Anatomy of a coalition coup: Are there lessons ahead of the August election?
A DECADE ago, the negotiations that culminated in a seven-party coalition government in the City of Cape Town constituted a turning point for the DA. It was that key bit of evidence and momentum the party needed to break the ANC’s almost universal grip on power; to begin from there to etch a picture of itself in the South African public’s mind as a serious national force for change.
On the back of that arrangement, as the senior partner and with control over the mayoralty, the party was able to win the Western Cape in 2009 and consolidate its hold on the metro in 2011, both with an outright majority. In doing so, it could credibly reposition itself as a "party of government" and move away from the perception it operated solely from the opposition benches.
But on the day — March 15 2006 — it was only by the smallest margin that the DA managed to bring together six other diverse minority parties and form a stable government. At several key moments during the two weeks that preceded the election of DA mayoral candidate Helen Zille, by just 106 votes to 103, both the election and the DA’s prospects balanced on the edge of the thinnest blade. This is the story of those remarkable 15 days in March and how the negotiations for a coalition government in Cape Town, as unprecedented in its complexity as it was unlikely in its realisation, played themselves out.
Political negotiation is, by necessity and nature, a secretive animal. Of the three main protagonists — the ANC, the DA and the Independent Democrats (ID) — little was known at the time about how discussions unfolded behind closed doors, although much conjecture dominated. Even in retrospect, the full story has not yet been told.
That fact alone seems remarkable enough, as political intrigue goes, it is a tale worth telling; remarkable in its drama and inspirational in the trust and conviction it ultimately engendered. But the passage of time also allows for more honest reflection and, in hindsight, accurate analysis. The hope is this account will go some way towards explaining what happened.
Two distinctive narratives are interwoven throughout this retrospective. The first is the voice of the press, for which the newspaper archives of the time (about 220 stories) provide the basis. Some secondary sources are included where it was necessary to definitively establish the facts (council minutes, for example, and the then Independent Electoral Commission). The second constitutes the contemporary reflections of two key stakeholders: Ryan Coetzee, then-CEO of the DA and head of his party’s negotiation team, and Patricia de Lille, then-ID leader. The ANC was, unfortunately, not available. The story is a complex one, and can be told from many sides. No doubt, with time, others will add to it and reveal more from new perspectives.
Nevertheless, hopefully this account adds to the historical record and to the media accounts from the time.
The contrast between these voices is worth dwelling on, as you make your way through the narrative. The press, driven largely by sensation and fuelled by a desire to highlight, first and foremost, conflict and animosity, missed a great deal. In fact, it all but failed completely to identify the singular development that was the agreement those seven parties reached. It arrived for the media on March 15 much as it did for the public at large, like a thunderous bolt out of the blue. The media’s story, then, represents the confusion, speculation and uncertainty that defined the time.
The second set of voices, those of Coetzee and De Lille, provide a glimpse into everything else: The behind-the-scenes discussions, the strategy and tactics employed and, perhaps most importantly, some more universal insights into the nature of political negotiations and the pursuit of power. The telling of their story aims to makes the implicit explicit and, in doing so, to reveal what wisdoms there are to be learnt from the period, relevant then as they are today.
In this regard, the telling of this particular story is timely. The 2016 local government elections will be held on August 3 and it is likely that, in a number of metros, if not municipalities, coalitions and coalition negotiations will take place. If not this election, then at some point in the future, coalition governments at local, provincial and even national level will become more common. Coalitions matter and, as South Africa’s particular history develops, they will become more important still. They are a natural by-product of a plurality of power and, if South Africa is to mature into a well-established democracy, not just in principle but in practice, it is in discussions such as these that the kind of democratic precedent you do not find in constitutions or law books will be written. There are important lessons to be found in what follows, for politicians and voters alike.
There are a few other singular characteristics inherent to the story. After the 1994 national election it is the first and only time there have been meaningful negotiations for a major coalition government in SA, and which might have gone either way. There have been coalitions in SA before, but none contested in this way and usually the product of some prearrangement, simple expediency or formality.
In turn, the result of the negotiations laid the groundwork for a great many issues that played themselves out in metros and provinces for the months and years to follow, from a fierce debate, which degenerated into political partisanship about the type of executive system governing Cape Town, to the consolidation of the opposition and the ID’s eventual merger with the DA a few years later. All of these and much else besides had their roots in those 15 days in March 2006.
A great many good political stories start with an election. This one is no different.
Wednesday, March 1: 14 days until the mayoral election
The 2006 local government elections are set for March 1 2006. In the 2000 elections, the DA had won 53.49% and a majority of 107 seats in the 210-seat Cape Town council, beating the ANC into second place, which garnered just 38.54% and 77 seats.
However, primarily through the desertion of 32 New National Party (NNP) councillors from the DA to form a coalition with the ANC in 2002, the ANC regained control of the council through floor-crossing. With the NNP gone and the ID new on the scene (since 2003), predictions were that the 2006 elections in Cape Town would be close, hinging on former NNP voters. Much of both the DA and ID electoral campaigns focused on capturing this particular market and, within it, those coloured voters once loyal to the NNP and on whom Western Cape politics more generally tends to turn.
For the DA and the ANC, the goal was an outright majority; for the ID, a deciding percentage of the vote, giving it the ability to define the nature of the future government as "kingmaker", a tag that become almost ubiquitous in reporting on it.
In the run-up to the elections the ID had been quoted on numerous occasions saying it would under no circumstances consider a coalition. As early as January 11 2006, following a meeting of the ID national executive committee, De Lille stated, "The Independent Democrats will not enter into any coalitions or alliances for these elections, other than with the people of SA. Where we hold the balance of power, we will enforce consensus-seeking government."
Again, on February 24 2006, De Lille repeated the claim in a profile in the Financial Mail: "We want to force consultation and consensus. We want to make history and force everyone to come back to the position in the original SA, where there is a multiparty democracy. We are not going to back Nomaindia (Mfeketo, the ANC’s mayoral candidate) for mayor and that is non-negotiable."
