Back story to Joburg’s unlikely new Mayor: Kingmaker McKenzie explains his appointment – and what it means for 2024

South Africa’s latest experience with coalition politics resulted in a significant elevation into Executive Mayorship of the country’s richest Metro. Previously invisible Thapelo Amad, whose splinter political party received under 10 000 of the 933 000 votes cast in the 2021 election, has been engineered by ‘Kingmaker’ Gayton McKenzie into the position of overseeing the city’s R73bn Budget. McKenzie, whose 8 Patriotic Alliance members hold the swing vote in Joburg’s 270-seat Council, swapped sides for the second time to bring down the DA-run coalition. In this interview with Alec Hogg of BizNews, he shares the ‘back story’ and his perspectives on what awaits the young democracy as it follows a chaotic path to post-ANC rule.

Find the interview timestamps below:

  • Gayton McKenzie on the interesting choice of Johannesburg’s new Mayor of Johannesburg – 01:37
  • On what went on behind the scenes – 04:20
  • On the inflammatory comments made by the DA – 12:59
  • On the collateral damage – 18:39
  • On whether the Rainbow Coalition is a ‘dead duck’ now or are the members are learning to respect one another – 23:34
  • On his multiracial background – 36:33

Extracts from the interview:

Gayton McKenzie on the interesting choice of Johannesburg’s new Mayor 

My people are very happy with me. The people that elected me are very happy with the decision. You don’t need to go far – go to the Patriotic Alliance to see how happy people are with the decision. The unhappy people are obviously the DA supporters and the ActionSA supporters, and they’ve got a right to be unhappy – they’ve lost power because of the decision I ultimately took. I’m the first to admit that I’ve watched two interviews of him, and it wasn’t the best; some of the worst interviews I’ve seen. I think he is in shock or something because I know this gentleman. I’ve worked with this gentleman for more than five years. He’s one of the brightest guys that we have in the council. I tried to call him yesterday and say, “man, you’re the mayor, calm down,” because that’s just not the person he is – we are all shocked. You’re not wrong to say he’s been sounding very weird and stupid, but he’s not. I can assure you. You can go back to previous arguments he had in the council. He was a bright star there. So I hope that it is a mayoral jitter. 

On whether the Rainbow Coalition is a ‘dead duck’ now or are the members learning to respect one another

All the members in the Rainbow coalition, which I must tell you, it’s one of the greatest coalitions. I will paraphrase a leader of the ANC, a very senior leader today. He said to me, “I see you are a part of the Rainbow Coalition.” I said, “Yes, are you guys scared?” He said, “We’ll be scared if the DA wasn’t there, but for as long as the DA is there, we are not scared. And I was intrigued by that, so I asked why they are not scared. He said, “Because we know nothing will come right there in that Rainbow Coalition.” And I thought it was the sour grapes. But if you can see who is the drunk member of the family in the rainbow coalition. Corné Mulder, an outright gentleman, he’s not a person that will say that to you, even Mashaba.

But I will say to you: The DA is like the drug addict in the Rainbow Coalition. The things they are saying. A man like me would say to me; please prove yourself to me; you must follow my principles. What I’m saying to you, to answer your question, is that something drastic needs to happen. And here is the double-edged sword that the DA is sitting with: Helen Zille – people see her as the problem. And John Steenhuisen. But it’s like your top soccer player. Helen Zille is good; believe me, but it would be a great day for us in the coalition if she steps down. I, for one, will jump for joy. Because I think she’s a formidable opponent, it’s like the top soccer player behaving in a manner that is inconsistent with teamwork. The DA is sitting with that problem. They are top players. Don’t listen to people saying John only has a matric and all those things. Oh, no, he’s smart. He’s got people skills; he’s got that type of skill to know how to relate to people. That’s important in politics. Now, the DA supporters should turn the anger that they have towards Gayton Mackenzie and the PA and turn it toward their own party – do some self-searching. 

In an opposing view, the DA’s John Steenhuisen addressed the matter in the below letter:

Why the DA did the right thing in Johannesburg

A tree that is freshly rooted can easily be plucked. A tree that is firmly grounded cannot be removed, even with a crane. – Sufi poet

Firm, sound principles are the foundation for enduring success. And principles matter most when sticking to them is hard. Would a person or political party be considered principled if they only stuck to their principles when it was convenient to do so?

I have said it before and I will say it again: when it comes to coalition negotiations, as with other decisions, the DA will choose that option which we believe to be in the best long-term interest of South Africa. A DA with unshakeable principles, a DA that can be relied upon to stick to a coalition agreement, a DA that is very firm about the line it will not cross – this is the DA that voters need to know they are voting for come the general election of 2024.

This is crucial because in 2024 South Africa will enter an era of coalitions whether we like it or not.

It was painful to hand control of Johannesburg to an ANC-EFF-PA coalition under the hapless “placeholder” mayorship of Thapelo Amad of Al Jama-ah, a party that did not even get 1% of the vote. But it was undoubtedly the lesser of two evils. The alternative was to give in to extortion by the Patriotic Alliance and compromise the DA’s credibility as a party of principle.

Small party, big influence

There are 270 seats in the JHB council, so a coalition needs 136 seats to form a majority. In the 2021 local election, the voting was highly fragmented, with 18 parties making it into council out of the 56 parties and several independent candidates on the ballot paper. Neither the DA nor the ANC are able to form a majority coalition with their natural allies. The ANC (91) and EFF (29) together make up 120 seats while the DA (71), ASA (44), IFP (7), FF+ (4), ACDP (3) and COPE (1) together make up 130 seats.

