Coalition governments: lessons from Joburg’s EFF-DA partnership

What does the DA and EFF’s partnership in the City of Joburg tell us about the future of coalition politics? In our special report, we research their performance, as South Africans head to the polls to vote in an election that could see more unlikely coalitions emerge.

By Sarah Evans for explain.co.za

Watch the video summary of this article:

Coalition politics are now a reality of South African politics. But there hasn’t been quite enough analysis on how they’re working out. South Africans head to the polls on Wednesday to vote in the national and provincial elections. There is a real possibility that the provincial vote will see no clear winner and a coalition government in place – particularly in Gauteng.

This would reflect what happened in Gauteng’s major metros, Tshwane and the City of Joburg, in the 2016 local government elections.

So how did the coalitions there play out? And how can that guide us as we prepare to cast our votes in these crucial elections on Wedesday?

explain.co.za’s mission is not just explaining existing news, but also creating researched reports into areas where there has not been enough analysis or explanation. We’ve heard lots about the fall-outs in metros like Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay between coalition partners. But what does it mean?

In this special report, we researched the major parties in the City of Joburg (COJ) council, and how they’ve done in the roughly two years since they took control of the city, away from the ANC for the first time in our democracy. This is a case study, if you will, of what could happen at a larger scale on the provincial level – and even nationally with time.

And of course, this being explain.co.za, we’ve put together a video summarising the key point of this report here, and you can also watch it at the end of this article.

So let’s dive in and answer some key questions.

1. Could the ANC lose its majority in Gauteng

Is the DA/EFF cooperation agreement (or non-coalition) likely to repeat itself in Gauteng? Three major polls in South Africa have vastly divergent views, with the worst case scenario for the ANC being that it will lose Gauteng altogether.

However, a conservative consensus seems to show that the ANC will get something between 55 – 60 %.

But polls are always tricky. Nothing is certain.

Another possible indication of how the vote will, however, are by-elections.

When explain.co.za spoke to elections analyst Dawie Roodt earlier this year, he pointed out the DA and the EFF had performed well in by-elections in northern Gauteng. This means the ANC should be worried – even though there haven’t been enough by-elections in Johannesburg to use that metric to predict the ANC’s success in Joburg.

“The numbers in Northern Gauteng should concern the ANC in Johannesburg as well, as these electoral trends typically do not occur in isolation.”

Dawie Roodt

He says the EFF is primed to increase its support in the province, based on the current data available. He noted:

  • The ANC has lost 16% of the overall black electorate in Gauteng between 2011 and 2016,
  • The DA’s up to 10% and the EFF is up to 16% in its support of the black electorate.
  • This is the key trend that is pushing the ANC down in Gauteng, and why Gauteng is likely to be very competitive this year.
  • If the EFF gets 16% or more of the black electorate in Gauteng this year, the ANC faces a very steep climb to get to 50% of the vote in Gauteng.

2. How is the DA doing in governing the COJ?

The DA is officially in a minority government in Johannesburg thanks to a coalition with smaller parties in the council. The EFF is the largest of these. It has a whopping 30 seats in the COJ council – seats which the 119-strong DA-led coalition needs to defeat the ANC, with its 121 seats. This is not just a once-off collaboration to elect the mayor: the DA needs the support of all these smallers parties in any motion it wants passed – including its budget.

So how has the party and Mashaba done in the city of gold? We look at a couple of measure

a. What the citizens think:

The latest Gauteng City-Region Observatory quality of life survey shows that 38% of the City of Johannesburg’s residents are satisfied with their government, with respondents reporting small increases in satisfaction levels with some services, like roads. So DA mayor Herman Mashaba and his DA-led coalition have not tanked the City in the eyes of its residents.

b. The story the books tell:

The city has had some notable financial achievements in the last three years:

  • The City’s cash balance was over R10 million at the end of the coalition’s first year in office – a jump from about R4.4 million the year before. The City’s cash balance had been steadily declining since 2014 when the ANC was in power in the city, according to muncipalmoney.gov.za.
  • It’s cash average, or the number of months that it could survive on its cash reserves for 2017 also doubled from June 2016, after years of declining under the city when it was led by the ANC.
  • By the end of 2018, the City had saved over R500 million through cutting down on consultancy fees, travel expenses, and self-promoting advertising for the City that the previous administration had spent.
  • The DA-run administration also reduced its unauthorised expenditure, according to the Auditor-General, although the AG raised some concerns, specifically related to the City’s water and electricity rates calculation systems.
  • The administration’s new Group Forensic and Investigation Services led by former top cop Shadrack Sibiya has uncovered about R17 billion’s worth of corruption at the City, resulting in 450 arrests.
  • And in April, Mashaba announced a R20-billion investment that will create affordable housing for the city by releasing city-owned properties to the private sector for development.
Source: municipalmoney.gov.za

3. Where has the DA-led administration gotten it wrong?

The administration has not been without its problems.

  • It underspent on things like infrastructure in its first year of government, by underspending its capital budget, compared to the previous administration – perhaps a symptom of Mashaba’s money-saving drive.
  • It also spent less on repairs and maintenance in its first year in office compared to the previous administration.
  • Mashaba caused an outcry when he performed a citizen’s arrest on a street trader pushing cows’ heads down the street in a trolley. He later tweeted that there was a risk of Ebola because of the trader, and reached a settlement with the Human Rights Commission after he was reported. It is just one of many incidents when Mashaba has been accused of xenophobia. In 2018 he said that illegal immigrants were “holding our country to ransom”. Mashaba’s office officially issued a statement condemning xenophobia, but the damage was already done. At least 40 immigrant-owned shops were looted in the city at the time, according to GroundUp.
City of Joburg mayor, Herman Mashaba. Photo: DA
  • Experts like the Socio-Economic Research Institute (SERI) say the heavy reliance on private developers to develop the inner city could result in higher rentals which would push out the poor – as happened in parts of Cape Town under the DA-led administration there.
  • And finally there is the fire trucks issue.

