When the DA eventually became the big winner of these local elections on Monday night, it was as much a surprise to the party and its councillors as it was to the rest of South Africa.
Its electoral performance had declined compared with five years ago and in most metros, it could not form viable coalitions with smaller parties to govern if these did not include the EFF, with whom it had refused to work. In these elections, the DA lost about 386 seats nationally, compared with 2016, when it gained 1 782 seats.
Even approaches by EFF leader Julius Malema and others were rebuffed as DA councillors prepared to sit on the opposition benches.
GAUTENG’S THREE METROS
According to the DA’s federal council chairperson, Helen Zille, Malema attempted to get agreement for the EFF to govern the City of Tshwane, for Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA be given the City of Johannesburg and for the ANC be given the City of Ekurhuleni.
“The idea was that they would then take over those governments completely, the other parties would go into opposition and the move would be like handing out sweets to children at a birthday party. The DA doesn’t go into coalitions with those kinds of arrangements,” she said.
“We were approached to support the EFF mayor in Rustenburg and refused. I had no idea that Malema was going to support us anywhere in the country because we broke that relationship a long time ago. He voted for us, to our complete surprise, but we aren’t going to be dependent on him.We aren’t going to be bought, captured and controlled by the EFF.
We’ll stand by our principles and we won’t pay heed to what he says on the rumour mill,” said Zille.
In her view, the local government election was always about the DA versus the ANC. The EFF, she said, did not want to be in government: rather, it wanted to control the officials, their decisions and the tenders, contracts and policies that were applied in government.
“So [Malema] would say: ‘Appoint this person as a municipal manager, give this tender to that company and ensure that you follow this policy. If you don’t, we’ll withdraw our support and your government will fall.’ We said we weren’t prepared to sell our souls and it was that tough line that had unintended, sad consequences of us losing the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality,” she said.
A Gauteng DA leader told City Press that even before the voting took place on Monday in most municipalities, including the City of Johannesburg, the party knew that it stood no chance.
However, he added that hours before the voting took place, he had been contacted by EFF national and provincial leaders.
“They said: ‘We’re going to spoil the fun and vote for you [DA].’ But I was reluctant when I got the information. Some of these EFF leaders wanted to meet with me, but I told them I had no mandate to discuss coalitions. I was afraid to meet them without knowing what was planned. [If I had], the next day we would have been beholden to them because they’d given us this.”
He added that he had also been sceptical about meeting the EFF leaders because “these guys can say one thing and do something else”.
The provincial leader said the biggest surprise had been winning Ekurhuleni, because he did not think the EFF would “ditch Mzwandile [Masina]” the way it had.
Tania Campbell’s election as mayor came as a chock to many, as the DA mayoral candidate in Ekurhuleni was Refiloe Nt’sekhe. She said she had withdrawn from the race after realising that the DA did not have enough numbers to result in her wearing the mayoral chain.The provincial leader, however, also said that Nt’sekhe – who is a member of the Gauteng legislature – had also been driven by salary considerations.
“When you go to council, you’re likely to lose between R12 000 and R15 000, and as a caucus leader in council, you earn the same salary as everyone else. So because there was no deal and the numbers were against us in Ekurhuleni, she [felt she’d remain in the legislature].”
The leader said the DA was approaching the turn of events with caution, particularly because there was no written agreement on the table. The “biggest risk” now for the party was employing staff, especially in private offices, because it did not know whether it would govern for five days, six months or five years.
He said potential staff might also have to leave permanent jobs even though they did not know how long they would be in office.
The ANC, which had been running Ekurhuleni and the City of Johannesburg until this week, was caught off-guard by the EFF rebuffing it so strongly. An ANC activist said that counting on the EFF and Malema to reject the DA had been a mistake – and the ANC had paid for it. It was time that his party realised that Malema was “not a friend”, he added. However, Malema continued to enjoy cordial relations with several ANC leaders, particularly those who sympathised with the fact that he had been expelled from the party.
Asked whether the ANC could have done better in the negotiations, some senior party leaders said the outcome had been inevitable, based on the balance of power.
One leader said:What we haven’t won on the battlefield, it’s always going to be difficult to win at the negotiating table.
The ANC negotiating team had also been cut some slack, as some external factors were mentioned in its inner circles as having contributed to its electoral decline. ANC activists identified load shedding as one of the factors that contributed to dampening voters’ moods, especially two days before the elections. In terms of power blackouts, the party on the ground had counted up to 220 transformers that had crashed in Soweto, Diepsloot, Ivory Park and Orange Farm – all ANC strongholds.