The party’s offer to the voters primarily revolved around the policy proposal that the mayoral committee system be disbanded in Cape Town and replaced by an executive committee system which, it argued, would best cater for a hung council, should that eventuality arise. In turn, that it best reflected and was most consistent with the ID’s brand as an "independent" party. This would have the effect of ensuring that a multiparty committee, not the discretion of the mayor alone or an executive committee of his or her choosing, would determine the legislative programme of the City.
The DA had run an extremely aggressive campaign and a number of its slogans, such as "Take back your city", were labeled racist by the ANC. In his post-election analysis, in the ANC publication Umrabulo (No 25, 1st Quarter 2006), ANC Western Cape chairman James Ngculu wrote: "The core messages of the DA revolved around the notion of ‘Take back your city’, which was directed at whipping up emotions among the white community, particularly if taken to its logical and barely disguised conclusion: ‘… from these inept Africans’."
In truth, however, the slogan was a reference to floor-crossing. The DA had won Cape Town in 2000 and, through floor-crossing, the ANC had orchestrated an artificial majority. The message was designed to say that voters, not floor-crossers, should determine the makeup of a government and the people of Cape Town understood perfectly well the context; such was the extent of the disdain and contempt for the practice. Ultimately, the ANC’s attempt to frame the slogan as racist was testament to how effective it was.
The DA had also applied massive pressure on smaller parties by urging voters not to split the opposition by voting for minority parties unable to effect real change. In the final days of the campaign, the DA focused intensely on squeezing the ID in particular, a move that resulted in much animosity between the two parties. Another DA slogan, "Don’t divide the opposition", saw De Lille describe the DA as "a useless opposition".
But the DA remained unapologetic. Writing in the Daily Dispatch on February 28, then party leader Tony Leon said of his party’s campaign: "If we unite behind the DA, we can be strong. We can make the ANC pay for corruption and failed delivery. We can win!"
It had, then, been a tense campaign and relations between all three central protagonists were strained; if not, fraught.
Thursday, March2 : 13 Days until the mayoral election
By the end of the day, about 95% of the vote in Cape Town had been counted. The following morning, on March 3, The Cape Argus reported: "In the absence of a clear majority for the ANC and DA, the Independent Democrats, with 10.9% of the vote, held the balance of power in the city."
This narrative would come to define the following two weeks. As a result, attention was initially diverted away from the DA and focused on the ID. The DA went straight to work regardless.
James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s federal executive, together with Leon and Coetzee, were the core of the party’s leadership. The three of them set up a negotiating team comprised primarily of Coetzee and Selfe at the helm, together with Kent Morkel, son of former Western Cape premier Gerald Morkel. Theuns Botha, the DA’s Western Cape leader, would play a role on the margins. And, of course, Zille, as the mayoral candidate, was closely consulted.
Morkel boasted a network of close connections in local Cape Town politics but would have also satisfied the NNP component of the party. Both he and Zille would each later make all-important interventions.
It takes great maturity for the leadership of a party to entrust negotiations as critical as these were to the DA’s future, to a small group of confidants. Both Leon and Zille were, in the eyes of the ID and ANC, and other, smaller parties too, the embodiment of much of their anger and distrust of the DA, but both were willing to play a less central role for the sake of the greater good. The decision spoke to a powerful sense of confidence and loyalty within the group.
Business Day reported that morning that, "negotiations are now under way to form alliances". Although, in truth, no formal negotiations had yet begun, Coetzee remembers the general thrust of the direction the DA wanted to undertake; with it, the party’s bottom line.
"I remember that under no circumstances were we prepared to be in a government with the ANC. We were prepared to be in opposition rather. But we had to show that we had an open mind. So, we took a position we knew the ANC wouldn’t agree to. And the ANC did exactly the same thing. They had no interest in being in a government with us. So they took a position they knew we would never agree to," says Coetzee.
But that wasn’t the DA’s first order of business. "The first option, of course, was to do a deal with the ID," Coetzee says.
All eyes, public and private, were on the ID. A Beeld article on March 3, headlined "De Lille hou sleutel", opened with the following question, "What will Patricia de Lille choose — the government or the opposition?" The Business Day said of the early IEC reports: "This leaves the ID and ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party) as potential kingmakers."
For the duration of the next two weeks, the press repeatedly and relentlessly focus on the ID as the party around which any potential negotiation would be made or broken.
Friday, March 3: 12 Days until the mayoral election
The IEC verified the final results for the City of Cape Town.
According to the IEC, those parties that won seats in the 210-seat Cape Town Council were:
• DA: 609,545 votes; 41.85%; 90 seats
• ANC: 552,105 votes; 37.91%; 81 seats
• ID: 156,550 votes; 10.75%; 23 seats
• ACDP: 46,902 votes; 3.22%; 7 Seats
• African Muslim Party (AFP): 19,316 votes; 1.33%; 3 seats
• United Democratic Movement (UDM): 11,950 votes; 0.82%; 2 seats
• Freedom Front Plus (FF+): 7,170 votes; 0.49%; 1 seat
• Pan Africanist Congress (PAC): 7,108 votes; 0.49%; 1 seat
• United Independent Front (UIF): 3,472 votes; 0.24%; 1 seat
• Universal Party (UP): 2,346 votes; 0.16%; 1 seat
Under the Municipal Structures Act, the first meeting of the council must take place within 14 days of an election result being declared. Parties thus had until March 17 to come to an agreement and form a government. Later, a date of March 15 was set for the first meeting of the council and the election of the mayor.
As Cape Town made use of the executive mayoral system, control of the city administration essentially revolved around the election of the mayor as the determining factor, as that person would then be able to form a mayoral committee — the city executive — at their discretion; although they would still need a majority on the council floor, to pass any legislation it introduced. The city had practiced an executive committee system before, however. Between 1995 and 2000 a committee of nine oversaw the metro administration, of which the mayor was not a member.
The results meant the ID could give the DA only the 106 votes it needed to elect a mayor (90 + 23 = 113). Should the ID opt to work with the ANC instead, it would need the support of other smaller parties to reach the 106-seat threshold (81 + 23 = 104, leaving it two seats shy). The DA could, however, form a 106-seat coalition by working with every other smaller party, excluding the ANC and ID (90 + 7 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 106).
The media missed this last possibility. Instead, either of the opinion it was an impossibility or by simply failing to do the maths, it continued to describe the ID as holding the balance of power. It became a source of much frustration for the DA. "They kept calling the ID ‘kingmaker’," says Coetzee, "and I kept saying they don’t have the balance of power, they can only give us the mayor."