In November 2017, the city cancelled its R161 million contract for the provision of fire trucks, according to TimesLive. It was the right decision – the contract was allegedly entered into with forged documents. The contractor also failed to provide 29 new fire engines and was placed under business rescue.

But getting badly-need, new fire engines took a really long time. Too long. While the City was formulating a new procurement plan, a year after cancelling the original contract, the Bank of Lisbon fire happened, in September 2018. Three firefighters died. The ANC-led provincial government must shoulder a lot of the blame for what happened given the state of the building it rented. The provincial government knew that the building was not safe, Gauteng premier David Makhura said at the time. But the DA-led COJ should have acted much faster after it canceled the fire truck contract. The firefighters who died were under-equipped.

And there’s still no resolution on this issue.

in January this year, Mashaba was still making promises to purchase more fire engines – 92 in the next three years, according to News24. In March this year, the new contractor pulled out of the contract days before the winning bidder was due to be announced, for reasons that remain unclear. This is bad news given how many of the city’s fire station are woefully under-equipped.

4. How has the EFF done in holding the DA accountable

So while the city and the DA has been no saint, the EFF’s supposedly pro-poor stance should have seen the party using its muscle in the council to advance its agenda. But it appears as if its partnership with the DA has too often resulted in its silence.

When four people died during an eviction by the notorious Red Ants in Lenasia in 2017, the EFF in Gauteng reacted by staging a sit in at the council offices. Hardly a revolutionary act. And when Mashaba made his controversial citizen’s arrest, the EFF merely issued a statement condemning the mayor, and said it was “disappointed”.  

The EFF could have punished the DA in the council by withholding support on any of Mashaba’s motions. It did not.

5. So why hasn’t the EFF held the DA to account better in the COJ?

Is the EFF’s bark worse than its bite, or is there a deeper issue at play?

Analyst Steven Friedman points out that, as kingmakers, the EFF could also have called a motion of no confidence in Mashaba at any point and probably removed him with the ANC’s support. Again, they did not.

The party actually came to the mayor’s aid when the ANC called amotion of no confidence in him in 2017, voting with the DA to save Mashaba’s job.

Friedman, in an interview with explain.co.za earlier this year, says the EFF has done nothing to advance the interests of the poor since its election in 2016.

“What is clearly straightforward is that they have made absolutely no effort since the ‘coalition’ started to push any pro-poor agenda at all. Remember this is a minority government, not a coalition. The EFF can in effect vote the DA out of power any time it wants as long as it hooks up with the ANC. It’s never tried to do that or push any kind of policy agenda at all.”

Steven Friedman

What explains their soft stance on the mayor when his blundersshould have seen the party taking to the streets in anger?

First, it’s necessary to assess the party’s performance in the city council based on its own promises. Explain.co.za asked the party’s newly-appointed chief whip in the council, Nonhlanhla Radebe, to explain her party’s performance based on some key criteria on which the party campaigned: land, anti-corruption, and a pro-poor agenda.

6. How the EFF rates its performance in its own words

a. Land

While Radebe says the party cannot be expected to implement its promise of expropriation of land without compensation because it is not in national government. But she says the party has actively encouraged land grabs across the city, and has agitated for informal settlements to be formalised across the city.

The party also introduced a motion, which was passed, for a land audit in the city. She is not concerned about the illegality of the land grabs taking place.

“Land occupations are illegal technically but there is nothing illegal about people trying to find a place to stay. The people are taking back what belongs to them. Those affected will say it’s unlawful, but it wasn’t unlawful when they took our forefather’s land.”

Nonhlanhla Radebe
EFF deputy secretary general Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi with the EFF’s leadership of Gauteng at the party’s final rally ahead of election.
b. Anti-corruption

This is where the party’s relationship with the DA becomes controversial.

Investigative journalists Amabhungane reported in November 2018 that a firm that won a R1 billion tender to provide a fleet of vehicles to the City allegedly paid a kickback to a company used for the benefit of the EFF and its leader, Julius Malema. The party denied wrongdoing and the City instituted an investigation into the claims.

But the allegations seem to provide credence to the rumours that the EFF’s cooperation has been bought, by giving it decision making power in the awarding of tenders.

“They behave as if they’ve got no power. They behave as if they’re a tiny opposition party. It’s not plausible. It’s not plausible for a party who is in power and is keeping the DA in power,” Friedman says.

Radebe responded to the allegation with a broad denial. “We’ve heard the rumours, but I do not have such knowledge. There is no deal with the DA that I know of,” she said, adding that the EFF caucus acts “independently”.

c. A pro-poor agenda

As much as Friedman says the party has none, Radebe says this is not true. She points out that the EFF blocked Mashaba’s attempts to raise tariffs too high, and stopped the city from privatising refuse collection service, Pick It Up. She also says the party pushed for the insourcing of security guards used by the city.

These gains can’t be discounted. But it is telling that when the DA wanted to put 71 inner-city buildings out to tender for private development, the EFF did not stop it, despite it going against the EFF’s own policy that the city should own all the inner city properties.

On the plus side, It voted with the DA to pass a motion which saw property developers forced to allocate 30% of their buildings to affordable accommodation.

6. What does it all mean?

For the EFF, entering into some kind of partnership to form a government in Gauteng in 2019 – whatever that alliance might look like – will be a massive boon for the party. But coalitions are a messy business, in the already messy world of politics.

As you head to the poll on Wednesday, bear in mind that your vote could see a coalition government created in your province. Think carefully who you want that to be.