Another factor had been that Covid-19 regulations had necessitated restrained political activity.
NELSON MANDELA BAY
The DA believed that Zille was its trump card in many municipalities, and she had even relocated to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in a bid to defeat the ANC after her party’s polling showed, before the election, that it was behind the governing party by a considerable margin.
“I became very much involved in those battles because a month before the election, the DA was polling at 34% in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, and it was very bad because the ANC was polling at 48%,” she said.
That was when party leader John Steenhuisen deployed her to Nelson Mandela Bay for the election and mandated her to beat the ANC.
“I joined a very capable team led by then mayor Nqaba Banga, and slotted in. We worked our fingers to the bone to pull the ANC below 50% and did that by just 0.5%. It wasn’t the biggest margin, but we did it,” she said. However, the ANC still managed to form a coalition with smaller parties to take control of the Bay.
Zille believed that dragging the ANC to less than 50% had been a big achievement because the DA had “broken the circle and the entrenched pattern of single-party dominance in South Africa”.
She said she would have loved the DA to govern in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“That was my biggest project in this election campaign, apart from the preparatory work for coalitions. When the results came out, I knew it would have to be an eight- or nine-party coalition government. Having run a seven-party coalition government myself, I knew how difficult that was and how ungovernable an eight- or nine-party coalition would be.”
She said that the Nelson Mandela Bay metro had been lost when the DA refused to be drawn into a strategy with the EFF in Gauteng.
“The United Democratic Movement [UDM] withdrew its support from us in Nelson Mandela Bay, and small parties which had been with us switched sides because we were taking a very principled line in the Gauteng metros. So, very sadly, that government went to the ANC and I hope the mayor there is up to handling an eight- or nine-party coalition, because that’s going to be the most difficult coalition South Africa’s ever had and the consequences are likely to be huge,” said Zille.
MALEMA PLOTTED THE ANC’S FALL
Malema said at various council meetings this week that he had made many calls to opposition parties not to enter into coalitions with the ANC. When he had battled to persuade ActionSA’s KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Makhosi Khoza to vote against the governing party, he had called its president, Herman Mashaba, to intervene.
“Khoza wanted to abstain from voting, but Mashaba had instructed her to vote for the bloc, which meant voting for the DA as far as a coalition was concerned. She was so angry with the DA that even while she was in the voting queue being interviewed by the media, she was venting about it,” he said.
Malema said that after talking to ActionSA, he had made calls to other political parties to ensure the ANC did not win.
He said:I then called [UDM leader] General Bantu Holomisa, but, unfortunately, it was too late. He’d already committed to siding with the ANC.
While the EFF had been trying to meet with opposition party leaders and dissuade them from entering into coalitions with the ANC, it had also been ignoring calls from the governing party.
Malema said it had even ignored calls from ANC deputy president David Mabuza, whom it regarded as powerless.
“Mabuza was trying to call us, but we didn’t answer him. Cyril Ramaphosa never tried to call us,” said Malema.
He also questioned the role of Ramaphosa in the coalition talks.
“Where is he when his party’s losing metros? What role does he play when it’s losing powers?” asked Malema.
ANC’S KWAZULU-NATAL SURPRISE
Winning the eThekwini metro on Wednesday after surviving a possible defeat to the DA on Monday delighted the ANC and went some way towards consoling it after its disastrous outcome in Gauteng.
Retaining control of the city was a major psychological victory for the governing party, according to insiders.
In terms of numbers, the city accounted for 1.3 million of the 2.5 million votes that the ANC received in KwaZulu-Natal.
A Luthuli House insider said the riots in July in KwaZulu-Natal had cost the ANC a great deal. Although the looting had been done in the name of former president Jacob Zuma, he could not be blamed because he had come out publicly to lobby for the ANC.
When ANC hooligans disrupted the meeting on Monday, the ANC went into overdrive, working to entice Abantu Bantu Congress leader Philani Mavundla to its side after he had publicly committed to cooperating with the DA and other opposition parties.
Zuma was later credited with delivering Mavundla’s vote, and ensured that the ANC retained the City of eThekwini. “It’s really no magic,” said an insider, adding that Mavundla and Zuma had had a close relationship.
However, ANC provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala has since insisted that it was he and provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli who persuaded Mavundla to join the party’s ranks.
The EFF was so disappointed with the eThekwini outcome that it has instructed its lawyers to check the legality of Mavundla voting with the ANC, with a view to challenging the move in court.