Opposition hit the ground running

Opposition parties are already gearing up for the 2019 elections and are strengthening their ties in anticipation of a coalition government if the ANC’s support drops below 50% at the polls, the Democratic Alliance and the United Democratic Front (UDM) have revealed.

The ANC, which lost the metropolitan municipalities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay to the opposition in the 2016 local government elections, will set out its election plans in its January 8 statement in East London.

The DA, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the UDM banded together to unseat the ANC in hung councils, but they have faced growing pains because of conflicting policies and clashing personalities.

But the opposition parties don’t plan to focus all their energy on unseating the governing party.

“The skill of coalition building is to listen with respect, to accept that parties come with different constituencies and divergent agendas and to [reconcile] them in pursuit of a vision that is bigger than any one of the partners,” the DA’s federal chairperson, James Selfe, said this week.


“We will continue to review and fine-tune our relationships in the run-up to 2019, so as to achieve the electoral objectives we have set for ourselves.”

The EFF was instrumental in unseating the ANC in all three major metros. Despite its decision not to enter a coalition government and remain in opposition, the red berets voted for opposition candidates in all legislatures.

The party kicked off 2018 by calling for all academically deserving students who passed matric but could not afford to study at university to apply at a tertiary institution of their choice. The call was declared a strategic priority for the party after President Jacob Zuma announced free education for the poor in December last year.

“The EFF will be at the gates of all learning institutions to ensure that priority is not only given to those who can afford to pay,” EFF president Julius Malema said in his New Year’s message, declaring 2018 the year of free education.

The UDM plans to embark on a shopping spree for people who could represent the party should it win more support and be part of a national or provincial coalition government, said its leader, Bantu Holomisa.

After the 2016 elections, the UDM’s mayoral candidate for Nelson Mandela Bay, Mongameli Bobani, was appointed deputy mayor in a coalition government led by DA mayor Athol Trollip.

But the relationship between them soured because of what Holomisa described as “clashing egos”.

“In Nelson Mandela Bay, we noticed it [the differences between Bobani and Trollip] was not about policy differences more than that it was about clashing egos,” he said.

Between January and May this year, the UDM plans to intensify its recruitment of potential candidates who could take on senior roles in the state or legislatures.

“And then recruit in particular the young people, people with skills and experience in different fields. We will make sure that team is workshopped in June and July this year, preparing them to hit the ground running as people will be campaigning for the UDM and future MPs,” Holomisa said.

But the party would be careful not to attract people who would join it only to gain important positions.

“We are trying to avoid a situation where the people join the party at the last minute in order to be on the list. And, when the list is processed, when they see they have not made it to higher positions, they stop campaigning and they disappear. This time around, there will be a little bit of a threshold to say, each candidate from Holomisa downwards, how many wards must they bring to the party.”

The DA believes the coalitions won’t be possible without working to ensure the ANC’s majority drops below 50%.

The DA first started governing in a coalition government in Cape Town in 2006 and will use this experience to lure more voters away from the ANC, Selfe said.

“The future of governance in South Africa will be through coalitions. We will be doing all we can to ensure that we bring the ANC to beneath 50% of the vote in 2019,” he said.

“We will build our offer around our record in government, whether alone or in coalition. This record is one of creating jobs, improving services, especially to the poor, and eradicating corruption.”

Holomisa believes the ANC will try to block the commission of inquiry into state capture to protect its leadership from any damning revelations while campaigning is under way. He said Zuma may end up being the “fall guy”.

“Why is Zuma allowed to do this? Is he protecting those who might be implicated [in state capture] in Cabinet or Luthuli House [ANC headquarters]?” Holomisa asked.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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