Matatiele holds key to Bay politics

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro narrowly escaped being placed under administration by the Eastern Cape government this week when the Democratic Alliance’s budget was passed in the council with the support of the African Independent Congress (AIC) — a party that is in an alliance elsewhere with the ANC.

But the DA’s relationship with its most significant coalition partner, the United Democratic Movement, is in tatters, and the country’s official opposition can no longer bank on support from the Economic Freedom Fighters, which propelled Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip to power.

The DA took over Nelson Mandela Bay after entering into a coalition agreement with the UDM, the Patriotic Alliance, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Congress of the People, supported by the EFF.

But the UDM, the EFF and the ANC walked out of the budget vote in Port Elizabeth three times this year, saying the DA’s expenditure plan was anti-poor. A small party, the United Front, voted against it.

READ MORE: Nelson Mandela Bay municipality finally passes its budget after fourth attempt

Without the support of the UDM and the EFF, the DA was short of one vote to achieve a majority — putting the council at risk of being placed under administration.

In February, the DA’s relationship with the UDM abruptly ended when Trollip fired the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani as deputy mayor, citing an irreparable breakdown in their relationship.

This week, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said his party “has long been shown the door by the DA in that municipality and we are enjoying our role [in opposition to them] currently”.

Then, a month later, the EFF announced the end of its support for Trollip’s leadership when the DA voted against a National Assembly motion to amend the Constitution to allow for land to be expropriated without compensation.

“We have taken a decision that we are going to remove the mayor of Port Elizabeth … We are cutting the throat of whiteness,” EFF leader Julius Malema said at the time. These comments were a grave mistake on the EFF’s part, said DA leader Mmusi Maimane this week. He told the Mail & Guardian that, although coalitions were the future for South Africa, the EFF had “made a bad mistake by mobilising on race in Nelson Mandela Bay”.


“The truth is that South Africans just don’t like that kind of violent, chaotic language. Their mistake backfired and they will pay a price for it at the polls,” he said.

Despite this, Maimane said he hoped the DA and the EFF could continue to work together in the future. “The EFF is in a difficult position — they don’t like to be seen as being close to the DA, but they also know that their voters will abandon them if they ever work with the ANC,” he said. This week it was the AIC, which is in an alliance with the ANC in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, that came to the DA’s rescue when its single councillor in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshonono Buyeye, voted in favour of Trollip’s budget.

AIC president Mandla Galo said the councillor had only voted with the DA because provincial ANC leaders in Bhisho had rejected amendments to the Constitution that would relocate Matatiele from the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are in coalition with the ANC, not the DA, but we are punishing the ANC … their statements about Matatiele were annoying,” Galo said.

He said the party will continue to vote with the DA in Nelson Mandela Bay until the Eastern Cape leaders “change their attitude” towards the relocation of Matatiele.

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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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