Adriaan Basson

The DA’s coalition conundrum

2016-08-16 12:53

Adriaan Basson

The announcement of a so-called "grand coalition" between Mmusi Maimane’s DA and Julius Malema’s EFF to govern the two biggest metros has now been postponed a number of times.

This doesn’t come as a surprise.

Those who thought a coalition between the two biggest national opposition parties would be smooth sailing are living in cloud cuckoo land.

The DA and EFF are very different parties, led by very different individuals with very different ideas of what South Africa should look like if they were to conquer the Union Buildings.

None of them are close to being there yet. This is still local government stuff, and already they are struggling to agree on basic "principles" about how to co-govern the official capital (Tshwane) and the real capital (Johannesburg).

I say "principles" because these lofty ideals can quickly evaporate when the realpolitik of money, tenders and positions take over.

This is ultimately what local government is about: appointing town planners, engineers and builders to fix roads, houses and sewerage pipes.

Local government is not about changing the national anthem, national land policy or kicking out the residents of Mahlamba Ndlopfu, the presidential estate in Pretoria. The best you can do as mayor of Tshwane is to ensure that the president pays his rates and taxes and water bills.

No wonder the DA and EFF are stuck.

Those who envisaged a big bash announcement at Gold Reef City, red and blue confetti dripping from the roof with Malema and Maimane dabbing to the sounds of Vicky Sampson’s “African Dream” will be disappointed.

At this stage all we know is that Malema and Maimane are both expected to make announcements on Wednesday – separately. Malema in Alexandra, Maimane in Rosebank.

And that symbolises the quagmire both parties find themselves in: neither wants to give an inch and indicate to their supporters that they are sell-outs.

Technically, the DA and EFF can govern Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni (with help from smaller parties) if they wanted to. But do they want to? And how will it work?

A big sticking point in negotiations is the DA’s candidate for mayor of Johannesburg, businessman Herman Mashaba.

While Mashaba has started talking to the city fathers and mothers, there is absolutely no agreement that he should be mayor of the economic capital – even within the DA. Mashaba was parachuted in as a celebrity candidate.

But nobody seriously thought Mr Black Like Me would take over the golden chain from the well-loved Parks Tau.

It sounds like there is much greater agreement between the EFF and DA on the DA’s Solly Msimanga for Tshwane mayor.

Msimanga came through the DA’s internal party system and is a well-known community activist.

In Nelson Mandela Bay the DA’s initial agreement with smaller parties has all but fallen apart. Led by the UDM’s Bantu Holomisa, the smaller parties have started flexing its muscles, shopping around for the best deal offered by the DA or ANC.

Which means the DA now also needs the EFF to govern the Windy City.

The ANC is desperate to keep some Gauteng metros. That’s why the party has made a deal with the AIC – essentially a hoax party that only gets votes because thousands of voters confuse it with the ANC (the AIC also uses green, black and gold) – to keep on to Ekurhuleni.

I am pretty sure the DA and EFF will eventually find each other in Tshwane, with some tangible pro-poor projects in Mamelodi, Soshanguve and Atteridgeville championed by the EFF (which is a good thing for the residents of these townships).

The DA will probably transfer some of its best administrators in Cape Town to Pretoria to fix roads, potholes and city crime.

But what about Jo’burg?

There is a strong feeling in the DA’s top echelons that the city cannot be fixed in three years – before the next national and provincial elections. And definitely not by Mashaba, who lacks serious government experience and gravitas and is deeply mistrusted by the EFF.

This poses a risk for Maimane’s party: if they want to win Gauteng in 2019, can they run the risk of putting up a so-so administration in Johannesburg? If the answer is no (the party also simply doesn’t have enough expertise to run four metros), and the DA actually believes Tau and the ANC is not doing too bad a job of running Jozi, shouldn’t they rather form a minority government in the economic capital? Can Maimane sell this to the almost 500 000 people who voted DA in Jozi?

This would mean voting for Tau to continue as mayor, but negotiating with the ANC on every major vote in council. This will include the budget, appropriation of funds and big infrastructure projects. By doing this the DA will still be part of big city decisions, but won’t have to run the city on a day-to-day basis.

This will push the EFF into to opposition benches in a metro where they thought they were kingmakers, which could upset the applecart in Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane.

Wednesday may bring some answers to voters in the cities up for grabs, but probably not enough to completely remove the spectre of a purple mess following the most fascinating election we’ve had since 1994.

- Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson



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