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

Thursday will mark three years since Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba was elected to run SA’s biggest-budget municipality — a day when he was jubilantly hoisted on the shoulders of DA members after a marathon meeting of the party caucus. It is also the day on which he will face his second ANC-sponsored motion of no confidence since he took office.

Three years in, the honeymoon of the DA-led minority coalition government in Joburg would seem to be over.

The 2016 local government elections resulted in a hung council, with no party winning enough of the 270 seats to secure an outright majority. To rule outright, a party needs 136 seats. In 2016, the DA won 104. The ANC, the biggest party in the council, won 121, and the EFF 30.

The DA’s coalition partners in the metro account for nine seats: the IFP holds five, and the Freedom Front Plus, United Democratic Movement, African Christian Democratic Party and COPE hold one each. The remaining seats are held by the African Independent Congress (four), and Al Jama-ah and the Patriotic Alliance (one each).

But the DA’s position was weakened last month, when it lost a seat to the ANC in a by-election.

Given the importance of numbers in a hung council, the by-election victory emboldened the ANC, which hopes to win back the metro in the 2021 local government elections.

But it is the EFF that has been a key player in the continued leadership of the DA coalition — and Mashaba — in the metro. The party helped vote Mashaba into power, and it supported him in the ANC’s previous (unsuccessful) motion of no confidence against him.

On Thursday the EFF will again be the kingmaker, when three motions of no confidence play out — against Mashaba, as well as chair of chairs Alex Christians and council chief whip Kevin Wax. If it abstains from voting, the numbers suggest the ANC will be victorious.

EFF leader Julius Malema recently indicated that the party would no longer vote with the DA in municipalities where the DA needs its votes.

This came after the DA refused to give up the Tshwane mayorship to the EFF. The party would not, however, side with the ANC either, Malema said. It would opt instead to participate in the debate, and then abstain from voting.

In Joburg, the EFF and Mashaba have had a very good working relationship that has, among other developments, led Mashaba to insource workers in the metro. The EFF has praised him for his approach to, and leadership of, the metro.

So it’s not inconceivable that the EFF will go back on its promise to abstain from voting just to keep Mashaba in place.

Gauteng DA leader John Moodey tells the FM that the party is confident its partners will vote to ensure that all three motions fail.

He attributes the motion of no confidence to the ANC being put under pressure by Mashaba’s anticorruption stance, saying ANC members are "scared to go to jail".

Moodey says it is nonsense to suggest the city is bankrupt — the ANC’s reason for calling the no-confidence motion — and says the metro’s finances have been stabilised.

But the highly politicised nature of the vote means the underlying rationale may be less important than securing the numbers to retain a favourable balance of power.

The negotiations leading up to the vote will be critical.

Moodey says negotiations with the EFF are taking place at municipal, provincial and national levels.

But the EFF had not held its caucus meeting by the time the FM went to print on Tuesday. A position would only be communicated after that meeting, said EFF Joburg chair Musa Novela.

The IFP, the fourth-largest party in the council and part of the coalition, said it was still discussing the issue and hadn’t taken a decision on whether to support Mashaba.

So Thursday’s vote is a test not only for the DA, but also for what coalition management means.

On top of that, it’s a test for the EFF, which has been known to renege on positions it has taken in the past.

The day the EFF announced it would be abstaining from voting, ANC Joburg spokesperson Jolidee Matongo showed some cynicism about the party’s promises, saying its commitment might have to be tested.

That test is here.