Update on DA’s Tshwane and Johannesburg coalition talks

Following the coalition talks between opposition parties in Gauteng yesterday, a joint statement was released that made a solution to the election outcome in Johannesburg and Tshwane sound deceptively simple:

This solution was essentially as follows: Let the DA head up a coalition of opposition parties to govern Tshwane, while Action SA does the same thing in Johannesburg.

The reality is much more complex.

The DA is, by a significant margin, the largest opposition party in both these Metros. But, apart from this, the election outcome in these two cities differs substantially.

In Tshwane, it is possible for opposition parties to come together to form a majority coalition government that has over 50% of the seats in Council. This means opposition parties can form a stable coalition, pass budgets and take decisions, without having to rely on the EFF.

This is not the case in Johannesburg.

For a start, the IFP and the Patriotic Alliance, that have a significant number of seats in Johannesburg (but not in Tshwane), have already stated that they will vote with the ANC. Without the 15 seats of these two parties, it is impossible for the other opposition parties to form a majority coalition, without the support of the EFF.

In other words, even if we do put together a minority coalition government in Johannesburg, the EFF would have to vote with us in order to enable us to take decisions, pass budgets and bring stable government. The coalition will therefore be subject to the whims and demands of the EFF.

The EFF has already said they intend to stay outside the coalition, and merely give us their vote when we do things that they agree with.

So inevitably, the EFF tail will wag the coalition dog in Johannesburg.

Some people argue that it is worth taking this risk. They say that we need a bold new move in politics to keep the ANC out.

However, there is nothing new or bold about this proposal. We tried exactly this after the 2016 election. We took the risk of being in minority coalitions supported by the EFF — which failed spectacularly.

Back then we put together opposition coalitions in Johannesburg and Tshwane neither of which had enough council seats to get over 50% of the vote.

The EFF did not join our coalitions but offered their support on a case-by-case basis. In both these cities, our minority coalitions had to rely on the EFF to get the majority we needed to govern.

This resulted in chaotic, unstable governments in which smaller parties switched sides and power kept changing hands.

In Johannesburg, in particular, Herman Mashaba (who was still a DA Mayor) understood that in order to remain Mayor, he had to dance to the EFF’s tune. Even Julius Malema acknowledged that Herman became the EFF’s mayor. That may have been a bonus for the EFF, but it was disastrous for everyone else.

The election result in 2021 is different from 2016 in only one significant respect.

In Tshwane, for the first time, we are now able to put together an opposition coalition government that will have a clear majority of seats. We will not have to rely on the EFF to secure a majority and remain in office.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Johannesburg.

Essentially, what we are being asked to do in Johannesburg is what we did before: We are being asked to put Action SA at the head of a minority government that is dependent on the EFF to get 50% plus one of the votes.

This, in essence, repeats what we did after the 2016 election and which failed dismally.

We promised the voters faithfully we would not repeat this blunder.

We have consistently said we would rather be a good, strong opposition than in an unstable, chaotic, unprincipled coalition that has to kow-tow to the EFF to stay in office.

So it is quite wrong to present the election for a Mayor in Johannesburg as a choice between the ANC and an opposition coalition under Action SA.

It is actually a choice between the ANC and the EFF. That should be clear to all informed observers.

In the midst of the current confusion, we have an obligation to think clearly.

Our resolve is being tested, and we intend to stick by our commitment.

After our negotiation team reported back to Fedex, we considered their report and re-affirmed our resolve, as follows:

1) We will not go into chaotic minority coalitions that are dependent on the EFF to stay in power.

2) We would rather be a principled, strong opposition than be in government at all costs, especially when we know we will not be able to govern unless we dance to the tune of our arch opponents.

3) We respect the will of the voters, and where we enter opposition coalitions that have a chance of succeeding, we will support a representative of the largest party as the mayoral candidate.

4) We will not be part of any voting bloc that is dependent on the EFF.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. We have repeated these commitments consistently since the failure of the 2016 minority coalition governments. We emphasised them throughout our 2021 campaign.

The DA is a party that learns from experience. We are also a party of our word.

Now is the time to demonstrate both.

On Monday we will present our DA mayoral candidate, Mpho Phalatse, to election as Johannesburg’s Mayor at the Inaugural Council meeting.

On Tuesday, we will present the DA Mayoral candidate, Randall Williams, for election as Tshwane’s Mayor at the Inaugural Council meeting in that City.

While both these meetings will constitute a milestone in South Africa’s political development, they do not signal the end of the road.

The DA will always keep the door open for continuing talks to enable like-minded opposition parties to find each other and build a strong alternative to both the ANC and the EFF.

We will not be forced into a false choice between them, that can only lead to failure.