Defining the future

2016-08-23 06:00

WEDNESDAY was a huge news day. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Democratic Alliance (DA) were announcing their plans for local government in light of numerous councils left without a clear majority in the local government elections.

On such a day, journalists just want to get on with the job of telling the story.

So it was a bit bothersome that the EFF summoned us to Alexandra Township instead of its offices in central Johannesburg where it usually holds media briefings. There was not even a proper address for the venue — the media alert simply said Setjwetla Circle, next to Green House Village.

Like many informal settlements around the country, the place was filthy and a stench hung in the air.

People on the streets stared as broadcast vans and our cars snaked through the rutted roads to a clearing in the middle of the settlement. Here, the EFF had set up a tent for the briefing.

When Julius Malema and the rest of the EFF leadership took their seats and began addressing us with the backdrop of the sprawling township behind them, it made sense why the party had chosen the location.

South African politics had become all about power games and a competition for wealth and resources.

Millions of people living in sub-human conditions, like the area we were in, had become voting cattle and pawns in the power games.

The EFF had clearly chosen the location for the optics. Malema said the decision the party made, to not form any coalitions but to back opposition candidates in the hung municipalities, was to continue to fight poor people’s struggles.

In terms of political strategy, it was an ace manoeuvre by the EFF.

Later in the day, DA leader Mmusi Maimane walked into a packed media briefing at a Sandton hotel, flanked by leaders of four other opposition parties.

He announced that his party had formed a multiparty coalition agreement with the Freedom Front Plus, United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People and African Christian Democratic Party in order to co-govern some of the hung municipalities.

He also said the DA and Inkatha Freedom Party had a reciprocal agreement to back each other’s candidates, although there was no formal coalition agreement.

The agreements have far-reaching consequences, not only for the future of local government, but to shift power away from the ANC.

All these opposition parties responded to the messages voters had sent, that a shake-up was needed and the ANC’s dominance needed to be broken.

In one day, Malema and Maimane made announcements that changed the country’s course.

Amid the drama of the day and while doing the sums of how the big councils such as Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay would take shape, I could not help but be amazed at what these two young men had accomplished.

Maimane is 36 years old and a relative novice in politics. He took on the mighty 104-year-old ANC, which controlled all levers of government, and claimed the jewels in its crown.

The ANC’s loss of the three metros must hurt, symbolically, financially and politically. It is a major upset.

At the age of 35, Malema continues to shake up the political scene in ways the ANC cannot predict. Since he established the EFF, the ANC has been on the back foot and continues to be outsmarted by him.

The ANC was desperate for the EFF’s co-operation in order to retain control of key municipalities.

The EFF not only rejected its overtures but responded in a way that caused maximum damage and embarrassment for the ANC.

For people in places such as Alexandra, the daily struggles of living in squalor continue.

One can only hope that the massive political shift that occurred this week will make a difference to their lives.

But one thing is certain, the time of the old guard is expiring and the young guns are now defining the future.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusa

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