The Johannesburg mayoral race has been thrown wide open by the announcement that the Economic Freedom Fighters will field its own candidate to replace Herman Mashaba in Thursday’s election.
The decision, made public by EFF president Julius Malema at a briefing in Johannesburg yesterday, effectively ends the coalition between the party and the Democratic Alliance, which, with support from the Inkatha Freedom Party, has run the city since 2016.
The coalition was put under pressure by Mashaba’s resignation from the DA and as mayor in protest against the election of Helen Zille as party federal chairperson last month.
At the same time, the ANC, which holds the majority of seats on the Johannesburg metro council but had been unseated by the DA, EFF and IFP coalition, had begun trying to persuade the IFP to back its mayor candidate in return for co-operation at council level in KwaZulu-Natal.
Malema’s announcement ended speculation over which way the EFF would swing. “Everybody is fielding their candidate. We are not talking to anyone. Why not ask the DA:‘Are you going to support the EFF?’ Why is the question:‘Who is the EFF going to support?’ Are we not capable to lead?”
Malema said it would be “difficult” for the EFF to talk to the DA now that John Steenhuisen has been elected interim party leader after Mmusi Maimane’s resignation, or to be a voting partner for a “white DA”.
“Before it was easier, when there was Maimane but now we must talk to Helen and Steenhuisen. I cannot imagine that. It’s going to be difficult,’’ he said.
The move by the EFF to field its own mayoral candidate may play into the hands of the ANC. It believes its offer to drop legal action against the IFP in the Abaqulusi local municipality in Zululand — and giving the party the mayorship of neighbouring Jozini — will be enough to win over the party.
In 2016, the DA took 121 seats in Johannesburg, ahead of the ANC’s 104, with the EFF taking a further 30 seats. The IFP took five seats and the African Independent Congress four, with the African Christian Democratic Party, Freedom Front Plus, Al Jama-ah, Congress of the People and the Patriotic Alliance each taking one seat.
In July, the ANC took Ward 109 off the DA in one of four by-elections. The shift in the balance of power raised the ANC’s hopes of a takeover should the DA, EFF coalition collapse.
IFP provincial secretary Alco Ngobese said although the party was committed to the DA coalition, they had been in talks with the ANC.
He said the IFP in Gauteng would be “happy” to work with DA mayoral candidate Funzi Ngobeni and would prefer to remain in the coalition agreement, but that this might be overruled by a national agreement with the ANC. “Anything is possible,” he said.
ANC Johannesburg caucus chairperson Solly Mogase said the party would finalise its positions in a weekend meeting of the province, region and national leaders.
“We have had positive engagements with the parties in council. Even those parties which were in coalition with the DA have had their own dissatisfaction,” he said. “From where I am, we will have a clear answer on Tuesday.”