Mondli Makhanya: Tshwane farce shows coalition politics cannot work in SA

The City of Tshwane
The City of Tshwane

An exasperated caller to Power FM’s afternoon drive show this week said it all.

He and his wife had been wanting to leave the Pretoria township of Mamelodi, where service delivery was far from satisfactory, and move to a neighbourhood where they would be happier.

So they decided to go house-hunting in Mabopane, believing that conditions would be better.

What they found there shocked them.

The filth and decay were so bad that they were convinced they were better off in their own appalling conditions in Mamelodi.

The caller was angry with the political parties that are wrecking South Africa’s capital city.

He dished out blame equally to the ANC, which ran the metro until the 2016 municipal polls, the incumbent DA and the EFF, who have simultaneously played the role of kingmaker and spoiler.

So spare a thought for the people of Tshwane.

For three and half years now, the residents have had to put up with the kind of instability that should be reserved for those who have committed cardinal sins.

The only other metro that has had it worse is Nelson Mandela Bay, where myopic party political interests have trumped the need to serve the people.

With just one year to go before the 2021 local government elections, Tshwane is a prime example of our failed experiment with coalition politics.

If it wasn’t the ANC trying to topple the DA administration so that it could get its nose back into the trough, it was DA deployees unwrapping their sweets in the office late at night.

If it wasn’t that, it was the EFF manipulating everyone for its own gain.

If it wasn’t that, it was the army of tenderpreneurs and corporates trying to muscle in on the procurement budget by corrupting politicians and officials.

If it wasn’t that, it was the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) trashing the streets to press home their wage demands.

If it wasn’t that, it was Mamelodi Sundowns succumbing to the prowess of the mighty and all-conquering Orlando Pirates Football Club.

Throughout the term of the current council, South Africa has witnessed fun and games that saw meetings fall apart and councillors engage in violent confrontations.

This week, the crisis reached farcical levels as a meeting that was meant to elect a new mayor to replace the one who unwrapped sweets in the office collapsed.

Read: DA ready to axe Tshwane mayor Stevens Mokgalapa

As things stand, Tshwane is without a mayor and, because the collapsed meeting could not pass the budget adjustment during the same sitting, the city’s finances are in limbo.

Samwu regional secretary Mpho Tladinyane warned us of the dire situation facing the city.

“We don’t have a political executive and we don’t have a sitting city manager from today. As from Monday, we will be on autopilot ... We are sitting with the situation whereby a number of departments have already overspent their salary budgets,” he said.

With just one year to go before the 2021 local government elections, Tshwane is a prime example of our failed experiment with coalition politics.

When the metros emerged from the 2016 polls with hung councils that made coalitions inevitable, there was much excitement that these would be the way of the future.

Politicians, scholars and pundits waxed lyrical that, in this new era, we should prepare for coalitions to become the norm in all spheres, including provincial and national government.

They were right. With the natural decline of the ANC, South African parties will in the near future be compelled to make deals to work together.

Ahead of next year’s elections and the general election in 2024, South Africa has to develop a model that will ensure that coalition governments survive the petulance that afflicts our politicians.

What we did not bargain for was that, inasmuch as coalitions are damn hard work, South Africa’s parties lack the maturity to make the tiniest effort to ensure they work.

The ANC was the main culprit.

Unable to accept that it had lost power in its heartlands and would now be regarded as an opposition party, the ANC strove from day one to make sure that the metro governments did not work.

It could not fathom the idea that it would have to wait another five years to try to regain power.

The party worked hard to make the rivals’ metros ungovernable.

Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay have been the biggest casualties of this hubris.

The chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Nomkhita Mona, tells this newspaper that the instability is hitting the economy.

“Nelson Mandela Bay has been plagued by political instability that has paralysed the region. The lack of leadership and the chaos brought about by the ineffective coalition government has brought the city to a standstill,” she says.

Read: Mondli Makhanya: With SA's coalitions falling apart, the teachable moment for politicians is now

The DA’s own version of immaturity has seen it bully coalition partners instead of leading them in government.

In other instances, it demonstrated that it was not ready for government, regardless of its claims that, wherever it governs in the country, it governs better.

The EFF, on the other hand, sensed early on that it had the power to make or break governments without actually being in them.

Unfortunately, it did not use its kingmaker status constructively, but just got drunk on the exercise of power.

Ahead of next year’s elections and the general election in 2024, South Africa has to develop a model that will ensure that coalition governments survive the petulance that afflicts our politicians.


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