[OPINION] Unholy alliance to no good end
It’s worth quoting EFF leader Julius Malema’s comments of March 2018 in relation to the potential removal of the Democratic Alliance’s Athol Trollip as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay. Then Malema said: 'We have taken a decision that we are going to remove the mayor of PE.’ Malema later tweeted:‘Hahaha, you are going, white man. I’ve got no sympathy for whiteness, it feels so good for a black child to determine the future of the white one. Because the mayor of DA in PE is a white man. So, these people, when you want to hit them hard – go after a white man. They feel a terrible pain, because you have touched a white man…but we are starting with this whiteness. We are cutting the throat of whiteness.'
Let us label Malema’s comments for what they were then and are now - a shameless display of racism with a touch of violence. Finally this week, Trollip was ousted in a motion of "no confidence" against him. That vote is now the subject of a court battle but ensconced in the mayor’s office in Nelson Mandela Bay is Mongameli Bobani of the UDM. Crispan Olver, author of How to steal a city has warned that Bobani is "a deeply corrupt man" and "rent-seeker". Olver should know, since he was tasked by Pravin Gordhan to deal with corruption in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in 2016. His words thus carry the weight of someone who understands the levels of corrupt depravity that has seen the Eastern Cape consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt and under-performing provinces in the country.
After the 2016 municipal elections, the DA managed to secure enough seats in three metropolitan councils – Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane – so as to be able to challenge the ANC for control, provided it could secure enough support from minority parties. This it was able to do with support from the EFF, although no formal coalitions were formed. Thus, in Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA held 46.7% of the seats, the ANC 40.92%, and the EFF 5.12%, with the remainder held by six other parties, only one of which – the UDM – secured more than one seat - or 1.91% of the vote. Coalition governments need agreements on principle upfront and stable and constructive leadership in the interests of all citizens. The EFF, ever mercurial, was never going to be a reliable partner. Its interests are its own and its commitment to the Constitutional mandate of government is tenuous at best.
And so it is that in a party with 1.91% of the vote (the UDM) in Nelson Mandela Bay holds the mayoral position. If ever there was an example of opportunistic, unprincipled politics, it was what unfolded in the Eastern Cape this week. Trollip to his credit had been making slow gains in trying to clean up a most corrupt metro, which is probably why the rent-seekers needed him removed.
But it is Malema’s crude racism and nationalism that should concern us most. It seems also that the ANC and UDM are perfectly comfortable to associate themselves with this sort of rhetoric in an attempt to install a mayor with a dubious reputation. It is an unholy alliance without principle that will see the citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay suffer further at the hands of an inept government. Bobani has rambled on about a new "collective" government but one cannot help but feel deep unease about the way in which the ouster of Trollip has taken place. In Johannesburg and Tshwane, similar threats are being made to oust mayors and collapse governments. One has to ask, "to what end?"
That is the question no politician involved in the ouster in Nelson Mandela Bay seems to be able to answer - apart from in crude racist terms. In addition, some useful journalism has shown that the controversial Andile Lungisa of the ANC - a Zumarite for sure - has been voted in as mayoral committee member in charge of infrastructure and engineering. Yet, while an ordinary member of the committee, he failed to attend a single meeting. So, how are we to be convinced that the ouster of Trollip is about good governance and not perhaps about gaining access to infrastructure tenders and the lucrative spin-offs they may be able to provide? It is a question worth asking.
The world is full of talk about the power of "disruption". It has become a ubiquitous slogan now, specifically in relation to technological advances but also, of course, political disruption. Disruption can work for the good of society if harnessed appropriately. The same applies to political disruption. Malema has styled himself as the great disruptor in our politics. Whether it was turning Parliament upside down during the Zuma years, orchestrating protests outside H&M stores or being unencumbered by restraint when it comes to his speech. Malema makes and breaks his own rules. The ANC, the UDM and others tread a dangerous path in the support, tacit or overt, of such base politics. For Malema’s powers are limited by his single digit electoral mandate. The ANC would do well to remember that – but what are the chances when opportunism and short-term political gain seem to be the order of the day?
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. Her book 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy', published by Pan Macmillan, was released this month. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february