/ 21 June 2019

ANC and DA try to gain upper hand in municipal stalemate

Frenemies: Jo’burg mayor Herman Mashaba’s relationship with the IFP is a tactical necessity
Frenemies: Jo’burg mayor Herman Mashaba’s relationship with the IFP is a tactical necessity, but it remains icy. (Gulshan Khan/AFP)

A political chess game for control of key municipalities lost by the ANC in the 2016 local government elections is slowly taking shape.

The Democratic Alliance’s position in the metros and municipalities it won by a whisker is becoming increasingly perilous.

Although the next local government election is just two years away, South Africa can expect shifts in government in the coming months in at least one of the metros that changed party hands in the 2016 polls.

There are interesting moves afoot.

The ANC’s handing of the chair of the standing committee on public accounts in the National Assembly to an opposition party is not new, but handing it to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) opens up a world of possibilities for the governing party.

The IFP is a strategic choice, given the party’s resurgence in KwaZulu-Natal and its role as a key player in the DA-led coalition in the City of Johannesburg.

Its presence in the National Assembly grew from 10 to 14 seats.

The IFP forms part of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba’s executive, but his relationship with the party has been — and remains — icy at best.

The IFP complained bitterly about Mashaba’s leadership style when he removed its councillor, Mzobanzi Ntuli, from the post of member of the mayoral council for housing last year.

In politics, nothing is free. What the ANC receives in return for the key parliamentary post will be interesting.

Then there is the thorny issue of the now fractious relationship between the DA and the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which snatched control of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality and, working with the ANC, installed the embattled Mongameli Bobani to the helm of the key metro.

Nelson Mandela Bay was the second municipality the DA ran, and subsequently lost, after the 2016 polls. Mogale City in Gauteng was the first to fall, because of infighting in the DA and its precarious grip on power.

The UDM forms part of the DA’s formal coalition agreement that it relied on to take over the running of key metros, but the relationship appears to have broken down. It is understood that the DA has not yet met the UDM, although it has spoken to its other coalition partners in recent days about the terms of its agreement.

The Economic Freedom Fighters have indicated their desire to take over the post of mayor in the City of Tshwane, probably in exchange for its continued support for Mashaba in Johannesburg.

But the DA was punished severely for its partnership with the EFF in the 2019 election, when a chunk of its core voters stayed away from the polls or voted for other opposition parties, swelling the ranks of the Freedom Front Plus and the African Christian Democratic Party, for instance.

Two key by-elections in traditional DA bases in Johannesburg are coming up next week, the results of which will demonstrate where the DA stands with the electorate. Party bosses are worried that the party may lose one of the wards.

As the sixth administration begins settling in nationally, a new frontier for power is opening up at local level and how the chips fall may well set the tone for the 2021 local polls.

Ironically, the biggest advantage for the DA and opposition parties in the battle to eat away at the elephant that is the governing party is the ANC itself.

The ANC is so busy battling its “enemy within” in the form of the remnants of the faction aligned to former president Jacob Zuma, that it could very well miss the ample opportunities being presented to it at a municipal level that could turn its dwindling electoral fortunes around.