Adriaan Basson: The DA has a Tshwane problem

The DA unveils Stevens Mokgalapa as the City of Tshwane's new mayor on February 3, 2019.
The DA unveils Stevens Mokgalapa as the City of Tshwane's new mayor on February 3, 2019.
Tshidi Madia, News24

Tshwane is a litmus test for the DA's future. The party cannot be seen to be only opposing corruption and maladministration when it happens in ANC-run governments, writes Adriaan Basson.

Shortly after the DA had received the best results ever during the local government elections in 2016, a senior party leader told me it would be a disaster for the party to think it could govern Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town.

"We simply don't have the expertise and capacity to run four cities," the leader said, fearing that party leader Mmusi Maimane and his frontline wouldn't be able to face up to this reality amid celebrations and the deep, justified urge to show the ANC of Jacob Zuma the door.

The leader has been proven right.

Maimane couldn't resist the temptation to have all his cake and eat it and the DA cuddled up to the EFF – a party with which the DA had nothing in common but their shared hatred of Zuma – to rule the powerhouses of Johannesburg and Tshwane.

Three years on, the DA is out of power in Nelson Mandela Bay and hanging on by the skin of their teeth in Johannesburg. The latest scandal in Tshwane is proof that the DA simply doesn't have the human capital and skill to run even three metros properly.

Tshwane mayor Stevens Mokgalapa's dubious relationship with Chinese tech giant Huawei is the second scandal to hit the capital city in less than three years under DA-control and threatens to destroy the party's image of good, clean governance.  

Still reeling from the embarrassing cancellation of a R12bn infrastructure management project with engineering consultancy GladAfrica, Mokgalapa is in for a tough few weeks after the Sunday Times revealed how Tshwane put out a tender for a multimillion-rand safe cities project while Mokgalapa was in China, courtesy of Huawei, to view their smart city projects.

The newspaper reported that the tender specifications were drawn up in a way that would benefit Huawei's products and services, probably as a provider to a local contractor.  

Huawei is the second-largest cellphone maker in the world and the company is at the centre of the trade war between the US and China after President Donald Trump effectively blacklisted Huawei in America.

Aside from making phones, Huawei also specialises in creating smart cities through technology – an idea punted by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his May State of the Nation Address.

The idea is to create an integrated security system through CCTV cameras and control rooms that are linked to law enforcement agencies, but China's critics have pointed out the obvious risks for privacy violation and surveillance.

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal revealed how Huawei employees in Zambia and Uganda had helped the governments in those countries to spy on opposition politicians. This included intercepting WhatsApp messages.

Huawei categorically denied the claims, saying it has never been involved in hacking.

Mokgalapa will now have to explain to his party why he didn't seek approval from the DA before he accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from Huawei, while his government was drawing up specifications for a tender that fits perfectly in the company's business model.

If this was happening in an ANC-run municipality or government, the DA would have (rightly so) done a song and a dance, demanding transparency and thorough investigations into the matter. Tshwane is a litmus test for the DA's future.

The party cannot be seen to be only opposing corruption and maladministration when it happens in ANC-run governments. That will be the end of the DA.

In the meantime, as News24 revealed last week, Maimane has effectively placed Mokgalapa and his government under administration by parachuting in party guru James Selfe, who heads up the DA's governance unit, to deal with the troubled municipality.

Expect some major fallouts over the next few days emanating from the DA's head office in Bruma as the party tries to salvage its governance record.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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