The big story: Welcome to SA’s coalition era

Is your head spinning from the week’s fast-moving coalition news? Not to worry, we’ve got the summary you need. 

To recap: The 1 November local government elections left nearly 70 of the country’s municipalities “hung”, with no outright winners. Tuesday was the deadline for parties to finalise coalitions and, as you might expect, things went down to the wire in several cities.

The DA had a good day at the office, securing three metros – the City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and the City of Tshwane. It retained outright control of Cape Town, which it has run since 2009. The party bagged Joburg thanks to votes from ActionSA and the EFF. But this isn’t the start of a beautiful coalition friendship: both ActionSA and the EFF made it clear they only backed the DA to snatch power away from the ANC. The country’s economic hub now has its first woman mayor, Dr Mpho Phalatse, a doctor who specialises in public health. She joined the DA in 2016 as a councillor and served as MMC under ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba while he was still a DA member; her previous roles mean Phalatse has reputable experience in public administration.

In Ekurhuleni, the DA’s Tania Campbell secured 116 votes against the incumbent, Mzwandile Masina of the ANC. Masina got 105 votes and had to surrender the mayoral chain. The ANC has governed Ekurhuleni since 1994, so this was bound to sting a little. There was more hurt to come: ActionSA’s Mashaba warned that the ANC was in for more pain in the Tshwane metro, and that’s exactly what happened. The DA’s Randall Williams, who became mayor in 2020, was re-elected in a clean sweep after the ANC declined to nominate a mayoral candidate of its own. Awkward.

Things went more smoothly for the ANC in the Eastern Cape; it retained the Buffalo City metro, and Eugene Johnson became mayor in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, pipping the DA to the mayoral chain by one vote. Johnson is only the metro’s second woman mayor and has more than 20 years’ experience in governance. The ANC also held onto the Mangaung metro in the Free State. It came dangerously close to losing eThekwini (Durban and surrounds) but managed to clinch the metro with the help of smaller parties. The DA was supported by the EFF and the IFP in its unsuccessful bid for power.

So, who emerged victorious in this latest edition of “Survivor: Democracy”? The EFF blindsided almost everyone by supporting the DA, but given that the two parties are polar opposites, who knows how long the relationship (a flirtation rather than a formal coalition, remember) might last. Publicly, senior ANC figures are acting like a high school rugby jock who’s scared to show his feelings: transport minister and party elections head Fikile Mbalula spent some quality time on Twitter complaining about coalitions. Behind the scenes, though, it’s likely that many party bigwigs are genuinely worried about what this week’s changes may mean for their chances in the 2024 national elections. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that we, the voters, might be the real winners – but let’s see if strange bedfellows in various municipalities surprise us pleasantly by improving service delivery and quality of life for the residents they’re elected to serve. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 25 November 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.