Supporters of the DA may well be disappointed by the official opposition losing Joburg to the ANC. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY
Supporters of the DA may well be disappointed by the official opposition losing Joburg to the ANC. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY

In a year filled with lows, the first week of December proved exceptionally trying for the DA as the most significant gains made during the 2016 local government elections were reversed in a matter of days.

First SA’s economic heartland of Johannesburg, which it had governed via a coalition, went back to the ANC on Wednesday as some of its erstwhile coalition partners — as well as some of its own councillors — turned on the DA and supported Geoff Makhubo’s candidature as mayor.

While there is a lot to be said about what went wrong in Joburg, the reality is that the DA can easily answer that question by looking in the mirror.

The mayorship opened up in the first place as a result of the party’s internal politics, while the caucus members deciding to vote for the ANC was merely symptomatic of the DA’s discipline problem in its ranks.

Late on Thursday, the EFF and the ANC joined forces and booted out the DA’s Tshwane mayor, Stevens Mokgalapa, and speaker Katlego Mathebe through two motions of no confidence. Though Mokgalapa and Mathebe remain in their positions pending the outcome of a court challenge by the DA, which argues that the processes followed by the council to oust the pair were flawed, it does not take away the fact the party is facing serious setbacks. 

On Friday, the provincial government added further insult to injury and placed Tshwane under administration.

The only ray of light for the DA will be that its motion of no confidence on the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani passed and he was deservedly booted out of office.

But this is cold comfort.

The reality is that the DA has been out-politicked, which is surely devastating for a party that has built its model of governance on first successfully leading coalitions to prove it can govern and then taking over with a majority, such as what happened in Cape Town and then the Western Cape.

After last week, the DA has returned to being a party that governs only one of the eight metros and one province, the Western Cape. For some, this is good news as the argument is that one should not try to govern at all costs. It, however, does mean the DA will have to go back to the drawing board and find a new strategy, as this one has gone up in flames.

For the ANC, the ruptures in the DA give it an opportunity to be on the front line of service delivery in Joburg, where it lost majority support in 2016, ahead of the 2021 local government elections.  

Whether that opportunity will be squandered or used productively is a completely different question. The old cliché that power corrupts is not for nothing, and the ANC is by no means a poster child for clean and competent governance. It never has been, particularly in Johannesburg.

Makhubo, in charge of a city with a budget of about R65bn, is facing serious questions about an estimated R30m his company, Molelwane Consulting, received from Regiments Capital — a Gupta-linked entity implicated in the state capture project. 

A year ago, according to non-profit investigative journalism organisation AmaBhungane, Regiments won a contract to manage Joburg’s fund to meet the city’s future debt repayments, and Makhubo’s Molelwane Consulting was given a 10% cut of the contract.

He has previously denied any wrongdoing, but the ANC provincial integrity committee is yet to discuss its own investigation report into the allegations. 

But with the local government elections a year and a half away, Makhubo’s ties with Regiments could cast a shadow over the ANC’s efforts to reclaim the metro with an outright victory at the polls.

While the ANC’s performance under former mayor Parks Tau may have been marginally better than that of Herman Mashaba — the city’s credit ratings consistently improved under the former’s watch and deteriorated under the latter’s — it was under Tau’s administration that the disastrous, yet unresolved billing crisis emerged.

While the DA fiddles and wrings its hands, the latest drama in Gauteng’s metros shows it is not only a failure at governance but also a failure in its role as the official opposition — its own councillors and coalition partners handed the key city right back to the woefully incompetent and corrupt ANC.

Citizens are quite literally on their own.

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