And it wasn’t a mere technicality. "Conventional wisdom creeps in and the same idea gets reinforced again and again." In the battle for hearts and minds, this sort of thing can play a powerful role.
But it was a narrative the ID was happy to fuel in order to promote its agenda. Simon Grindrod, the ID’s mayoral candidate, was quoted as saying: "As we have said, we will abandon the executive mayoral system in favour of the executive committee system where every party has representation proportional to their size. Only then can we unlock this problem and move this city forward."
Saturday, March 4: 11 Days until the mayoral election
Informal negotiations to form a government began, although the majority of it was defined by public positioning in the press, as each party attempted to establish the parameters of what it was willing to abide by.
In a story headlined, "De Lille spells it out: no coalitions" in the Saturday Argus on March 4, De Lille reaffirmed her party’s position: "For us to keep our independence — and that is critical for us — is that we will work with any political party on the basis of issues on the table. That is our identity. So what is crucial for the ID is that we must show that independence by working with the ANC, by working with the DA and whoever else."
In contrast, the DA argued that 61% of the Cape Town voting population had voted for the opposition and that this suggested the onus fell on the opposition to form a government in order to keep the ANC out of power. It was an argument the ID rejected, with De Lille arguing that, "Our 12% has voted and it must be respected."
Coetzee says today: "We had this hilarious meeting with the ANC, where we set out our position. We wanted the mayoralty and control of the executive committee, which clearly they were never going to agree to. And they said, very politely, ‘Oh that is very nice, our position is we want the mayoralty and control of the executive committee’. And we said, very politely, ‘Oh, okay, thank you. Well, we can’t agree to that.’ And then everybody said, ‘Well, it looks like we can’t agree but, you know, thanks for the chat’. And off we all went."
At this point Coetzee says all the DA cards were really "in the ID basket". At first the DA tried to win the ID round, pointing out that, if they did not agree to a coalition with the DA, they ran the very serious risk of ID voters deserting the party. But the ID remained resistant to any argument that did not cater for an executive committee system.
"We wanted an executive committee system," says De Lille, before pointing out that, once the DA made it apparent it wanted a mayoral system, the two were never going to meet. Her party was approached by a number of parties but the ID’s bottom line was fairly set in stone. "We had approaches by the ANC, we had approaches by the DA," says de Lille, "but we still insisted, very naively at the time, that we wanted to have this executive committee system."
Sunday, 5 March: 10 Days until the mayoral election
The Sunday papers brought a heightened focus on the ID and its leader Patricia de Lille. Both the City Press and The Sunday Times, with stories titled "De Lille in driving seat" and "De Lille holds the cards in Cape Town" respectively, kept alive the narrative that only the ID could determine the final outcome. Behind the scenes, however, negotiations of a different sort were playing themselves out.
What does it take to negotiate effectively? Coetzee is unequivocal.
"The first point is, you have got to be prepared to walk away. That’s the first rule. If you are not prepared to walk away, you are not negotiating; you are just being screwed.
"The second thing is, in order to walk away, you have got to know what your bottom line is, what you are not prepared to do. Then, if that bottom line is not met, obviously, you need the conviction and courage to actually walk away if you don’t get what you are after."
"Finally, simultaneously, you have both to promote your own interests and see the world from the other side’s point of view. So you have got to understand what motivates them, what they are looking for or what they are after. And see if there is any way you can give them that, or something similar. You see, by definition, both sides have to get something."
The DA’s approach in this regard cut a stark contrast with the more collective attitude adopted by the ID. De Lille puts it like this: "We had 23 councillors, and as all these things were going on, I consulted all the time with the 23 councillors and, for me, with hindsight, therein lay the problem.
"Because they were the people affected by whichever way we went. They were part of the negotiations. And so the DA offered a package and the ANC offered a package. And then there was to-ing and fro-ing between the two packages, with the interested group, the 23 councillors. And you know how people are. The ANC package looked better."
The ANC’s package looked better because it was better, at least in terms of patronage. The ANC offered the ID not just positions on the Cape Town executive, including the deputy mayoralty, but a range of other positions on councils across the Western Cape. It had the effect of blurring the ID’s bottom line: in principle, it was an executive committee system; but in practice, it was patronage that would sway ID hearts and minds.
With hindsight, De Lille comes across as reflective and insightful. "Whoever leads the negotiations for any coalition, it should not be anybody who stands to benefit out of that coalition. You need to have people with no direct vested interest, who can look at the bigger picture, to carry out negotiations. And that is the mistake the ID made — to take the interested group and allow them to decide what is best," she says.
Monday, March 6: 9 Days until the mayoral election
The ID’s formal negotiating team was comprised of Simon Grindrod, the ID’s candidate for mayor (Grindrod, like Coetzee, also served as the media interface for the party), Avril Harding, the party’s secretary-general, and David Sassman, an ID councillor in Cape Town.
They had received offers from both the DA and ANC and found both difficult to reconcile with their stated aim. The DA was having none of the ANC and the ANC, while ostensibly accommodating the DA, insisted it, not the DA, be granted a deciding majority on whatever committee system was ultimately agreed to.
But the ANC had another card up its sleeve. De Lille says: "The ANC wanted to take the negotiations broader than just Cape Town, into other municipalities because the ID also held the balance in another nine or ten."
And then, "Hulle oë word almal groot," says De Lille of her 23 councillors.
Not all the negotiating was formal though. De Lille suggests a number of individuals from both the DA and the ANC approached ID members informally and of their own accord, in an attempt to win the party over.
But the formal offers from the two main parties were simple enough. The DA had suggested as one proposal that Zille, as executive mayor, preside over a committee with four DA members, three from the ANC, two from the ID and one from the ACDP. The ANC, by contrast, had proposed that the person it nominated as executive mayor should preside over an executive committee with four ANC members, four from the DA and two from the ID.
Neither of those gave the ID what it was after — a veto or deciding influence over committee decisions. Both the DA and ANC proposals had a final say for their party built into the mechanism, via the executive mayor, and the ID found it was caught between a rock and a hard place. The tension was starting to take its toll.
