Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has resigned from his post — and from the Democratic Alliance (DA) — in protest against the election of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille as the party’s federal council chairperson at the weekend.
The resignation will take effect from November 27, by which time he expects the party to have identified a replacement for him.
Mashaba, who threatened to resign should Zille take the position, said her election and the behaviour of “anti-poor” elements in the DA caucus in the city had forced him to choose between the party and the country.
Mashaba said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that the DA would move to collapse the party’s coalition with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which took control of the Johannesburg metro in 2016, which the DA had “undermined” since he took office three years ago.
Mashaba’s move may place the DA’s control of the city in jeopardy.
The ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have in recent months been discussing a potential deal between the two which would see it back the ANC in return for a mayoral post in one of the KwaZulu-Natal municipalities. The current DA-EFF majority in the council is slender and an about turn by the IFP may see the balance of power shift.
Mashaba said he had been “tortured” by the dynamics in the DA, which saw some members of the caucus opposing the provision of basic services to the historically poor and black wards.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that they will move to collapse these governance arrangements…a review of the coalition is predetermined,” Mashaba said.
He said he had been without a “solid mandate” from the DA, which had been the “most difficult partner” in the coalition with the EFF and which had expected him to govern “arrogantly.”
“It is not in my nature to quit anything in life. I succeeded under the darkest days of our country’s history. However I cannot be a willing participant in a party that is placing narrow interest ahead of the needs of the residents,” he said.
“”I was forced to choose between my party and my country,’’ Mashaba said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party wanted the coalition arrangement to continue. He said he hoped that Mashaba could stay in office till the end of term but that he respected his decision.
Maimane described the business-tycoon-turned-politician as a “hero.”
“I respect Herman Mashaba’s decision and note it. I came today to discuss it with him… The party will take consideration of the announcements of Mayor Mashaba. That will serve before a federal executive where decisions would need to be made,” Maimane said.
Maimane thanked Mashaba for holding together a tricky cooperative agreement with several political parties to help run the city council.
“I want to categorically state, that as a leader I have supported and stood firm behind the coalition arrangements here. I have always maintained we never got an outright majority and work with parties to build the dream of building an inclusive city but also removing the ANC,” Maimane said.
While Mashaba will delay his departure until November 27 to complete projects and allow the party to choose a replacement, the ANC will be wanting to capitalise on the situation and try and unseat the governing coalition.
The DA took 121 seats in Johannesburg’s 270-seat council in 2016, ahead of the ANC’s 104, with the EFF taking a further 30 seats. The IFP, which entered a coalition with the EFF and DA, took five seats and the AIC 4, with the African Christian Democratic Party, Freedom Front Plus (FF+), Aljama, Congress of the People and the Patriotic Alliance each taking one seat.
In July the ANC took one ward, Ward 109, off the DA in one of four by-elections. The DA retained the other three, but lost votes to the FF+.
The loss of the ward sparked speculation that the IFP, angered by the firing of Johannesburg mayoral council member Mzobanzi Ntuli by Mashaba in May, might ally itself with the ANC in the city and oust Mashaba.
While the IFP is a part of the DA-led alliance governing the city, it is not a signatory to the coalition agreement between the DA and EFF.
The appointment of the IFP’s Mkuleko Hlengwa as SCOPA chair in Parliament and of its Gauteng chairperson, Bonginkosi Dhlamini, as chair of the premier’s oversight committee in the Gauteng legislature have both improved relations between the ANC and IFP and increased the possibility of a shift by the IFP in Johannesburg.
Attempts to secure comment from Dhlamini, who was attending the IFP’s NEC meeting on Monday, were unsuccessful at the time of writing.
ANC Johannesburg spokesperson Jolidee Matongo said Mashaba’s resignation showed that he was using Zille’s election as an excuse to run away from the “financial crisis that he has plunged the city of Johannesburg into”.
“Mashaba is a sore loser. He is not a democrat. Just because he lost a battle in the party he throws his toys out of the cot,’’ Matongo said.
Matongo said Mashaba was leaving office ahead of a potential vote of no confidence based on disclosures that the city was broke and was losing its ability to provide basic services to its residents.
The current mayor last week hit out at the Institute of Race Relations, calling it “far-right” and lamented its influence in the party.
The party’s new federal council chairperson Helen Zille is a recent former policy fellow of the think tank.