This situation gives enormous, disproportionate power to smaller parties who become “kingmakers” able to install a coalition at their whim in exchange for their demands being met. This is a subversion of democracy.

In JHB’s case, the Patriotic Alliance, a party with less than 3% of the vote and led by two convicted criminals, was open and unashamed about offering power to whichever coalition would give it access to the greatest opportunities for patronage and extraction.

The DA was not prepared to engage in the politics of extortion by handing over control of Joburg’s coffers to the PA. The DA painstakingly built a multiparty government in Johannesburg to offer a distinct alternative to ANC rule, marked by zero-tolerance for corruption. We did not build it to show that our offer is one of less corruption than the ANC.

Ahead of the make-or-break 2024 general election, it is more important than ever that voters see clear blue water between the DA and the ANC.

Coalition country

The DA is part of 38 coalition governments around South Africa.  The vast majority of these are stable and successful, focusing on service delivery to citizens. The ones that are not are those where the coalition is large (6 or more parties) and lacks a majority in council. These multiparty minority coalitions are inherently unstable.

South Africa cannot afford to replace failing ANC governments with unstable, cumbersome coalitions. Yet this is what happened in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay metros after the 2021 local government election, and it is at risk of happening at national and provincial level after the 2024 general election.

Proportional representation (PR) electoral systems tend towards a fragmented voter base and coalition instability. This hasn’t been apparent in South Africa because the ANC has until now comfortably achieved over 50% of the national vote. But this is no longer so. If the current state of metro coalitions is replicated at national and provincial government level in 2024, it will lead to permanent instability, with South Africa possibly even becoming ungovernable.

Other countries with PR systems, such as Germany, Denmark and Israel, have legislation in place to promote stable coalitions. South Africa’s electoral framework needs to catch up with the current South African reality that we are fast entering an era of coalitions. Last year, the DA presented a 5-point plan to stabilise coalitions. We are working on three Private Members Bills to implement these proposals.
Meantime, Johannesburg offers valuable lessons for voters ahead of 2024.

Valuable lessons

First, voting for very small parties is risky as it fragments a council and leads to large, unstable coalitions, extortion politics, a subversion of democracy, and bad service delivery. While Joburg’s mayor has a two-month time horizon before he gets replaced, Cape Town’s mayor yesterday launched the City’s R120 billion infrastructure portfolio as the foundation for economic growth over the next ten years. Cape Town residents are reaping the benefit of the DA’s full majority in council.

Second, voters can rely on the DA to enter into coalition agreements in good faith, to publish those agreements for all to see, and then to stick to those agreements.

Third, the DA will not go into government at all costs, and we will not compromise on our core principles. We’d rather be a principled opposition than be part of corrupt coalitions.

Unshakeable principles

South Africa is in the mess it’s in because the ANC has lost its moral compass and because too many voters are prepared to vote for a party devoid of morals. The way to claw back from that mess is not for other parties to abandon their principles for short-term gain. It is for other parties to be clear about what their principles are, and then to stand by them even when it’s hard.

And lastly, the Institute of Directors in South Africa weigh in:

City of Johannesburg’s recent actions undermine good governance: IoDSA

Just days after Mpho Phalaatse was removed as Johannesburg’s mayor, a letter to all municipal entities surfaced on social media, in which the Acting City Manager of Johannesburg instructs the boards of municipal entities to cease holding any “strategic sessions, including the [sic] Board and Sub-Committee meetings” until further notice. Boards may seek permission to hold meetings to consider any critical reports. All strategic and programme management decisions are specifically placed in abeyance, and any decisions taken since September 2022 are also put on ice.

“If this letter is indeed legitimate, it’s hard not to see this move as a departure from good governance. The content of the letter also raises once again all the accountability issues that the IoDSA has consistently highlighted in relation to state- and municipality-owned entities,” says Parmi Natesan, CEO, Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA). “The shareholder may appoint the boards of these entities, but once appointed these boards have a legal duty to fulfil their obligations as set out in the relevant legislation and in the King Report, and to act in the best interests of the entity.”

The IoDSA has repeatedly pointed out that many of the issues that plague state- and municipality-owned entities can be traced back to the improper exercise of power by the shareholder. By usurping what should properly be the functions of the board, the shareholder makes it impossible for the board to be held accountable, or for the board to hold management accountable.

“Boards are supposed to act independently, but this letter clearly demonstrates that, in the City of Johannesburg at least, they are being prevented from doing so,” she says.

Ms Natesan goes on to point out that forbidding the boards of the municipal entities to meet means that they cannot fulfil their duties and exercise oversight properly. “Municipalities are commonly known for lack of service delivery, as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure, so preventing boards and audit committees, from meeting and thus exercising oversight, will potentially open the door to even more of the same,” she comments.

It is questionable whether any appointed board can be prevented from discharging its legal duties. Time will tell whether such action will stand up to scrutiny and legal challenge.

“King IV makes it clear that boards should hold as many meetings as necessary to discharge their obligations, so presumably they cannot be prevented from doing that,” she concludes. “This gross interference in the board’s exercise of its governance function is a terrible way for the City’s new administration to begin. The IoDSA urges the new mayor and his executive to take speedy action to confirm their adherence to the principles of good governance as outlined in the legislation and King IV.”

Alec Hogg’s interview notes:

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