/ 1 April 2023

‘The DA cannot share power with the ANC’ – Retief Odendaal

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Outgoing Nelson Mandela Bay mayor, Retief Odendaal. Photo: Supplied

The Democratic Alliance’s Nelson Mandela Bay mayor, Retief Odendaal, said that he is strongly against any possible future coalition with the ANC. 

Speculation over who the DA will enter into a coalition with should the governing party dip below 50% in next year’s national election is part of the debate at the DA elective conference in Johannesburg this weekend. 

Odendaal, who is considered to be a favourite of party matriarch Helen Zille, is leading a coalition of 10 parties in Nelson Mandela Bay, a position he has held since he was elected in September 2021. 

His view contrasts with that of some of his colleagues, including Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis — who is instead against a coalition with the EFF. 

In a previous interview with Mail & Guardian, Hill-Lewis said he would be happy to work with a wide range of people who agreed with the DA. 

“[If] there is a potential of any coalition that excludes the ANC, that should be tried first, that the ANC must be punished democratically at the polls for what they have done to South Africa,” he said during that interview. 

Hill-Lewis added it would be ideal to have a coalition government excluding the ANC, but if that was not possible, and the only alternative was an ANC-EFF coalition, it would be “very silly to suggest that [partnering with the ANC to keep the EFF out] should be off the table”.  

On Saturday, however, on day one of the official opposition’s elective conference, Odendaal told M&G that the DA in his metro was embroiled in a legal battle with the province’s Cogta MEC, Zolile Williams, because the ANC wanted to “force a working relationship” with the blue party. 

PE Express reported that Williams gazetted a proposed change in the governance system of the metro which would see Nelson Mandela Bay moving away from a mayoral executive to a collective executive system.

“We believe that any coalition without the ANC, or any government without the ANC, even a difficult coalition, a 10-party coalition like it is in Nelson Mandela Bay, is better than a government with the ANC,” said Odendaal.  

“The ANC has essentially destroyed the government in South Africa. I come from the Eastern Cape and if you drive around the municipalities that all have majority ANC governments, they look like warzones, like there is civil war there. They’ve destroyed those municipalities. They’ve run them into the ground and they have bankrupted them.” 

Odendaal said that the ANC did not deserve to be given the opportunity to govern again. 

He said it was “absolutely critical” for opposition political parties to put any differences aside and find common ground on which they could work together, in order to remove the ANC. 

He said that while the DA did not have a policy view on the matter, it needed to look at what the electorate wanted. 

Odendaal has spent almost seven months in his position, no mean feat in a volatile environment where mayors in coalition municipalities are frequently chopped and changed. 

He said that part of his strategy in attaining this quasi longevity was ensuring that he consulted with coalition partners. He did not take on the role of “Big Brother”, he said, something that the DA has often been accused of doing.  

“As you can imagine, it is difficult managing a 10-party coalition, it is massive, and there’s a lot of different views and coalition meetings. But I think that the exponential decline in Nelson Mandela Bay over the last couple of years, especially up until June last year,  made these parties want to be able to be part of a coalition that works.” 

Odendaal said that Nelson Mandela Bay was showing strides in service delivery, with a priority being to lessen load-shedding for businesses. 

The city’s administration has taken a decision to “protect” businesses from stages one to four load-shedding. 

“Even then, they’ve got a voluntary 24-hour shedding period, which means that they will only be shed once a week for an entire day because it causes havoc. So we’ve really been innovative. 

“What we’ve done in anticipation of this, is that we are actually in the process of procuring 100 megawatts of power from an independent power supplier. This is because we anticipate that over the next couple of years, the problem won’t go away, it might get even worse. We are a city that is very reliant on electricity … especially in the manufacturing sector, which is our main industry. We have to be prepared,” he said. 

Nelson Mandela Bay metro’s water crisis is crippling, and has reached unprecedented levels, the M&G previously reported. 

The region, consisting of Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), Kariega (formerly Uitenhage), Despatch and the peri-rural areas of Seaview and Colchester, has a population of 1.5  million people.

The crisis is the result of an extended drought, water wastage through leaking pipes and taps that take months to repair, political instability and the effect that has on administration and implementation of projects, as well as poor management of water infrastructure. 

As in other parts of the country, leaks have contributed substantially to the crisis. The metro has declared a “war on leaks”, saying that 600 of the 1 723 leaks reported by 28 February, had been fixed.

Odendaal said part of the problem was that the city had over-extracted its dams, which was in contravention of the restrictions imposed on it by the department of water and sanitation. 

“We’ve stopped the extraction of the dams, which means that on any given day, there’s a deficit. But we have said to our community and our residents that we will [have to] make difficult decisions. If some of our communities will have to be without running water for two or three days every now and again, that is unfortunately the pain that we have to suffer now.”

The alternative, he said, was to over extract and run dry. In the event of that happening, the economy would collapse.  

“We have also finalised and fast tracked many of the drought mitigation and water augmentation projects that were in the line. [As a result of that] we are now bringing 100 [additional] megalitres of water into the city per day.”

Managing the metro’s water resources had been “very trying”, he said, and while there had been debate that the city would reach a day-zero scenario, it was not likely to happen under the present coalition.