"Nightmare is an understatement," says De Lille. "It brought out the worst in human beings. It was all about, at a personal level, what people could get out of it for themselves."
And, as much as the ANC was able to effectively persuade and convince through patronage, the underlying tension between the ID and the DA acted as a further incentive for ID councillors to elevate the ANC’s offer above that from the DA.
Tuesday, 7 March: 8 Days until the mayoral election
There was a lull in press coverage as the various parties continued to negotiate behind the scenes.
The City Press had reported on Sunday about the strained relationship between the DA and ID, suggesting that the DA’s aggressive campaigning had badly wounded the ID and that it was still smarting; in particular, with regards to a DA advert calling on the opposition to unite behind the DA.
"The advert in which the DA said voting for parties like the Independent Democrats (ID) was dividing the opposition and wasting valuable votes is coming back to haunt it", the paper wrote. It stated that De Lille would not work with the DA as a result — "the anger generated by the DA advert is too raw and fresh."
But the tension between the two was not limited to campaigning. Part of the lingering animosity concerned the relationship between De Lille and Zille in particular. It was presumably for this reason that the DA decided not to include Zille in its formal negotiating team, as it was felt her presence might hamper rather than engender any potential agreement.
During the week, in a Financial Mail profile on Friday (10 March) titled, "The gold chain isn’t everything", De Lille alluded to the extent of the hostility. The story read: "De Lille’s dislike of the DA and its mayoral candidate, Helen Zille, runs deep. Last week she angrily told the FM: ‘I’m so tired of the racists in the DA – it sickens me’."
It wasn’t just with regards to the ID that Zille evoked distrust and animosity; the ANC too had its reservations.
"The sticking point is who becomes mayor," Ngculu would later say on behalf of the ANC. "Helen Zille has done a lot of things to divide Cape Town. How can we trust such a person? That’s what we have to address."
Repeatedly the tensions between the two parties would emerge in the press as stumbling block for negotiations.
Wednesday, 8 March: 7 Days until the mayoral election
In the press there were conflicting reports about an initiative led by the ACDP, which was reported to have made the offer of a coalition to the DA. But the DA would only say in response that it was considering working with the ACDP as one of various possibilities available to the party. The EP Herald later reported the ACDP head of negotiations, Pauline Cupido, as denying any formal offer from the ACDP or other smaller parties: "There wasn’t a formal offer — there were discussions."
The Cape Times reported Coetzee as stating: "It is only day two of talks and it will take at least another two days (before we have to make a decision)." The same story confirmed the ANC as saying it was in discussions with the ID, among other parties, to form a coalition.
ANC deputy secretary-general Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele confirmed the party was in talks with all parties, including the ID. The ANC had been conspicuously absent from the front pages up to this point, choosing instead to negotiate behind the scenes, but was starting to become widely quoted as part and parcel of negotiations with all parties across the board.
Meanwhile, the ID remained resolute in its commitment not to form a coalition that would give one of the two biggest parties control over the council. Grindrod was quoted as saying: "I want to repeat that the ID will not form a coalition to give power to the ANC or the DA. The ID has had meetings and discussions on this basis with the ANC, DA and ACDP. I reject completely any insinuation that I or (ID leader Patricia de Lille) will support any particular party to gain a majority."
The ID’s insistence on a multiparty committee system was beginning to work against it in the press. For all its insistence on co-operation it provided no rationale DA or ANC voters could attach to. It was asking them to stomach an arrangement with their mortal enemy, an idealistic notion but one that revolved almost entirely around the ID’s values and principles alone. It was a hard sell and almost every story suggested an impasse.
In this regard the DA had the advantage. Unlike the ID and the ANC, its bottom line was clear and immutable. And, unlike the ID, in arguing that 61% of opposition voters had rejected the ANC, it could bind ID voters into its logic. While the ID enjoyed much attention and focus, its public line was acting not to facilitate agreement but rather to augment disagreement.
"To be blunt, you can’t have a negotiation in public," says Coetzee, "What you have to say in public is whether you are prepared to have a negotiation in the first place.
"Your relationship with your voters is a relationship of trust. You must say to them, ‘Look, we are prepared to enter a relationship with such and such because …’ But you must always have a ‘because’."
With a reason, in private, it becomes possible to negotiate from a position of strength. You have both a mandate and a bottom line. The ID’s problem was that its rationale was the ID itself. Multiparty governments are not inherently effective. Its private negotiations were founded on its public legitimacy as a force for consensus and, every day, the media was painting the very opposite picture.
Thursday, 9 March: 6 Days until the mayoral election
Despite the ACDP’s denial, the Cape Argus (9 March 2006) ran a story titled "Opposition alliance collapses", in which it reported "an ACDP-led initiative" to bring parties together had collapsed on the back of a PAC decision not to participate in any coalitions. The story reported that the PAC had demanded a fresh set of elections.
The same story reported the ID as having received two proposals, one from each of the DA and ANC, both of which it was said to be considering. "We will look at them today and then meet with both parties tomorrow, but that is all I can say at the moment," said Grindrod.
In fact, the DA had met with the ACDP and the meeting was very productive, although not definitive.
"We had a meeting with all the smaller opposition parties," says Coetzee, "where the ACDP was keen to do a deal with us." That meeting had taken place on Sunday 5 March, in the Western Cape legislature, a few days before the media got hold of it. Cupido, the party’s leader in the Cape Town metro, had spearheaded the ACDP’s offer.
"The ACDP had done a bit of work to round up quite a lot of the smaller parties," Coetzee continues, "but at that point we thought it was too fragile. We thought that it would be a nightmare government that would fall apart. You know, how do you keep seven parties together when they are so fundamentally different? So we didn’t take it too seriously, but we had a nice meeting with them. And we kept the option open because, in a negotiation, you don’t shut your options down before you have to."
While the DA kept open the possibility of a coalition with these smaller parties, all of whom, with the exception of the PAC and AMP, appeared committed to an arrangement of some sort, it continued to pursue the ID and keep up appearances by talking to the ANC.
