The postponement of the Johannesburg mayoral election after the breakdown of a week of complex coalition talks may still end up in the courts, after the ANC threatened to challenge the legality of the decision.
In the interim, Johannesburg will be run by city manager Ndivhoniswani Lukhwareni because the council’s mayoral committee is now disbanded, with new members to be elected next week, together with whoever eventually replaces Herman Mashaba.
On Thursday, City of Johannesburg speaker Vasco da Gama postponed the council meeting called to elect a replacement for Mashaba until December 4. He said this was to allow council to secure a legal opinion about the majority necessary for a binding result.
The decision, which was supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance, outraged the ANC, which has accused Da Gama of “criminality’’ in putting off the vote.The speaker had queried whether the mayor would be elected by a simple majority, as in 2016, or by a majority of 50% plus one. He ruled that the sitting be held over to ensure that there was no opportunity created for a legal challenge to the election result.
The election had been set to be a three-way contest between the ANC’s Geoff Makhubo, the DA’s Funzela Ngobeni and the EFF’s Musa Novela, with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which holds five seats, anticipated to be a kingmaker in the vote.
The city has been run by a DA-led coalition, which includes the IFP, since 2016, but the EFF has dumped the agreement in the wake of Mashaba’s resignation.The now former mayor received 136 votes from the 270-member council to become mayor.
ANC spokesperson Dakota Lekgoete, who was at the Johannesburg council chambers, together with secretary general Ace Magashule, to support the party’s caucus and for talks with the EFF, said the council should have sought legal advice before the election.
“As speaker it is incumbent to consult legal services before the elections. To come to council and say,‘We want to get a legal opinion’, is pure criminality,” Lekgoete said.He added that it was “important” that the ANC take the DA to court over the decision, which was an attempt to “run away” from holding the mayoral election. “We are not going to go and do any funny things. We are going to go and approach the court.”
However, behind the scenes negotiations between the parties will continue in the coming days, as none have the numbers to control the council. The ANC has 122seats, the DA 103and the EFF 30. The IFP has five seats, the African Independence Congress four seats; and the four remaining parties represented on council have one each.
EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu said the speaker’s decision was “correct” and “very sound” as it would allow council to avoid a legal challenge to the outcome of the election. Shivambu said that, unlike in 2016, the parties did not have a common agreement on the interpretation of the procedures, but that they were likely to “find each other” ahead of next week’s vote.
Shivambu said a legal challenge would see the ANC “humiliating” itself at court. The EFF is understood to have asked the ANC to reconsider its choice of Makhubo, its Johannesburg regional chairperson, who got the nod over former Gauteng speaker Lindiwe Maseko.
The governing party refused.
Makhubo, a former finance MMC, has been linked to several scandals dating from when the ANC was in charge of the city. The Mail & Guardian understands that Shivambu asked the ANC to drop Makhubo if it wanted the EFF to back its mayoral candidate.
It is still not clear whether the IFP will vote with the DA or the ANC in the mayoral election.
Its national leadership, which has been handling talks with the ANC, has refused to comment on the process. But it is understood to be in favour of the ANC’s proposal for a trade off between the Johannesburg mayorship and that of AbaQulusi (Vryheid) in KwaZulu-Natal.
The proposal, which has the backing of the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provincial leadership, would still see the ANC needing the backing of the smaller parties to carry the vote.
IFP Gauteng secretary and Johannesburg councillor Alco Ngobese said the talks with the ANC were still taking place, but that the party “remains committed” to its 2016 agreement with the DA.
“We are waiting to hear from the national leadership, who are dealing with this matter,” Ngobese said.
He added that the IFP would not be fielding any mayoral candidate.
In 2016, the IFP was given two member of the mayoral committee (MMC) posts, but this was cut to one when Mashaba fired housing MMC Mzobanzi Ntuli last year.
The IFP is understood to have made it clear to both the ANC and DA that it wants two MMC seats on the council should it back either of their mayoral candidates.
ANC sources said the party had offered the IFP the mayor’s seat in AbaQulusi local municipality. At present, the ANC holds 22 seats in AbaQulusi and an IFP-led coalition with the EFF and DA holds another 22 seats. The deadlock has crippled the municipality since 2016, with the political instability resulting in AbaQulusi being placed under administration.
The IFP speaker of the municipality, Michael Khumalo, is currently being investigated by the police for the alleged theft of municipal equipment. His arrest may further complicate the negotiations between the parties.
On Monday, an ANC national executive committee delegation met with the AbaQulusi party leadership to brief them on the offer, which has been backed by the ANC provincial leadership in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We will accept the decision of the higher structures,” a member of the regional leadership, who is not mandated to speak to the media, said this week. “It is 22 to 22 here, so we can accept giving them the mayor’s seat for now. The municipality is already under administration and elections are not very far.”
Meanwhile, in Tshwane, the council has withdrawn the special leave granted to mayor Stevens Mokgalapa, who is embroiled in an office sex scandal together with transport MMC Sheila Senkubuge. The move came after the DA appointed utility MMC Abel Tau as acting mayor of the city.
On Thursday the EFF tabled a vote of no confidence in Mokgalapa, which the ANC had indicated it would support. However, at the time of writing, the motion had not yet been debated.