South Africa’s local government enters new era

Opposition DA to take lead role in several councils after ANC’s electoral setbacks

Julius Malema, leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters, at a media briefing in Alexander township on Wednesday. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Julius Malema, leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters, at a media briefing in Alexander township on Wednesday. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

 

The major urban municipalities in South Africa’s economic and administrative heartland will be run by minority councils following the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) decision not to go into coalition with any other parties in Gauteng province.

At a press conference in Alexandra township yesterday, EFF leader Julius Malema revealed that talks with the ruling African National Congress and main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), following the local elections on August 3rd, had failed, leaving it no option but to remain in opposition.

Mr Malema said his party would not work with the ANC because it refused to meet its list of conditions, which included the removal from office of President Jacob Zuma, the amendment of the Constitution and free education. It also demanded the nationalisation of the country’s banks and mines.

While the ANC retained a majority nationally in the elections, taking just under 54 per cent of the vote in the poll, it dropped below the 50 per cent mark in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng as well as in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

The DA won the poll in Pretoria and Port Elizabeth but also failed to get above 50 per cent. While it lost to the ANC in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, it could have run all four councils with a majority if smaller parties, of which the EFF won the most support, had agreed to form coalitions with it.

Mr Malema, who used to lead the ANC Youth League until he was expelled in 2012 from the mother party under Mr Zuma’s watch, said choosing between the ANC and DA was a tough decision. “We were caught between two devils and we had to choose and we could not be neutral. We have heard you South Africa – we will not go into bed with the ANC,” he said.

Minority council

Mr Malema continued that although the EFF would not form a coalition with the DA, it was the “better devil” and it would vote with the party in Gauteng metros. “We will vote for the opposition, but we are not in bed with the DA,” he maintained.

Under these circumstances the DA will run Pretoria in Gauteng as a minority council. But if the EFF sides with it in Johannesburg on certain issues, it may also be able to out vote the ANC even though it is running that council as the party with the most seats.

Later in the day the DA revealed that it had secured coalition deals with five smaller parties in some of the 27 hung councils countrywide, including Port Elizabeth.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the parties involved had agreed to principles of clean governance and transparent procurement processes, and he added there would be no purging of municipal staff. He said the DA had tried to negotiate with the EFF, but “it’s quite clear that we will never agree on some ideological issues”.

The ANC has yet to announce any coalitions, but it needs just one seat to form a majority council in Ekurhuleni.

The EFF’s decision has left local government politics in the affected cities in unchartered territory, as they have had only majority-run council since the end of apartheid.

The councils and how they operate will now come under serious scrutiny from a public that cares more for basic service delivery than council members’ ideological differences.