The PAC decision not to participate in coalitions was a critical development, although it featured only fleetingly in the press. The Cape Argus story stated, after a meeting of the party’s national working committee the previous night, that PAC leader Dr Motsoko Pheko had ruled out the possibility of any coalition with either the ANC or the DA, on the grounds that the policy of both could not be reconciled with the PAC’s local government election manifesto. It was reported, however, that the decision was not universally popular inside the party and that ambivalence would render the PAC susceptible to the ANC’s influence in the coming days, at least as far as the DA was concerned.
Pheko suggested that his party was, nevertheless, being earnestly pursued by all and sundry. "Now that people are in trouble, they want you," he said. His party would be closely shadowed right until the end.
Friday, 10 March: 5 Days until the mayoral election
Both Die Burger and the Cape Argus reported ID leader Patricia de Lille as stating her party had successfully negotiated an agreement between the DA and the ANC for a multiparty government that paved the way for co-operation and transparency. The DA, however, dismissed the statement as untrue, as did the ANC.
The Cape Argus story read: "(De Lille) confirmed in a statement that the ID ‘has managed to secure an agreement in principle’ between all parties for a multiparty system of government that paved the way for co-operative governance and transparency instead of a ‘winner-takes-all-system’."
The DA was hostile in its refutation. Coetzee was quoted as saying: "Ms De Lille must not abuse this negotiating process to try and score points for her party. If she does, we will be forced to conclude that she is not serious with the negotiations." ANC provincial secretary James Ngculu was reported as saying of the ID’s ‘issue-by-issue’ voting proposal — "It’s not going to be practical. If you create a system where there is tension every time you go to council, it will slow down decisions and delivery."
Today De Lille explains the move as a misunderstanding. She says the ID meant it had established a framework that, it believed, would allow for a successful executive committee system, as opposed to having finalised an actual deal with the relevant parties.
"You know what, it was not negotiating," De Lille says. "The ID, right up until the end, campaigned on the executive committee system. The ID was insisting all three parties govern together in an executive committee system and this was an attempt to realise that. We hoped the other parties would agree to it."
She explains the ID’s position as follows: "All three big parties govern together. The committee system allowed for proportional representation, in terms of the vote you secured. The ID would have two seats and the DA and ANC would share the remainder. The ID would hold the balance."
Coetzee says: "We wouldn’t agree to the ID holding the balance of power in a committee system because they didn’t hold the balance of power in the council, that is, among the electorate. Our point was that if their votes and the ANC’s votes didn’t equal a majority, then their seats on the committee and the ANC’s seats could also not constitute a majority. In other words, their own logic militated against their proposal."
Publicly or privately, neither the DA nor the ANC would agree with the ID’s vision. And, whether a misunderstanding or not, the public pronouncement by the ID only exacerbated tension between it and the DA in particular. The DA was starting to lose hope that any type of deal between it and the ID was possible.
Looking back on it now, Coetzee cannot remember the exact moment the idea of a multiparty coalition without the ID distilled from all the uncertainty as the only way forward for the DA. Walking from the Western Cape legislature back to Parliament after that initial meeting with the smaller parties, he recalls: "I called James and I said, ‘We have to get all these parties in a room and make them a deal’."
He had held out hope such an arrangement could incorporate the ID but its statement seemed to confirm that its insistence on an executive committee system was non-negotiable. The DA now had to make other plans, with or without the ID.
Saturday, 11 March: 4 Days until the mayoral election
The DA was now faced with a simple choice: either it formed a coalition with the remaining six parties or Cape Town would slip away. With the groundwork for such an agreement already established by the ACDP, it was possible to get all the parties together and discuss terms.
"With this kind of coalition negotiation you have got to make sure that the deal you make benefits your party in the long run," Coetzee says. "The risk was that it was very fragile and unstable but the benefit was that the DA would win a city."
Patronage is, of course, essential to facilitating political agreement. A political party must feel it is able to influence governance and that, whatever position it is awarded, it is able to use as a platform from which it can play a meaningful role in the public eye. In this regard, Cape Town had something unique to offer.
Sub-councils are a political invention particular to Cape Town. Established through a by-law in 2003, a number of adjacent wards are grouped together and are able to make recommendations to council on matters affecting the area. The head of a sub-council receives a salary commensurate with that of a member of the executive council. At the time there were 20 sub-councils (today there are 24) and they provided the DA with much political capital.
"Literally every councillor from those other parties got something," says Coetzee. "Some were on the mayoral committee, some were on sub-councils; others were on the labour relations board. Every last one of them, I think there were 27 of them, and they all got something."
"In return," he says, "we got the future."
All of this had to be formalised in a written agreement, which Selfe was responsible for designing.
"James Selfe is calm, tactically astute, unfailingly polite to his adversaries and a master draftsman of political documents," says Coetzee.
It was a simple, four-page document that set out the general parameters of a coalition government as well as the principles and values on which it would stand. It would require special measures that "enhance co-operation and mutual trust". To this end, a leadership committee would be established. "This committee will meet at the request of any leader to discuss any aspect relating to the administration of the council", it read. It allowed for disagreement too: "(If) a party had a serious moral or principled objection to any matter or where it was impossible to reach consensus, the party retained the right to disagree or criticise the majority viewpoint, within council and outside it."
The agreement also set out who would get what. It included 10 mayoral executive committee seats, four Local Government Association Western Cape executive seats, 15 Bargaining Council seats and 20 sub-council seats.
Not everything was set in stone, however. The AMP, which, like the ID, had an acrimonious relationship with the DA, was not yet willing to sign on the dotted line. And the agreement hinged on the PAC abstaining from the vote, something it agreed to do in principle but on which the DA could only take the party at its word. It was a tenuous arrangement and a shift in a single vote could destroy it.
"There is a risk in having a coalition, there is clearly a downside, there is a vulnerability," says Coetzee. "What you have to assess is whether you are capable of managing that vulnerability so it is not exposed and, instead, it is used to the benefit of the party. In Zille we had the right person. You have to set up an agreement and then manage the relationships. We got the mayor and we got the money and, in Zille, someone able to manage the relationships."
All other parties would have to take the proposal back to their formal decision-making structures for agreement.
Time was running out but in the tentative arrangement the DA had, for the first time, facilitated a framework that would give the party control and which did not depend on the ID or the ANC. If it held, by the DA’s calculations, it would win the mayoralty by 105 votes to 104.
