Chair of the Democratic Alliance’s federal executive, Helen Zille, has been publicly blamed for torpedoing an anti-ANC alliance’s opportunity on Friday to take back governance of SA’s richest metro. But just like at the BizNews Conference in March, Zille answers her critics with a powerful comeback – arguing that this was the fourth time Gayton MacKenzie’s ‘kingmaking’ Patriotic Alliance let down Moonshot Pact partners. Zille points to the MacKenzie party’s support of the ANC in Friday’s crucial vote as evidence that her fellow opposition partners were once again “played”. Nevertheless, she reckons the Moonshot Pact is alive and well – and its existence will prevent a similar disappointment in SA’s watershed 2024 National Election. Zille spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.
Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 01:22 – Helen Zille on her role in coalition talks during the Joburg Mayoral elections
- 09:05 – On Herman Mashaba’s comments on the DA’s role in coalition discussions in Joburg
- 11:52 – On what a successful coalition in Joburg would have looked like
- 12:19 – On the future of the Moonshot Pact, why Joburg was not a failure
- 15:10 – On whether failed coalition talks in Joburg will deter voters from moving away from the ANC in 2024
- 20:29 – On Frans Cronje’s prediction that parties having a 50% majority will soon be a thing of the past
- 23:09 – On SA’s political “growth pains” and where the DA currently stands
Excerpts from the interview
Helen Zille on the Patriotic Alliance’s role in the breakdown of coalition talks in Johannesburg
We had introduced [the Patriotic Alliance] to our coalition not once, but twice, despite the fact that they’d never voted for us, despite the most committed promises that they made to stay the course, despite even offering us R10 million – which we turned down – as a guarantee that they would stay the course. And yet every time they had the opportunity to do so, they voted with the ANC and EFF. Now if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it. And in the very last round, this last Friday, Action South Africa and the other smaller parties bought into the PA’s promise that the PA would vote with them. And their strategy was, and they told us as much, that they would beat us in the first round of voting in which no one would get above 50%. They would beat us and we would fall out and then the runoff would be between the ANC and EFF and the other smaller parties in the coalition were the PA who would vote with them. That was [what] the entire strategy was based on. We said, you’re being played. The PA is not going to vote with you. We are not going to fall out in the first round because you’re being bluffed again. And what happened? They were played. The Patriotic Alliance did not vote with Action South Africa and the Freedom Front Plus. And in fact, their vote gave the ANC and EFF again, an overall majority. So every time the PA has made a solemn commitment to vote with us, in the first coalition we had with them, in the second coalition we were negotiating with them, and now again with ActionSA and the Freedom Front Plus. Every time they’ve actually had to go to the vote, they’ve voted with the ANC and EFF. So, they just play us like a fiddle.
On the DA’s proposed threshold legislation
It is absolutely true that it is insane that a party that can’t even get 2% of the vote, around 1% of the vote as Al Jama-ah got, should in two successive mayoral elections be able to put forward the candidate. And of course, the DA is on the front line with a solution. We’ve proposed threshold legislation in parliament which would say that if a party can’t get 2% of the vote in any sphere of government, then they don’t get any seats at all. Now any country with a proportional representation system, as South Africa has, any country that has coalitions that arise out of proportional representation systems, inevitably: they all have thresholds of support. In Germany, the threshold is quite high. It’s 5%. If the German threshold had applied, there would probably have been four parties in Johannesburg that made the grade. In Denmark, the threshold is 2%. In that case, about six parties in Johannesburg would have made the grade. Currently, there are about 28 parties in Johannesburg because there are no thresholds. I think it’s either 28 or 25.
Now trying to put coalitions together with six parties, three of which would have fallen on the DA side of the fence and three of which would have fallen on the ANC side of the fence, is a completely different ball game. There you can talk about manageable coalitions and there you can talk about having signed agreements that perhaps hold water. The PA is quite honest, they say that the signed agreements are absolutely meaningless to them and they’ll go where their interest lies. And they’ve said that repeatedly all the time. But if we had had just a threshold of 2%, it would have looked entirely different. In Nelson Mandela Bay, where there are also scores of tiny parties, we were trying to run a ten party coalition. If there’d been a threshold of just 2%, it would have been a two party coalition. That shows you how much these minuscule parties actually wag the dog. And these tiny parties that can’t even get 1% of the votes often, then decide who is going to be the mayor: the ANC or the DA. Now, that is not democratic politics and that is why the threshold legislation is so necessary. We’ve proposed it, we are the champions of it in Parliament and we’re driving it through and we think that will do a lot to stabilise coalitions.
On what the breakdown of coalition talks means for the future of the Moonshot Pact
Johannesburg was never meant to be leg one of the Moonshot pact. In fact, the Moonshot pact has not been sacrificed in Johannesburg. The Moonshot pact is the solution to the mess in Johannesburg. Because Johannesburg is what happens when people, without consultation at all, put in unilateral motions of no confidence and then seek to try and vote first and negotiate later [in order to] to put other people under pressure [and] to support the outcomes that they want. So nothing is prepared, nothing is strategised. It is vote now, negotiate later. We know how hard these negotiations are and it is impossible to vote for an executive mayor and then pretend to negotiate the shape of government, the objectives of government, the composition of government after a mayor has been selected. That’s a recipe for ungovernability for months and months. The Moonshot pact precisely is to avoid this in 2024. The Moonshot pact wants to start right now with all parties who are opposed to the ANC [and] EFF to get together and to plan for a year on how we get this together. So that we don’t sit being taken by surprise by hidden agendas, to seek to drive through a pre-described outcome and then break up when not everybody agrees to your terms. It’s the Moonshot pact that is precisely there to avoid a mess like Johannesburg.