"Talks about talks." This is how DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has described discussions among opposition parties which have their eyes on a new coalition government for the turbulent Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
Asked to confirm whether the opposition parties in the council were in talks and, if so, how close they were to forming a coalition, Zille responded to News24's questions via e-mail, saying: "The answer is NO, there are no formal talks at present. There are preliminary 'talks about talks', but there is still a long way to go in understanding properly what went wrong last time."
In December, the DA and ANC banded together to remove the UDM's Mongameli Bobani as the mayor.
After the 2016 election, the DA governed the municipality in coalition with the UDM, Cope, ACDP and, at times, the Patriotic Alliance (PA). It also had an agreement that the EFF would support their mayor, who was Athol Trollip. However, relations between Trollip and Bobani, who was then the deputy mayor, soon soured.
In February 2018, EFF leader Julius Malema infamously said he was going to "cut the throat of whiteness" by removing Trollip as mayor after the DA did not support the EFF's motion in the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.
After failed attempts to remove Trollip, the EFF, ANC and UDM finally succeeded in August 2018 in a dramatic council meeting.
The ANC, UDM, African Independent Congress (AIC) and United Front formed a minority coalition government, governing with the EFF's support. As the allegations against Bobani mounted amid several service delivery failures, he was removed in December, and the EFF did not participate.
Currently, deputy mayor Thsonono Buyeye of the AIC is the acting executive mayor.
Asked if the DA would consider working with the UDM if it insisted that Bobani continue as councillor, Zille said: "It is wrong to pre-empt discussions before they begin, but I think it is safe to say that in this instance, the answer would be no. Given our experiences, we would not be prepared to re-install Mongameli Bobani as a condition for entering a coalition with the UDM."
As reports of a coalition government emerged, Trollip responded angrily on Twitter: "This is outrageous!! Holomisa allowed Bobani to get away with breaking every provision in the previous coalition agreement, he has insulted everyone in the DA and it's leadership and now he and Helen Zille are in discussions about a coalition after a recent trip to Germany."
Zille said it seemed that Trollip didn't have the relevant information and "jumped to conclusions".
The DA has 57 of the council's 120. The ANC has 50 and the EFF has six. The UDM has two, while Cope, the ACDP, PA, AIC and United Front have one each.
This means the DA needs four more seats for a majority coalition. While it is expected that Cope and the ACDP would work with the DA, as it does elsewhere, it would still need the UDM's two seats, even if the PA - which has played on the DA's and ANC's sides on different occasions - also enters the coalition. News24 understands the DA is also in discussions with the United Front and AIC.
DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga said the DA was not interested in the minority government, but the people of the municipality must be put first.
"What happened in Nelson Mandela Bay was bad," he said, referring to political killings, among other things.
He said coalitions were the future and those involved in talks must leave their egos behind.