Sunday, 12 March: 3 Days until the mayoral election
The Sunday papers again focused their stories on the hostility and animus between the parties, while the ID remained central to most analysis.
The Sunday Times ran a story titled "Cape deadlocked over Zille for mayor". It stated that negotiations had ground to a halt and at the centre of the impasse was the DA’s mayoral candidate Helen Zille, whom the DA insisted be mayor under any arrangement but whom the ANC refused to accept under any circumstances.
Following a DA claim that the ID was engaged in "bad faith negotiations", ID and DA negotiators were set to meet to discuss where each party stood. The DA would keep the door open to the ID right until the very end.
In a separate story, titled "De Lille plays hard to get in coalition talks", the Sunday Times quoted De Lille as reiterating how important the ID’s independence was to the party — "We will not be used by either the ANC or DA, or get embroiled in their hatred for one another."
However, these stories stood in stark contrast to what was reported in City Press. In a poorly written story titled, "Patricia de Lille’s deal backs ANC mayor for Cape Town", the paper reported that the ID had offered to vote in support of an ANC mayor in exchange for four mayoral positions in other Western Cape municipal councils. It later stated, however, that the ANC was still considering the ID’s proposal. It quoted James Ngculu describing it as "fairly reasonable" but saying that it had to go before the ANC’s national working committee.
The story was built around an earlier SABC radio news story that set out the details of the ID’s proposal and which City Press described as follows: "The SABC reported late last night that a deal had been clinched, in terms of which the DA would get the mayorship, the ANC deputy mayorship, while the ID would get the Speaker’s post."
Much of the conflict was painted as revolving around Helen Zille.
Zille herself, almost entirely absent from media reports, was quoted as accusing the ID of "behind the scenes" negotiations. She said: "I said a vote for the ID will be a vote for the ANC and mark my words, it will be."
The DA and ID’s paths were beginning irrevocably to diverge. Both had tentative agreements before them and towards which they were leaning. The ID and the ANC had the beginnings of what would evolve into a final deal and the DA, still with one or two outstanding concerns, had the outline of its own agreement. All that stood between the two parties and their destiny on March 15 was just more than 48 hours.
Monday, 13 March: 2 Days until the mayoral election
In a Business Day story titled "ID denies deal with ANC over Cape Town", De Lille denied any agreement with the ANC. She stated that the ID remained committed to a multiparty solution: "Any speculation that a deal has been cut is purely speculation intended to create further confusion among the residents. The ID states at no stage whatsoever has any deal been struck with any political party and talks with the ANC and DA are continuing."
An ID statement titled "The Independent Democrats negotiation package", read: "The Independent Democrats has made our position known to both the Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress. Our position has been and still remains that the best system of governance for the City of Cape Town is one that is multiparty in nature that includes both the ANC and the DA and broadly reflects the will of the voters.
"On this basis the ID believes that the system that best reflects this is the Democratic Alliance holding five seats in the executive committee, the African National Congress holding four seats and the Independent Democrats holding the remaining two seats. The Independent Democrats believes that the issue of who should hold the mayor and the deputy mayor positions needs to be resolved between the ANC and the DA. We believe our proposal for the constitution of the council is a fair one and reflects the will of the voters."
There was further evidence of relations between the DA and ID deteriorating. The Cape Times (March 13 2006) reported that a deal was allegedly struck between the ID and the ANC, in exchange for the ID mayoralty in three other Western Cape municipalities. The move was condemned by the DA but also fervently denied by ID leader Patricia de Lille.
Helen Zille was reported as saying the ID had "sold Cape Town to the ANC".
In the same Cape Times story, Coetzee set out the two options the DA had put on the table: "We have got two options. One is an opposition government with the ID and smaller parties, the other is a multiparty government that includes the ANC."
He said the offer had been put to the ID, which told the DA it was "waiting for the ANC".
Coetzee said the DA was ready to make an agreement. The ANC, via James Ngculu, said there was "nothing to report yet".
In the interim, the DA released a draft 100-page plan to turn around governance in the City of Cape Town. The move was a clever example of using the press to generate momentum behind, and a sense of inevitability about, the DA. If it acted like it was going to be the government, the perception would be all roads led inexorably to that eventuality. This was a fight as much about public legitimacy as it was private conviction.
Tuesday, March 14: 1 Day until the mayoral election
After two weeks of negotiating, the future of Cape Town would be determined in the 24 hours before the election.
The ID, under immense pressure, would meet with all 23 councillors and consider the various options available to it. The difficulty of the choice before it would see it deliberate until 2am in the morning, at which point it eventually agreed to vote for an ANC mayor.
In the past Friday’s Financial Mail profile of De Lille she was quoted as saying: "We will choose a mayor on the basis of whether that person’s party is not in conflict with our own. We are pro-transformation and we are pro-poor."
In retrospect, the ID’s ideological compatibility with the ANC was a determining factor. She says today: "You certainly have to look at the policy and values of the other party, and evaluate how close they are to yours. Because once you go into a coalition it is like getting into marriage of sorts. And that’s the thing about the ANC and ID at the time, our policies felt closer."
She said in the Financial Mail: "Positions are not the issue. We don’t want more positions. Even if we have only 11% of the executive power, we will still have a casting vote in the committee and in council as a whole."
Today De Lille says: "I could see the tensions among the 23 ID councillors. Whatever positions were offered, they were asking ‘who is going to get it?’, ‘who is entitled to get it?’ They had to agree among themselves. For both offers, they were at great pains to decide who was going to get the speaker or the deputy mayor and so forth. And so they fought it out late into the night. And eventually decided to go with the ANC.
"There was so much horse trading," says De Lille, "and that was wrong. You have to look beyond positions. You should be looking further. At the compatibility with whoever you are going to go into coalitions with."
Elsewhere, the DA was experiencing problems of its own. Despite every attempt to get the AMP on board, it was still ambivalent. And its uncertainty was playing havoc with the party’s nerves. There was every chance it was playing off what the DA had to offer with what it could extract from the ANC. Ironically, the ANC’s certainty — that the ID would go with it — no doubt played into the DA’s hands. A certain arrogance, too, might have motivated it to take the votes of those smaller parties, traditionally closer to it than the DA for granted (the PAC and AMP, for example). Nevertheless, "the African Muslim Party was the one party we were seriously worried about", says Coetzee.
