The DA would be naive to celebrate too soon

23 November 2021 - 07:08
Mayors do not have the kind of executive powers, or magic wands, that can enable them to ignore those who helped them win mayoral races in the absence of a clear majority of votes from their own parties.
Mayors do not have the kind of executive powers, or magic wands, that can enable them to ignore those who helped them win mayoral races in the absence of a clear majority of votes from their own parties.
Image: VELI NHLAPO

The DA is chuffed with itself. The party’s mayoral candidates for Johannesburg (Mpho Phalatse) and Ekurhuleni (Tania Campbell) are now officially in charge of these metros.

By the time you read this analysis piece (penned just after Phalatse’s victory), a similar outcome may have played out in other metros like Tshwane and eThekwini.

Does this mean the DA should celebrate? Absolutely not.

There are no winners in this mess that has played out across the country over the past two weeks.

Once the ANC is in the opposition, and the laughter has subsided, then the in-fighting among the anything-but-the-ANC lot will become the next source of tragicomedy. 

First, the ANC has been thoroughly emasculated. And that is a good thing. You cannot steal from citizens with gay abandon and think yourselves entitled to political power until the second coming of the man upstairs. That is megalomania beyond belief.

From the local government election results to the failure to hold on to Ekurhuleni, the ANC has been taught a fantastic lesson about the limits of being unresponsive to the needs of voters. You can fool even a lot of the voters a lot of the time, but you cannot fool enough voters all of the time to guarantee holding on to political power into perpetuity.

The party now has to accept the existential crisis that this new reality brings, and quickly take seriously the hitherto hollow rhetoric of “renewal”. If it doesn’t, then national elections will deliver similar kinds of outcomes. And so, despite an ANC mayor now being in charge of Nelson Mandela Bay (Eugene Johnson), the bottom line is that the ANC is bruised and battered, and it had better attend to these injuries speedily.

But it is the DA’s fortunes that interest me. I saw a few DA politicians gloating on social media about their success and mocking smaller parties. One or two of them even mocked political journalists and analysts for not having predicted the outcome in Ekurhuleni’s mayoral race. These reactions are embarrassingly misplaced. The DA cannot afford to celebrate too soon.

These mayoral victories do not end the coalition complexities.

Mayors do not have the kind of executive powers, or magic wands, that can enable them to ignore those who helped them win mayoral races in the absence of a clear majority of votes from their own parties. It is, actually, unclear whether Phalatse should go to bed with a smile on her face or with trepidation about how things will go the morning after.

The EFF and ActionSA both do not like the DA. There is zero ideological or policy affinity between the EFF and the DA. Both know that to be so and neither even considered a genuine coalition agreement with the other. The EFF is very happy to see the ANC emasculated. That was and is its singular goal. But here’s how crafty they are — they did not have to choose between giving the ANC a bloody nose and still stopping the DA in its tracks also.

This voting outcome achieves both because the EFF is inevitably going to be very obstructive in council. They have no interest in assisting the DA to run Johannesburg effectively. They will relish the opportunity to have residents of the metro get frustrated with the municipality and then sell that narrative as evidence of DA ineptitude. The DA’s leader, John Steenhuisen, was correct when he warned that a coalition with ActionSA would, in practice, lead to the EFF’s voting block being relied on at times and that would undercut the DA’s freedom to roll out its vision for the city. Simply put, Steenhuisen and the rest of the DA did not want to have to rely on the EFF.

But now the DA will be relying on the EFF, and on ActionSA, at any rate. So the EFF has been super smart by effectively imposing itself on the DA while undermining the ANC. EFF politicians are not credited enough for their tactical instincts. The DA has ended up with an outcome it claimed it expressly wanted to avoid. It hasn’t. The Johannesburg mayoral victory is therefore both a blessing and a curse for the DA.

Similarly, Herman Mashaba will not forgive the DA for how it handled the coalition talks.

The overall implication, sadly, is that we can expect incoherence and even chaos within our metros in the weeks and months ahead rather than the beginning of quiet and much needed stability.

He has described them as dishonest and effectively vowed to take political revenge. Just watching him react on Monday evening to how it all played out, you see in his eyes and hear in his voice the rage of a hypermasculine, hyper competitive type-A personality.

There is no way in political hell the Mashaba we know will passively allow the DA to simply get on with the business of governing with its support. All the rhetoric about “putting the country first” is just a feeble PR stunt to try to justify abandoning his fury over the weekend, during which time he denounced the DA as not worth working with because it is not trustworthy. Mashaba loves power probably more than he loves SA. Being a ‘mere’ councillor will never satisfy him. He will be as much a menace to the DA as the EFF will be. And so, again, if the DA is drinking champagne into the night after the council voting outcomes, then it clearly isn’t thinking straight.

The real problem is that the lack of political maturity within our body politic means that all the hung councils are likely to be unstable. From Nelson Mandela Bay to Johannesburg and elsewhere, agreements are flimsy. They are not driven by a desire to put residents first. They are threadbare agreements based on deep mutual suspicion.

If your only reason to vote for a party is because you hate another party you wish to oust, then the lack of foundation of your support for the one you vote for, will be exposed very swiftly. Once the ANC is in opposition, and the laughter has subsided, then the infighting among the anything-but-the-ANC lot will become the next source of tragicomedy.

The overall implication, sadly, is that we can expect incoherence and even chaos within our metros in the weeks and months ahead rather than the beginning of quiet and much needed stability.

McKaiser is a TimesLIVE contributor and analyst



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