‘Arrogance’ or expedience at play in Johannesburg local government coup?

A DA mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay threatened a powerful, ANC-aligned network of corruption. This network was so powerful that they could plausibly offer to bribe councillors to support a motion of no confidence. Now, argues DA spokesperson Cilliers Brink, a similar thing has happened In Johannesburg, when the ANC was returned to power last week after a vote of no confidence in the DA. And as in Nelson Mandela Bay, where the Hawks arrested several officials and politicians last week on charges of corruption, allegations of bribery and corruption have also surfaced in Joburg. Find out more about the disappointing machinations in local government in the article below. – Sandra Laurence

How accusations of ‘arrogance’ gave cover to the ANC’s power grab in Joburg

By Cilliers Brink*

There was something remarkably similar about the ANC’s return to power in Johannesburg last week, and the removal of Athol Trollip as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay in 2018. After several unsuccessful attempts by the ANC and the EFF, Trollip finally lost a vote of no confidence.

What tipped the scales against him were the votes of councillors who had served in his own coalition. This included the UDM, whose Mongameli Bobani was elected to replace Trollip (effectively a stand-in for the ANC). Two DA councillors, who were then kicked out of the party, also voted against Trollip.

As with the recent removal of Joburg’s DA speaker and mayor, the case against Trollip was that he was arrogant. He was so arrogant, we were to believe, that smaller parties had no option but to return the ANC to power only two years after the voters had booted them out. But this was bull, a cover story for a de facto coalition between the ANC and the EFF, and the return of a governance model chronicled by Chippy Olver in his book How to steal a city.

To be sure, Trollip’s management style wasn’t great for winning friends and influencing people. But his removal as mayor in 2018 had less to do with his prickly personality than the fact that a DA mayoralty in the Bay threatened a powerful, ANC-aligned network of corruption. This network was so powerful that they could plausibly offer to bribe councillors to support a motion of no confidence.

Fast forward to last week. As Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance (PA) were putting the finishing touches on a deal to return the ANC to power in Joburg, the Hawks arrested several officials and politicians in Nelson Mandela Bay on charges of corruption. Among them were the two former DA councillors who had betrayed the DA coalition government. It is alleged they were paid R100,000 each to remove the DA from power.

Allegations of bribery and corruption had also surfaced in Joburg. With the support of several renegade councillors inside the multi-party coalition, most notably Cope’s Colleen Makhubele, the DA councillor Vasco da Gama was ousted as speaker on the first day of September. Councillors of the multi-party coalition, including an ActionSA councillor, claimed that they had been offered cash to vote against Da Gama, or merely to stay away from the Council meeting to reduce the coalition’s majority. A month later, Phalatse also lost a vote of no confidence, this time with the help of the PA. Go figure.

Explaining their about turn, the PA spoke about how badly they had been treated by the DA. While only a few weeks before they were happy to back Da Gama in the motion of no confidence, now their lived experience had changed. This was not surprising. Gayton McKenzie has always been candid about the PA’s transactional approach to coalitions. If it came to that, the DA was never going to outbid the ANC for the PA’s loyalty.

What was surprising was the lengths to which Herman Mashaba and ActionSA went to endorse the PA’s cover story. When the new ANC coalition’s Colleen Makhubele was elected as speaker last Wednesday, Mashaba didn’t wait for the multi-party coalition to agree on the wording of a joint press release. As if he had been preparing for this moment for quite some time, he launched an extraordinary attack on the DA.

Talking to every radio and TV station that would have him, Mashaba blamed the DA’s ‘arrogance’ for the PA’s behaviour. The same rhetoric had been used by Makhubele. It was almost as if all this had been coordinated. When the new speaker hastily arranged a council meeting the day after she was elected, so as to rush through a motion of no confidence in Phalatse, Mashaba repeated his claims.   

On Monday, as the DA was preparing court papers to set aside the unlawful meeting where Phalatse was ousted as mayor, ActionSA held a press conference to keep its fight with the DA front and centre in the public mind. What Michael Beaumont and Bongani Baloyi were at pains to defend was the line that the ANC had returned to power in Joburg, because of the DA’s refusal to let the IFP have the position of speaker. But how plausible is this account, especially as casus belli for the PA?

It was ActionSA (not the IFP) that demanded that the DA hand the speakership to the IFP. This much has been confirmed by the IFP itself. As Helen Zille explained in an interview with Clement Manyathela on 702 this week, the PA wanted another position, that of member of the mayoral committee for economic development. These weren’t quick and easy compromises to make. It would’ve required a prolonged renegotiation of the coalition agreement, at the very moment that mayor Phalatse’s administration was under serious assault by the ANC and the EFF. The DA’s refusal to enter renegotiations under these conditions, effectively with a gun to its head, is what Mashaba now uses as an exhibit of DA ‘arrogance’.

Gayton McKenzie is grateful for Mashaba’s intervention, because it has turned the public and media gaze away from the PA’s dealing with the ANC. When DA leader John Steenhuisen responded to Mashaba’s attacks in a direct broadcast on Friday, McKenzie tweeted in defence of his friend: ‘@HermanMashaba fought tooth and nail to keep this coalition together for your love for alone power caused you now have no power in COJ, playing victim will not fly.’

And so, many questions about what exactly happened in Joburg last week have been left unanswered. Why did ActionSA negotiate so adamantly on the IFP’s behalf for the speakership? Why would the PA be driven into a coalition with the ANC over the IFP’s lack of representation in council positions? When exactly did the PA start negotiating with the ANC about ‘power sharing’ in Joburg? And most importantly, what did the ANC end up conceding to the PA?

The EFF will also be grateful to Mashaba and ActionSA. For the second time, the EFF has been instrumental in returning a defeated ANC to power in Joburg against the express mandate of EFF voters (and for the second time, Mashaba himself has played a role in enabling the situation). Joburg, like Nelson Mandela Bay in 2018, now has a de facto ANC-EFF coalition government. But because the EFF is unlikely to take up seats in the mayoral committee, they will be able to fly under any governance radar.

McKenzie tweeted something else in response to Steenhuisen: ‘Pls use this experience to learn in preparation for 2024 power sharing agreements…’ That is perhaps the soundest advice McKenzie has ever given. The DA has a great many lessons to learn. And so do the voters who supported parties who ran on a promise to deliver a post-ANC era, only to help the ANC hold onto power.

  • Cilliers Brink MP is the DA National Spokesperson.

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