Kent Morkel would then deliver his defining contribution. In front of Coetzee and Selfe, he would make a call to the AMP. It was curt and to the point. "Howzit my Hajee," Morkel would say. Coetzee cannot remember the specific details but it was no more than four or five exchanges that boiled down to the sentiment, "stop buggering around" and "let’s do this now". Morkel hung up the phone and turned to the other two — "It’s done. They are on board."
The AMP’s agreement was critical. And the DA was right to be worried. The ANC, like the DA, had realised the AMP’s three votes could be all-important and had, in the interim, approached the party to do a deal. It had calculated that, together with the ID, it had 107 votes and everything it needed to secure the mayoralty. The AMP had responded favourably. But the ANC had not taken into account the AMP’s hostility towards the ANC among its members. Much of this could be traced back to Mfeketo, whose controversial adviser, Blackman Ngoro, had done a great deal to alienate coloured voters over the past year. And it was Morkel who had led the charge against him publicly on the DA’s behalf. He was perfectly positioned to convince. After Morkel’s intervention, the AMP put the DA’s offer to its councillors and was soon endorsed as the most politically sensible option for the party. It had played the ANC, but the ANC would not realise this until the next day.
"Kent Morkel will live on in perpetuity as the man who delivered the African Muslim Party," says Coetzee.
Late in the day, all seven parties reached a final agreement. The pieces were falling into place.
But there were other problems. The lone PAC councillor, a man by the name of Bennett Joko, had disappeared. His wife was due to give birth and he had gone home to be by her side. Unsure the PAC would hold up its end of the bargain so critical to the one-vote majority the DA sought, Zille drove out to personally visit him at his home that night. After much discussion, she was able to persuade him to attend the vote and, more importantly, to abstain. As it turned out, whether or not he had stayed away or abstained, would have made no difference to the final outcome. Both would have neutralised his vote. But the DA could not have known that at the time. If he was going to attend, he absolutely had to abstain.
There was one final hurdle. To win, every single councillor had to be present and vote according to plan. If just one was absent or voted out of line, the agreement would fall apart. It represented a massive logistical undertaking. The DA alone had to pull out all the stops just to ensure its own caucus was fully represented.
"What really made me feel sorry for Helen," recalls De Lille, "was that a DA councillor had to be brought in to vote from hospital; that’s how important that vote was. The DA needed every single vote."
Each party had done everything it could. It would now boil down to whether they could hold the line on the day. The press, however, remained none the wiser. The following morning in a story titled "ANC, DA get up close in Cape cliffhanger", Business Day reported: "Last night speculation was rife that a grand coalition comprising the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance was on the cards."
Wednesday, March 15 : Mayoral Election Day
The first meeting of the newly elected Cape Town city council took place at 10am in the council chamber on the 6th floor of the Civic Centre. The council minutes from the meeting record all 210 members were present. The chamber was at capacity — a huge national media presence, the public gallery was packed tight and, in between, staff and other public representatives from the various political parties watched on. The atmosphere was extremely tense, an electric mix of apprehension and trepidation.
Three votes would determine the makeup of the government to follow: first, a vote for the speaker, followed by a vote for the mayor and finally, a vote for the deputy mayor. But it would be the first vote, for speaker, that would reveal the real state of play. Would the DA-led coalition hold up?
In the absence of a speaker, the first vote of the meeting was chaired by City Manager, Dr Wallace Mgoqi. After one or two formalities, the vote for speaker was put to the chamber.
Councillor Dirk Smit (FF+) was nominated by the UP and councillor Gavin Paulse (ANC) by the ANC. The absence of any candidate from the DA or the ID suggested immediately the first sign of how the council was going to split. Leon van Rensburg (DA) was nominated for the position by the ID, but he declined to accept.
This event was overlooked in all subsequent analyses; but in the ID’s mind, it was no doubt its attempt still to facilitate an arrangement involving all three main parties. The fact that the nomination was turned down, even before the vote was taken, would have rung the first alarm bells for both the ID and the ANC. It meant the DA had a plan of its own.
Then the vote.
The council minutes record Dirk Smit as winning by a solitary vote: 105 to 104. The ID and the ANC were astounded. From the gallery, Coetzee recalls their faces, ashen and drawn.
"After the speaker, everyone could see the game was up," De Lille says. "Everyone could see how the cookie was going to crumble."
But the ANC was not done yet. There was still time for it to orchestrate control. It all came down to the following vote, for mayor, and if it could pressure a single party or councillor to switch, there was a chance it could prevail.
In his autobiography, Leon writes: "Some ANC members of the council looked at the opposition members from whom they had expected support and drew knives across their throats. This in an open council."
It is difficult to capture the atmosphere in the chamber. The ANC called for not one, but two caucuses and, throughout, it was impossible to locate Joko. The pressure brought to bear on him by the ANC must have been immense and, no doubt, they promised the world. Such was the alarm, in the middle of proceedings, Coetzee issued a statement: "The ANC and ID lost the election for speaker, called for a caucus, left the chamber and are now refusing to return. They have hijacked the PAC councillor who now cannot be found.
"They need to accept the outcome of a democratic election, come back into the chamber and let democracy take its course. This has been a disgraceful display of anti-democratic behaviour."
But it was not just the PAC that had vanished. The AMP too had been escorted into a side room by the ANC and, no doubt, similar pressure was being applied to it. The ANC had taken away the cellphones of both the PAC and AMP members. No one could raise or locate them.
"The ANC called for a break halfway through proceedings, corralled the PAC into a room and there harangued them while we freaked out. I briefed journalists that this was intimidation; we were panicked. And anyway they came out of the room and someone said to me, probably Kent, ‘it’s okay, it’s okay’," says Coetzee.
For just under an hour, panic engulfed the chamber. The council minutes recorded only the following: "The ANC requested permission to caucus, which was duly granted. After approximately 50 minutes, the meeting reconvened and the speaker proceeded with the items as proposed by the DA."
After one or two other formalities, the vote for the mayor called. Only two candidates were nominated, Helen Zille for the DA and Nomaindia Mfeketo for the ANC. Votes were cast. As with the first vote, they were counted in plain sight; everyone could see them being separated at the front of the chamber.
