South Africa may have survived the state capture years and turned the corner where accountability is concerned. But reckoning with what went wrong isn’t enough. Our country is deteriorating if most of our cities are anything to go by. The good news, depending on how you look at it, is that the country is poised for political change. This year is a key one ahead of the national elections next year that will probably see the ANC’s majority further imperiled. Here’s what you need to know about the political year ahead – and beyond.
(If you have struggled to keep track of the ins and outs of the state of coalitions, we recommend this great summary.)
New ministers to be announced
A cabinet reshuffle is on the horizon. The likes of Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who voted against Ramaphosa and party wishes in a parliament impeachment vote late last year may get the chop, while there are a number of other vacancies and changing political fortunes for some ministers that necessitate a shake-up. The problem? An anaemic pool of talent in the ANC NEC, where the president must fish from to form his cabinet. We’re not holding our breath.
ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba has started the year with a bang. The former DA COJ mayor has pledged to work with the DA to keep the ANC out of government but given his flip flopping on coalition partners before, and ongoing love affair with the EFF, it’s hard to take him seriously. His term as Joburg mayor wasn’t without fault, the worst being his rampant xenophobia, and allegations of quid-pro-quo corrupt deals with coalition partners the EFF to stay in power. But he was also an active mayor, who rallied the city’s finances. And, with just two years under its belt, his party was pretty successful in the 2021 local government election. As Mashaba notes, ActionSA emerged as the sixth largest party on a national level, despite contesting only these six municipalities out of 278 in South Africa. In Johannesburg, his stronghold as a former mayor, his party nabbed 44 of 270 seats, while the DA lost 33 – perhaps the clearest illustration of what the blue party’s narrowing politics is costing it. (Click through the graph below to see it visually).
The DA plans to meet in April to elect new leaders. John Steenhuisen will try to keep his position as leader, while his colleague and Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse may take him on. Another black woman may also take on Helen Zille for another top position in the DA’s federal system – chairperson of the federal council. An identity change at both those levels may shift the party’s waning popularity with the country’s black majority. But the increasingly rightwing direction the party has been taking makes defeating either incumbents unlikely. (One of many departing black leaders memorably called the new DA “Freedom Front Minus”. 😝)
An opposition party that also governs in parts of the country, like the DA does, isn’t just about politicians though. The DA swore to govern well, and did that with competent civil servants. Now the haemorrhaging of political leaders makes one wonder about the DA’s ability to keep and grow the talented technocrats that have set apart its governance from the ANC. If the blue party did win further cities, how would they staff and transform them if they are not actively growing their capacity – or proving to be an attractive workplace as former leaders complain of a toxic environment?
As we’ve said before, it’s the beginning of the end for this once great liberation movement. After decades of winning election after election outright, voters’ patience finally wore out. Ramaphosa will stave off the inevitable for a bit longer – he’s a flawed leader but better by a country mile than any of the other contenders for the top spot in his party. Plus he’s a favourite with markets, investors and the business community. His almost resignation late last year nearly gave the country a heart attack following a damning report into the Phala Phala saga, and he was quickly convinced to stay on. With his convincing win at the ANC’s elective conference late last year, he will go on to lead the party in the 2024 national elections next year, and may help them secure their majority nationally one more time. But it’ll be a downward spiral from then on, with no clear successor strong enough to restore the party. The corrupt factions he beat back are waiting to wrestle back power – and keep feeding at the trough.
The ruling party is also hoping to hold all its league conferences in the first quarter of this year, including the dissolved Women’s League. There are already rumblings that the disgraced Bathabile Dlamini will make a return as its president, which tells you everything you need to know about how seriously the ANC really takes renewal.
The EFF meanwhile is clearly waiting with open arms for the corruption-inclined RET faction of the ANC to overcome or outlast Ramaphosa and partner with them as kingmakers to rule the country. It’s the worst possible outcome. EFF leader Julius Malema may well be the country’s most talented politician, with an organic feel for grabbing attention, but his integrity doesn’t match. He and his political allies have been dogged with corruption allegations. He has formed his party in his own image, and it’s difficult to see how it would ever survive without him. The party has typically struggled to gain a share of the vote that reflects its undeniable popularity, possibly a reflection of lower voter turnout among the youth that make up their base. Hungry for power, comments by Malema have increasingly reflected a preoccupation with ANC politics – his former political home – meaning he’s leaning into the kingmaker status the EFF’s still significant votes will give him in hung councils with no clear winner.
Meanwhile a mushrooming of small political and civil movements speaks to a more hopeful future, from the Rivonia Circle by Songezo Zibi to former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s work with independent candidates, and another former DA leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko’s work with public officials. But as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba puts it in a recent op ed, “A plethora of independent movements is not enough.” He says we need to come under the umbrella of a new, unified struggle to set SA on course.
If you spent any time away from your hometown during these holidays you may have noticed one of two things: Your town looks a lot worse – or a lot better – by comparison. Service delivery at the local government level in South Africa is falling apart horrendously. The Western Cape still has the best audit outcomes in the country and the difference in parts of the DA-led province are palpable, while the economic heartbeat of SA, Johannesburg, is falling into disrepair. What’s the solution? The DA was on track about ten years ago to offer a national solution, becoming a diverse party for all. But it has since reversed direction, alienating black leaders and voters alike. Growth will be hard meaning more coalition madness for key cities, with all the petty politics and lack of service delivery that implies.
For the Joburgers wondering why it increasingly feels like parts of the city resembles a slim, The Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee has done an excellent job of tracking the issues, from severe leadership issues at the Johannesburg Roads Agency – which resulted in corrupt officials being suspended – to the technical details of why potholes aren’t fixed here.
Her explanation of how the city runs is worth reading too: 👇
“Johannesburg is ‘governed’ through a set of entities like Joburg Water, City Power, the JRA and a host of others including the Johannesburg Property Company. This was an innovation by the ANC to streamline all the apartheid metropoles into a single metron government. It has become a feeding scheme where successive ANC governments (and lately coalition partners of the DA, IFP and Patriotic Alliance) have deployed cadres who in turn give contracts to pals.
That’s the basic reason for Johannesburg’s failure… It’s cross-party eating. The city spends about 40 percent of its R77-billion budget on staff and on contractors and after payments into the entities there is little place for service.”
Alas, we must wait a good three years before the next local government election in 2026, where we can either hope for a clear winner or a stable coalition.