They all need to ask themselves whether this move truly serves their voters or the residents of the city. The answer is that it doesn’t. The ANC has a national and local track record of devastating corruption, mismanagement and sheer, unadulterated incompetence. Johannesburg is already a dying city. With ANC governing once again, it will be plunged further down the path to ruin.

Just take a look at the bright ideas by the new ANC mayor. He envisions a JoJo tank in every household as a solution to the water crisis. Why not fix the water infrastructure? Going off the grid is something households do as a reaction to state incompetence. But the mayor thinks it’d be swell to not have to do his job.

This is just a teaser of things to come; not the worst of it by far. Because not only the city will suffer. The collapse of this coalition will signal to voters that the opposition cannot be trusted to provide a stable government for the country. And one of our biggest hopes for saving SA as a whole will be dashed as a result.

These parties are not just opportunists. They’re traitors. Traitors to the coalition and traitors to the very voters who put them in power. When it comes time to vote again, hopefully justice will be done at the polls, and these parties will be punished for their transgressions.

• Woode-Smith is a political analyst, economic historian and author from Cape Town.

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