When the election results started streaming in at the results centre in Pretoria after South Africans went to the ballot box on August 3 2016, ANC officials were smiling.

But by August 6 the tectonic plates of SA politics had shifted and 27 hung councils were open targets. Fervent horse trading followed, with the ANC pulling on the shortest end of the negotiations as they tried in vain to get coalitions with the ANC at the helm.

The EFF, in the powerful position of kingmaker, decided to throw its votes in with any party that would keep the ANC out. It succeeded in helping formal coalitions, including of the DA, Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus), United Democratic Movement (UDM), African Christian Democratic Party and Congress of the People, to take the seat of governance in multiple municipalities.

These unlikely allies took control of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metros, as well as smaller municipalities across the country.

More than nine months into their term, the coalition governments faced their first crucial tests with the passing of budgets and integrated development plans.

In Nelson Mandela Bay the conflict between DA mayor Athol Trollip and deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani from the UDM has caused friction within the coalition. Still, the metro succeeded in passing its budget and integrated development plan.

But in the small municipality of Mogale City on the Gauteng West Rand, nothing of significance has been passed in the past nine months and its second mayor has now been removed after a vote of no confidence.

This municipality has had two DA mayors. Lynn Pannall was voted in during the first council meeting, but later stepped down due to ill health.

Michael Holenstein, the second mayor, was appointed shortly thereafter. An already hostile situation then escalated to open war between the coalition government and the ANC. The DA-led coalition — consisting of the DA, the FF Plus and the IFP, with the EFF as voting partner — has exactly 50% plus one of the vote. The ANC could not get the extra councillor needed to give it a majority.

Regardless of this, a peculiar situation played out during the vote in the first council meeting. The mayor was, as expected, elected by the majority. But in a surprise move, the ANC received the votes needed to retain the positions of speaker and chief whip.

It is not clear who changed their votes, but because of this uncertainty there has been a reluctance to vote on motions of no confidence in a secret ballot.

That fear proved to be justified on Wednesday, when Holenstein was removed from office through a vote of no confidence conducted by secret ballot.

Holenstein’s removal follows months of political infighting that has held the municipality hostage. During this time, the relationship between the speaker and the mayor, representative of the legislature and the executive, was effectively nonexistent.

The situation was compounded by a council meeting one Friday evening in January when the multiparty coalition attended a meeting that was called by the mayor to table a motion of no confidence in speaker Patrick Lipudi and chief whip Sipho Dube, and to appoint a municipal manager. The councillors voted the pair out. But there was a problem: only the speaker has the power to call a meeting, not the mayor, and none of the ANC councillors had turned up for the meeting.

Holenstein said he had no choice but to call the meeting, and that the rules of council do not stipulate that he could not do so.

But neither do they stipulate that he could.

Gauteng MEC of co-operative governance & traditional affairs Paul Mashatile met the parties, and reversed the decision to vote out Lipudi and Dube, stating that the meeting had been illegal. A municipal manager was finally appointed by the council at the end of January, after the municipality had not had an accounting officer for a month.

On Tuesday last week, the young coalition faced its own crucial test. The ANC had tabled a motion of no confidence in Holenstein. It was the first item on the agenda for the council meeting, with the more crucial budget vote and integrated development plan placed lower down.

A 10-hour council meeting and an eight-hour debate later, the meeting was adjourned with no votes cast.

The following day, the coalition and the EFF urged the speaker to call an urgent council meeting, but, according to mayoral spokesman Gregory Dalton, he was out of the province.

In not passing the budget and integrated development plan, the council was noncompliant with the Municipal Finance Management Act, leaving Mogale City in the hands of the very man the coalition partners accused of being complicit in a destabilisation campaign run by the ANC: Mashatile.

Petty political games have trumped good governance in a municipality that voted for parties to govern together.

Last week, an emotional Dalton decried the fact that the coalition had not been given even a year to prove that it could govern.

On Wednesday it was official. Councillors on stage counted the votes with worried faces. As minutes ticked by, it became clear that one of the coalition’s own councillors had voted against Holenstein and with the ANC.

The question was who, as the ANC needed just one of the multiparty government’s councillors to swing his or her vote to succeed. The IFP in Gauteng is openly blaming the DA, as it says the other coalition and voting partners voted in specific coloured pens, so it was possible to track their votes. The DA councillors, according to IFP provincial secretary Alco Ngobese, voted with a mix of pens.

This has heightened tension between the partners, but the DA’s West Rand constituency head, Alan Fuchs, says this is not the time to point fingers. A thorough evaluation and investigation will be undertaken, he says.

However, trust in the small municipality has taken a knock.

The budget and the integrated development plan have now not been passed for a second time. If these have still not been passed by July 1, Mogale City could be put under administration. What makes matters worse is that the municipality also has no mayor, as the council meeting adjourned before a new mayor could be nominated and voted for.

Councillors, seemingly in shock, packed their bags and left, while EFF supporters protested in front of the hall.

For the moment, the coalition has lost its executive hold, and it remains to be seen if it will retain its mayoral seat. If not, the ANC will have control of the municipality once again.

Prof Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at Unisa, says coalition governments in the hung councils that spend more time on fighting than on service delivery continue to do so at their own peril.

He says an example of the consequences lies in Nquthu in KwaZulu Natal, one of the original 27 hung councils. Nquthu had failed for months to sit and appoint a mayor, and service delivery subsequently stalled. During the recent by-election, most residents voted for the IFP, relieving the municipality of the instability caused by the hung council.

Fikeni says that even if voters don’t believe a party should have the majority, they could end up voting for it as a majority if nothing else is functioning.


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