Ralph Mathekga: Political battles rushing us headlong to the end of another wasted municipal term

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.
Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.
Gallo Images

Halfway through the current term, the greatest achievement in Tshwane and Joburg is the failure of the ANC to remove the DA mayors. Mashaba's biggest achievement is that he survived the attempts to remove him, writes Ralph Mathekga.

Last week we were kept on a knife's edge about the impending removal of Herman Mashaba as the mayor of the City of Johannesburg. I don't find Mashaba particularly interesting. He is all talk and no action. With him it's some serious "blah, blah" talking.

Mashaba seems to enjoy listening to himself offending people with his often raw statements. Yet, I do not see any reason why he should be removed as the mayor. He is better than the previous ANC-led administration. He survived the motion of no confidence, and we will be hearing about his Great Escape until the cows come home.

When I first heard that the ANC was preparing a motion to remove Mashaba, it occurred me that the ANC makes for a good opposition party in Johannesburg. Focusing on removing Mashaba has been the core preoccupation of the ANC caucus in Johannesburg since the party lost control of the City to Mashaba's Choir in the 2016 local government elections.

Ralph Mathekga: Our obsession with the ANC is killing us

Since the ANC lost control of key metros (Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and Tshwane), the party has focused primarily on frustrating the DA-led coalitions in those municipalities. What concerns me the most is that attempts to remove DA mayors in the troubled metros are part of a project that is purely political and has little if anything to do with service delivery.

The ANC caucuses in the Cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane seem to be suffering from an entitlement complex. The liberation party seems to believe that it should be in charge in those municipalities because God thinks so. This is the reason why half of the current local government term has been wasted on politicking with the sole purpose of wrestling power away from the DA in the various metros.

Halfway through the current term, the greatest achievement in Tshwane and Joburg is the failure of the ANC to remove the DA mayors and regain control of the councils. Mashaba's biggest achievement is that he survived the attempts to remove him. The question of service delivery is not at the forefront of the political battle that has been underway in the metros since 2016. I am worried that this battle makes no contribution towards improving the conditions of municipalities, and their capacity to deliver basic services to the people.      

Our local sphere of government is excessively politicised; with mayors who often spend time preparing to exit to provincial or national politics. Thus, local government is just a training ground for leaders to ready themselves for bigger opportunities at provincial and national levels. The current local government term is wasted on politics of the ego, whilst conditions on the ground deteriorate. Just take a look at the City of Johannesburg; it does not look like there was a change of guard after the 2016 elections. The politics has been heightened, whilst basic service delivery is not improving.

READ: DA holds its Fedex meeting amid challenges in its metros

The auditor general, Kimi Makwetu, has shown to us the deteriorating state of financial management across local government, including the big metros. Makwetu's audit picture of local government is disturbing; it shows a sphere of government that is increasingly drifting away from the people. We will soon be heading to local government elections in 2021, and political parties will be blaming each other for a wasted municipal term. Yet parties will be making more and more promises so as to secure the vote. It is a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

The attitude of the big political parties in the municipal councils shows that parties are embracing politics that has no substantive connection with the plight of the people. We cannot allow an entire municipal term to be wasted on political bickering among parties. If we allow that, people will ask the most difficult question and we will have no answer.

These days it takes me way longer to explain why people should still vote in the elections. This is because the state of municipalities is such that it is no longer straightforward to expect people to go out and vote.

Voting in the elections cannot merely be a democratic ritual with no impact on the lives of the people. DA leaders will argue that their mayors in Tshwane and Johannesburg have acted in a way that improved service delivery in those areas. The reality as far as I can see is that the DA-led administrations in those municipalities are no better than the ANC-led administrations.

It seems one now has to settle for a party not because it has a vision, but simply because it is not worse than the previous party that led. How depressing.

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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