"I was in the gallery and you could see the votes being counted, literally, as they were being put into piles," says Coetzee. "And lo and behold, we won, 106 votes to 103."
The council chamber erupted as the newly elected speaker declared the result. The coalition, a fragile collection of often diametrically opposed parties, had held firm. The AMP had voted according to plan and the PAC had remained true to its word and the mandate its national working committee had outlined days earlier.
One hundred and six votes for Zille meant someone from the ID/ANC had broken ranks and voted for the DA’s candidate. Because all votes are secret it will never be definitively known who it was, but De Lille has her theories and there are two people in particular she identifies.
The first is ID councillor Michael Britz. "Somebody who was sitting next to him, told me," she says. "The other one that we also suspected was Shevral Arendse (also an ID councillor), because he was heavily anti-ANC, although he was fine with the ANC so long as we got so many positions, until we lost the vote, then he just up and switched over, switched over just like that."
The final significant election was for the position of deputy mayor. In it, Andrew Arnolds from the ACDP defeated Simon Grindrod from the ID, by a margin of 105 to 104, with the PAC again abstaining by spoiling their ballot. "We knew the PAC was not going to go with either side," says De Lille, "we calculated the PAC’s abstention to be for our benefit. But it didn’t work out that way."
The DA-led seven-party coalition, which resulted in the victory, comprised: The DA (90 seats); ACDP (7 seats); AMP (3 seats); UDM (2 seats); FF+ (1 seat); UIF (1 seat) and the UP (1 seat). A total of 105 seats. It was now able to form a government.
James Ngculu said in response: "We need to sit down and analyse what went wrong. I’ve got my own views, but I’ve got a collective to share with."
Elsewhere, the ID tried to defend it decision. "The reason we supported the ANC on the mayoral vote was based on our (shared) anti-racism and pro-poor principles," De Lille said. Grindrod suggested: "An isolated vote to form a council is not a coalition vote. We found ourselves closer to the ANC on this occasion."
Zille conveyed the pressure and uncertainty of the day, saying afterwards: "As the minutes ticked by I thought our chances were rapidly disappearing. When the ANC lost (the speaker position) they put pressure on the smaller parties. I thought it was lost when the ANC wanted to caucus." Her very first action afterwards was to extend an invitation to the ID to join the government.
But it was not accepted and Coetzee was far more brutal: "De Lille has dropped a bomb on her party. Her supporters feel betrayed, and it won’t come as a surprise if they leave the party in droves."
The repercussions of the vote were significant. In the days and weeks to come, while the ID would still push for the Cape Town council to adopt an executive committee system, its public reputation suffered tremendous damage after "reneging" on all its public undertakings by voting for Mfeketo.
In turn, its relationship with the DA, in the interim period between the vote and it eventually joining the DA in government as part of the coalition in 2007, would massively deteriorate further.
In a column in the Cape Times ("ID’s claim to be independent has always rung hollow", March 30 2006), Coetzee set out some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations, leading up to the coalition. In it, he states the DA had suggested an opposition coalition, which the ID rejected on the grounds it believed the ANC should be part of any government. It was rejected by the ANC, he argued, as that party insisted on the mayoralty. The ID, Coetzee stated, wanted a veto over every decision the government took, which the DA was not willing to concede.
His column also contained the following: "I must make it clear at this point that the ID explicitly told us during negotiations that it was comfortable with the mayoral committee system. Indeed, it dropped its demand for a change to the executive committee system during the course of our first meeting, partly on the grounds that the ANC insisted on a mayoral committee system. The issue was never raised again during the entire course of the negotiations."
Outside of Coetzee’s column, and with the exception of an excellent piece by Jan-Jan Joubert for Beeld on March 17 ("Dobbelspel lei tot Zille in die tuig") there was no attempt by the press to interrogate the events of the preceding fortnight.
On reflection, Coetzee points out that one factor, crucial to any coalition, is the leader and in Zille, the DA had the perfect candidate.
"It is also important to remember that Zille’s management of that coalition government was actually brilliant. You need someone with her political antenna, her work ethic, her obsessive attention to detail, to keep together a coalition of seven parties. She did a remarkable job, because it could all have fallen apart."
The Cape Town mayoralty was the platform from which Zille would be launched into the South African public mind. Just under a year later she would take over the DA leadership from Leon, for whom the coalition government would act as something of a book-end to a remarkable political career. But it wasn’t just Zille’s management expertise that made a difference in the long run. "Whoever is the mayor, appears to be in charge of the government. Ask the voters who won the Cape Town elections in 2006 and, generally, they will say the DA because the mayor is by a country mile the person with the biggest profile," says Coetzee.
He says of the final outcome: "It rescued the election result for the DA in 2006, because it wasn’t that good a result; but, more importantly, as soon as you can break the myth of ANC hegemony, the ANC doesn’t really come back from it. So we went on to win a majority in the next election."
De Lille is philosophical looking back.
She sees the ID’s eventual decision to join the Cape Town government, after the AMP and the ACDP later fell out, as facilitating in effect the kind of arrangement the ID was always after. When the ID did join, by agreement with the DA, those remaining parties all kept their various positions and, although without the ANC, a generally representative government held sway.
"Once we started governing together, you come to see there are more things you agree on than you disagree on. We had our disagreements, as did the other coalition partners, but we spoke them out. It really became an unofficial executive committee system, because, you know, Helen kept them, and I think that, while a complex arrangement, was also the great strength of the final coalition."
When that quote was put to Coetzee, he described it as an astute observation. "I agree with it completely," he says. Coetzee and De Lille have enjoyed an altogether different kind of relationship in the following years, and Coetzee says of De Lille today: "I have immense respect for her."
De Lille, too, speaks favourably of Coetzee and the role he played in the 2006 negotiations, often complimenting him for seeing things the ID had missed at the time.
Today, she sits as DA mayor of Cape Town (and the party’s Western Cape provincial leader); and the City, stable, well run and streaks ahead of those run by its ANC counterparts, has seen control consolidated under a DA banner. It will be for some time to come. Coetzee watches on from the UK, where he still advises on political strategy and tactics.
"We pulled off quite a complicated bit of coalition building," he says.
© BDlive 2016