Ironically, there is reason for optimism in this time of stress and implosion, where everything seems to be falling apart.
South Africa is on the cusp of a breakthrough. A window of opportunity is opening up which has never opened before and may never open again. The general election of 2024 could be the only ever where the DA has a meaningful chance of leading the national government.
ANC national support is tracking well below 50% and is unlikely ever to breach that mark again. Meanwhile DA support is well above where it was last year and growing steadily, making a DA-led multi-party national government likely in 2024. This is not wishful thinking. This was exactly the outcome in each of the three Gauteng metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – after the 2021 local government election.
Coalitions are inherently less stable and decision-making inevitably slower. But with skilled and principled leadership they bring the potential for repair and progress. Cape Town owes its remarkable turnaround to Helen Zille’s skillful leadership after the local government elections of 2006 when as mayor she held together a seven-party coalition that achieved meaningful progress for residents.
But for a real idea of how South Africa’s politics could unfold Johannesburg is a case in point.
DA mayor of Johannesburg, Mpho Phalatse, has one of the toughest jobs in the country. She has to hold together a coalition of nine diverse parties and repair a city whose infrastructure has been destroyed almost beyond repair. Her coalition inherited depleted coffers, broken systems and a bureaucracy loaded with incapable ANC cadres.
If it can be done in Johannesburg, it can be done in South Africa. And indeed, this 9-party coalition has held for eight months now, a considerable achievement in itself. It passed a R77,3 billion budget for 2022/23 which took effect on 1 July. With so much bulk infrastructure needing to be repaired or outright replaced, change will be slow and sometimes invisible. But Phalatse’s Multi-Party Government has started to show meaningful progress on multiple fronts.
As Phalatse has repeatedly said, the changes will not happen overnight, but there is a deliberate programme of service delivery for all residents across the City, not just some. And the Multi-Party Government expects to be held accountable for the commitments they’ve made, starting with fixing the basics.
For example, 105 newly refurbished Metrobuses hit the road last week. A full refurbishment of the existing Metrobus fleet of 420 buses is planned and budgeted for, which will extend its useful life by 6 or 7 years, a more cost-effective option that replacement. Safe and reliable public transport is life-changing for those who live far from economic and personal opportunities.
Less visible but as important was the recent completion of the massive new 15-megalitres concrete Lenasia Reservoir, delivered in budget and on time, one of many infrastructure-upgrade projects that the Multi-Party Government is undertaking to ensure reliable access to clean water for all 6-million residents. The coalition has budgeted R930-million for capital investment for water supply and sewer infrastructure.
In the same vein, the Multi-Party Government convened an Energy Indaba in May to map the quickest route to a sustainable energy supply, and is taking advice from the City of Cape Town, which is further down this path to energy security.
The coalition is committed to building a solid relationship with SAPS and the Gauteng Provincial Government to fight crime. Immediate interventions via the Johannesburg Metro Police Department include increased patrolling of crime hotspots, pursuing better compliance with liquor regulations, stop and search operations, building land-use inspections, as well as attending to persistent service delivery issues in the community.
Dr Phalatse’s Multi-Party Government is determined to turn Johannesburg into “a business friendly city” and is prioritising tourism as a key economic driver. It has established the Johannesburg Tourism Company as a municipal-owned entity where it was previously a directorate under the Department of Economic Development, to better support the tourism industry as a destination management organisation and pursue the City’s MICE strategy (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions). The South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) have welcomed what the new organisational structures means for Destination Joburg.
The coalition has implemented strict cost containment measures and tightened financial control measures and supply chain management, to sustain financial sustainability and improve its credit rating over time. It is committed to maintain stable debt ratios and generate surpluses, as this will attract investment by lowering the risk to investors and stakeholders.
A lot of work is needed to turn Johannesburg around and it is going to be a long, bumpy road. But the work has begun. The repair and rebuild of Joburg, is underway. Johannesburg’s 6 million residents can expect to see and feel marked differences in service delivery over time.
The point is, it is being directed by a nine-party coalition that is making slow but meaningful progress, showing South Africans that a post-ANC future is possible in 2024. That’s why the outcome of last year’s local government election was such a hinge of history moment. And it’s why now is no time to lose hope.