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By-election woes for DA as Tshwane council is binned

The embattled Democratic Alliance (DA) has been struck another blow with the dissolution of the Tshwane metropolitan council, forcing it to contest a by-election for control of the Gauteng capital within three months.

Faced with falling support in Tshwane — where it took control via a coalition with smaller parties in 2016 — in last year’s general election, and a damaging internal succession battle that has split the party, the move is likely to cost the DA control of the city in the longer term.

On Thursday morning, Gauteng Premier David Makura announced that the Tshwane council had been dissolved in terms of section 139 1(C) of the Constitution.

An administrator and an intervention team would run the city — which has been without a mayor, mayoral committee and city manager for months — for a 90-day period, after which a by election would be held to elect a new mayor and council.

Makura said the council had continued to ignore attempts by the province to intervene.

“The situation is getting worse every day,” Makura said.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen described the decision as a “power grab” by the ANC to give it power in Tshwane through the back door.

DA contemplates court action 

Steenhuisen said the party was considering whether to take Makura to court over the dissolution of the council, a decision he described as “ill-founded in law.”

In the 2016 local government elections, the DA took 43.15% of the vote in Tshwane, allowing it to form a coalition government with smaller parties and the support of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

However, this dropped to 29.56% of the vote in last year’s national and provincial elections, in which the ANC took 46.03% of the just more than 1-million votes cast in Tshwane.

Financial scandals and maladministration cost the DA’s first mayor, Solly Msimanga, his job, while his replacement, Stevens Mokgalapa, resigned earlier this year after a series of scandals. 

Since then the council has been unable to elect a new leadership, with service-delivery failures worsening because of the lack of political leadership in the metro.

This will have emboldened the ANC, which won 68 of Tshwane’s 107 wards in 2016, as will the split in the DA sparked by the comeback of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille.

The DA currently has its hands full with internal contestation, with Steenhuisen, Gauteng leader John Moodey and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli battling it out for the leader’s post at its federal congress in May.

The DA has also continued to lose ground in Gauteng by-elections since May 2019, with the trend set to escalate in the case of Tshwane.

EFF leader Julius Malema welcomed the decision, saying the electorate had created the situation through its voting patterns, which created a hung municipality. 

His party’s slice of the vote in Tshwane grew in both 2016, when it got 25 seats in council, and 2019, when it took 15.19%. 

EFF flip-flops on Tshwane coalition

Although it had initially backed the DA-led coalition, the EFF later changed its position and had in recent months demanded that any potential coalition partner give it the mayorship of the city.

“I hope that when we come back from the elections there will be a proper government that received a proper mandate from the electorate,” Malema said.

ANC Tshwane regional chairperson Kgosi Maepa said the party also supported the decision, blaming the collapse of the council and service delivery failures on the DA being “unprepared” for governance.

In a statement, Steenhuisen said the ANC had used “undemocratic and non-procedural” means to get back power in Tshwane and would do so in other municipalities that had been under the control of minority-party coalitions since 2016.

“We cannot allow the ANC to use untruths, half-truths and outright subversion to undo democratic decisions. If we fail now, the consequences for municipalities around the country after the 2021 local government elections will be dire,” he said.

Gauteng co-operative governance MEC Lebogang Maile defended the decision, saying the situation in Tshwane had descended into “anarchy” in recent months.

Council, he said, had become a “waste of taxpayers money’’ and had “simply proved that it did not have the capacity” to meet its constitutional obligations.

“It was clear that the different political parties and councillors in council didn’t have the capacity to find each other,” Maile said.

Maile said the province had previously attempted to make interventions in Tshwane but had failed because the council was unwilling to co-operate.

As a result, the province now had to be “‘decisive” and send a clear message that a “circus” like Tshwane would not be tolerated.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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