By now the political reality has hit home. There’s a party that used to govern South Africa and all its cities, except Cape Town, of course. And there’s a party that used to shout itself hoarse as it proclaimed how badly the major cities, or Metros, were doing, and by pointing at Cape Town, claimed how they could turn things around if given a chance.
For years these two parties, the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, were involved in their sort of two-party battle. Because each of them had locked in their own particular constituencies, it appeared that change would not come.
Their voters were said to be too loyal: the ANC had the majority of the black vote and the DA had captured the mainly white middleclass vote, and in Cape Town and the Western Cape, as it was always claimed, the ballot of the majority of the group regarded as coloured in apartheid as well as democratic South Africa.
The appearance of the Economic Freedom Fighters, formed by Julius Malema after he was expelled by the ANC, Floyd Shivambu and other disaffected ANC members, were the catalyst for change.
Fuelled by their self-expressed desire to destroy the ANC, the EFF could, if going into alliance with the DA and others, change the balance of power in the Metros. But such a move would only be on if the EFF swallowed their pride, worked with a party that they hated but not as much as they detested the ANC. They would in a sense bed down with a hated enemy to spite, wound and began to destroy one they hated even more.
The Local Government Elections of August 3 gave Malema a pass that allowed him to give the ANC more than a bloody nose without having won a single ward. Because of the proportional electoral system his party got enough seats to change the political power in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mogale City.
Malema talked to both the DA and the ANC, and given his almost pathological hatred for the ANC, one was not surprised when he came with conditions, such as the removal of President Jacob Zuma, which the ANC would not meet.
He embraced the DA in a coalition, which he claims is not a coalition, and to use political parlance became the DA’s BEE partner. He does claim that the EFF is not in a formal coalition with the DA, but in deciding not to become part of an administration, but to remain in so-called opposition the EFF enabled the DA to take charge of major Metros.
During Helen Zille’s tenure as leader the DA said it would never enter into a coalition with the EFF under any circumstances. Before the Local Government Elections the DA sanctimoniously claimed the EFF could not be trusted to govern.
Now it’s governing with the approval and blessings of the EFF. The 2016 marriage of convenience between the two shows that the DA is willing to ditch some of its principles. Just how long the liberals in the DA will remain quiet is another matter and accept these aspects of Mmusi Maimane’s leadership is a matter of conjecture.
But what can voters expect?
The one event that is driving all parties if the National Election that is due to take place three years from now in 2019. Sitting on the horizon as a marker, that election has turned each party into a state of frenzy.
The DA will want to show that they are not only masters of criticism, but can actually govern as well. They will also find that the news media will be taking more than a critical look at them. They already had a taste of it after being condemned in the media for stacking Mayoral Committees with white males.
But voters will have to get used to this side of the DA: for some reason, pale males, politically speaking and the DA make good partners. This mindset gives easy ammunition to DA critics. It’s time that the party works on this. Image and perception don’t hold voter loyalty forever. If the DA wants to grow in non-traditional areas it will have to challenge its traditional image.
On the delivery front, the DA will look at a strategy that will bring quick results to show that they can govern.
This will include sharpening up on delivering in areas where the ANC slacked off such as in enforcing municipal by-laws and acting against the impunity of blue light convoys (which Tshwane has already done by declaring that only President Zuma’s motorcade will be allowed to use blue lights), which will show who’s in charge.
They will also not waste any time in perusing the books of Metros where the EFF has brought them into office to uncover evidence of ANC malfeasance and corruption. Tenders will be examined. Those who under the ANC’s reign benefited from being appointed to positions for which they were not qualified, or who submitted dodgy qualifications will also find themselves under scrutiny.
This will be part of an exercise to damage the ANC’s credibility. Nothing wrong with this strategy, its all part of a deliberate exercise to show how bad your opponents is.
Being in power for too long breeds complacency and smugness, which if not checked, leads to a brush off from voters, which is what the ANC received. They will have to learn quickly how to be an effective opposition and how to use the media as effectively as the DA had done when it warmed the opposition benches.
The ANC will also find that opposition politics, unlike in the struggle days, have changed. They will have to be sharper, focused and watchful, and get out of their shell-shocked state quickly. Slogans alone will not cut it. They will have to show that they have heard the voters. Perhaps now voters will see more of their councillors.
Voters will be interested to see how Malema’s party plays its new role as the DA’s BEE partner. Although Malema has been trying to present the EFF as a party that has not been affected by ambition as much as the ANC has been, he himself has said that some EFF members had had their eyes on positions in local government that could, to twist his words, pay them the money.
It’s a fact that in South Africa holding a political office brings in the money therefore it will be interesting to see how long Malema will keep his party as pure and clean as he claims it is. Apart from this, the EFF needs to show voters that they are pushing the DA to do things in areas that they regard as their constituencies.
If Malema could not stop the DA from going ahead with installing Herman Mashaba as Mayor of Johannesburg, one wonders how much of an influence he will have and if the EFF is not becoming DA-captured in the Metros.
For his own sake and that of the EFF, at some stage he will have to show some muscle to assert his independence and own identity. The question is: how close to 2019 will that be? The DA would do well not to trust him. Both coalition partners can expect the ANC to attempt to drive a wedge between them.