Joburg has woken up to a new dawn today – one where the ANC has lost its hold on the “crown jewel” of South Africa, and where the DA has dramatically strengthened its political power in the economic heartland.
But just how the city will be governed remains uncertain as the dust settles on one of the most bruising municipal elections for the ruling party in the three hotly contested metros: Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
By last night, a “package deal” in which the DA and EFF enter an improbable marriage of convenience to govern all three battleground metros emerged as a strong possibility with a few of the outstanding results to be released today.
A DA-EFF deal could have the number of seats required to freeze the ANC out of power, a blow to the air of invincibility that it has worn since democracy, ushering in a new, if uncertain, era of coalition politics.
James Selfe, chairman of the DA federal executive, said the party’s preference would be for such a deal for all three metros, rather than attempting to cobble together coalitions in each with a range of smaller parties.
But this would require haggling with each party and the inevitable trading of positions in the executive council, compared to a once-off deal with the EFF for a clean sweep of the three metros, which would give both parties their main objective – dislodging the ANC.
Patched-together coalitions with smaller parties are also potentially unstable as desertion by any one of them could result in a vote of no-confidence and the toppling of the coalition – as the DA experienced in Cape Town after 2006.
Selfe said the party was in informal discussions with all potential partners but would wait for the final results before making any decisions so it could eliminate those who were not essential and save itself the trouble of negotiating with them.
But while the DA was warming to the idea of a coalition with the EFF, its leader Julius Malema was playing it cool, denying there had been any discussions and insisting any deal would have to be about “changing the life of the African child” and giving people the land – a programme unlikely to be palatable to the DA.
Malema said the EFF would be happy to remain in opposition as the voters had decided it was not time yet for it to govern. It would rather abstain from voting in council or have a re-run of elections than be a front for “white arrogance” or “rescue” the ANC. However, the EFF also said it would be open to discussions with any party, as it would be “childish” to refuse.
City of Joburg manager Trevor Fowler was not afraid of negotiating with other parties. “What’s of concern and what one has to think about is whether these coalitions will work to ensure the smooth running of the municipality. The reality is that parties don’t have the same policies, so there are bound to be disagreements.”
Jolidee Matongo, the ANC’s regional spokesman, agreed: “It’s important to continue to govern so we will have to look at the other parties in the council and see which ones have policies similar to those of the ANC.”
Political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said it was difficult to know the “permutations” of such potential coalitions. “Can the ANC rely on a couple of independents or small parties to join them? Can the DA? We’re shooting in the dark until we get the seat allocation and how the seats are held.”
The DA had “performed relatively well”, he said. “Of course, the ANC should be worried by the stayaway of its voters in Joburg, considering it spent R1 billion on its election campaign. It’s lost the jewel in the crown, the driver of the economy…”
The DA, Fakir said, would “certainly wield greater influence” in Joburg now. “Clearly they (the ANC) need to heed this lesson in Joburg. What’s the upshot? You could have better oversight and accountability in the council. You’ll have a governing party or coalition that will have to be on its toes.”
Last night, DA leader Mmusi Maimane declared victory in Tshwane, incurring the wrath of the ANC as the final results had not yet been released. Herman Mashaba, the DA’s mayoral candidate in Joburg, said though he had been “written off” initially, the “people have given the DA the mandate”.
Richard Calland, associate professor in public law at the University of Cape Town, said the position in Joburg was more complex “with apparently greater contrasts between wards”.
“The results, like the city, are more eclectic: in some wards the EFF has done especially well (with more than 30 percent) and in other (hostel) areas the traditionalist IFP has done surprisingly well.”
The results provided a good indication of what lies ahead in 2019.