Herman Mashaba. Picture: SOWETAN
Herman Mashaba. Picture: SOWETAN

The saga playing itself out in the City of Johannesburg, SA’s biggest budget municipality and the economic heartland of Gauteng — which contributes more than a third of GDP — is one that is critical for the country and coalition politics.

Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba resigned from his post and his erstwhile political party the DA a month ago as a result of internal party politics. That was deeply ironic considering that he was a leader without a clear majority and dependent on support from the EFF. The casual observer would have expected the red berets and the ANC to have been the ones he had to look out for.

Mashaba announced his resignation a day after the party’s former leader Helen Zille was elected as the DA’s federal council chair, a move he saw as a step backwards from the party’s aspirations to be a home for all South Africans. He was blunt in his rebuke of the party.

The City of Johannesburg, with its budget of R64.5bn for 2019/2020, is now at the mercy of the circling political vultures

Mashaba’s assessment of the DA was sensational coming from a man entrusted with leading a critical metro and who was the most successful of all the DA’s mayoral candidates in holding together a coalition and voting arrangement that kept the party in power.

This was no small feat, given that it has proven a difficult exercise for some of the other hung municipalities which arose out of the 2016 local government elections in which the ANC was punished at the ballot box over the excesses of the Jacob Zuma administration.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA’s Athol Trollip was ousted in a motion of no confidence after political manoeuvring. In Mogale City in Gauteng, the ANC managed to get back into power and in Metsimaholo in the Free State voters had to go to fresh elections. And Tshwane, the capital city, seems to be a poisoned chalice for DA mayors. First Solly Msimanga had to resign to focus on what became an unsuccessful campaign to become premier of Gauteng, while his replacement, Stevens Mokgalapa, is in the firing line for a sex scandal, among other issues.

The City of Johannesburg, with its budget of R64.5bn for 2019/2020, is now at the mercy of the circling political vultures as all and sundry want to take over what by all accounts is for the most part a well-run city, despite its disastrous billing system.

The DA wants to hang on to the mayorship and has fielded Mashaba’s finance MMC, Funzela Ngobeni, for the top post. The ANC wants its regional chair, Geoff Makhubo, to take over the reins. The EFF’s caucus leader, Musa Novela, is also in the race.

A dilemma for all the candidates — and for the city  — is that none of the parties even with their allies has enough votes without the support of the EFF, which says it will support a party in Tshwane if the red berets are given the mayoralty in Johannesburg.

The City of Johannesburg council was unable to vote in a new mayor on Thursday after speaker Vasco Da Gama postponed the meeting to get a legal opinion on what constitutes a majority vote for the mayor. This means that the city has no mayor until at least next week. A week more of horse trading is expected and one wonders if the residents matter at all while the political functionaries wheel and deal.

Voters will keep an eye on how the political parties fight it out in Johannesburg, and this can help them decide whether the country’s political culture is mature enough to sustain coalition politics.

Some say this is the future as politics become more fragmented. We may have to wait until the 2021 local government elections for a conclusive outcome.