DA coalition set for another power struggle as JHB speaker position is up for grabs

The breakdown in the coalition between the Democratic Alliance  and smaller parties will likely come back to the fore in the lead up to the election of a new Johannesburg speaker next week. 

The multi party coalition wants to force the DA to relinquish the position and have one of the smaller parties take over. The DA has in the past resisted attempts by its coalition partners to force it to elect a mayor from the smaller parties.

A breakdown in multi party coalition running the City of Johannesburg led to Cope councillor and chair of chairs Colleen Makhubele to call an extraordinary sitting to elect a new speaker against the wishes of the other parties. The ANC and the EFF were aided by councillors belonging to the coalition to oust Vasco da Gama as the council speaker. 

Makhubele has broken rank with the coalition and sided with the ANC which aims to file a motion of no confidence against DA mayor Mpho Phalatse. Makhubele has called a special sitting set for 13 September to elect a new speaker. Coalition have called her actions ‘fraudulent’, accusing her of throwing the democratic processes aside in order o grab power and subvert the rule of law. 

The coalition says only the municipal manager can call a council sitting in place of the speaker and is threatening to go to court. Makhubela  is adamant that she is acting within the rules of the law as set in the Municipal Structures Act.

Negotiations are underway in the multi party coalition for the election of a new speaker, but the Mail & Guardian understands that the smaller parties want to strong-arm the DA to vote for one of their own. 

Last November, ActionSA tried to force the DA to hand over the reigns in the Johannesburg council to its leader Herman Mashaba in exchange for voting for DA mayors in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni. This failed and Mashaba’s party opted for positions as heads of council committees as well as members of the mayoral council. 

This week Mashaba told the M&G that the vote of no confidence against the speaker passing in council was due to the DA’s arrogance. 

Coalition partners were frustrated with Da Gama when he moved to force the council to vote for chairs of committee during coalition negotiations shortly after the 2021 elections. The negotiations were meant to determine which parties would chair committees and which portfolios would be handled by the DA’s coalition partners in the mayoral committee. 

“We have been raising the issue of the speaker with the DA and they failed to proactively deal with the challenge. That is why it has led to this unfortunate situation,” Mashaba said. 

Mashaba said that ActionSA was of the view that the speaker must be replaced by someone belonging to the smaller parties. 

“We are going to replace the speaker but one thing the DA must understand is that the speaker position this time is not going to be a DA one, it must go to one of our coalition partners. We are not interested in that position but its not going to be the DA,” he said. 

“Once they are ready to give this position to one of our coalition partners, we have the numbers, we are going to appoint the new speaker and the mayor is very safe. ActionSA is fully behind the coalition. We are not supporting the DA because we are friends. We don’t want the hyenas of the ANC. We want the DA to show respect and not display arrogance.”

Leaders from the coalition — which includes the DA, ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus, Inkatha Freedom Party, ACDP and Cope — have all been scrambling to quell dissent among their members in an effort to save Phalatse from the impending motion in council. 

Last week, ActionSA fired Johannesburg councillor Albert Kiviet’s membership after he was absent from the voting of the motion against  Da Gama. ActionSA has also filed a criminal complaint against the ANC, accusing it of attempting to bribe its councillors to vote against the DA speaker and mayor.  

Coalitions in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay have also imploded. In Tshwane, DA mayor Randall Williams is under investigation over an unsolicited bid from a company that offered to refurbish and maintain two power stations in Tshwane for R26-billion, which would bind the city to a 30-year contract with the bidder. In the ANC led Nelson Mandela Bay coalition, the DA reached an agreement with the governing party’s partners to elbow out mayor Eugene Johnson.

The M&G spoke to eight opposition party leaders about why coalitions have been rocky since 2016. 

ActionSA – Herman Mashaba

“Whether we like it or not coalitions are the future of the country. The one thing that is sure is that the ANC will forever be in crisis and lose voter support. The challenge is to make sure that we can have the leading party to respect the other parties.”

One South Africa – Mmusi Maimane 

“Coalition actually in some way delivers a much better outcome for citizens compared to the one party dominance which eventually leads to state capture. The current ones fail because you can’t coalesce for the removal of the ANC, you have to coales with a plan and what helped us in 2016 is that we had a plan. When you have coalitions that coalesce  around race, religion and corruption you have problems for the country.” 

Maimane said there needed to be a constitutional amendment for more time to choose mayors, premiers and the president after an election. Currently councils, legislatures and parliament are only allowed 14 days.

Democratic Alliance – Solly Msimanga 

“We don’t have a bigger problem like we had in 2016. In Tshwane we had a coalition but it was never based on anything written down but in principle but this time around we decided we will have coalitions with an agreement written somewhere …  Unfortunately we have had people that have used their party platforms to promote other organisations and this is the havoc which has been created now.” 

UDM – Bantu Holomisa 

“The ruling party did publish a document in 2016 to the effect that they must destabilise any municipality that they have not won. The politics of coalitions is a new phenomenon in South Africa unlike other countries where they have guidelines … We don’t have guidelines like the Germans and Denmark.” Holomisa said parliamentarians were heading to Denmark this September to learn more about coalitions. 

Cope – Dennis Bloem 

“We are from different political backgrounds, it will take time for us to understand each other. What is happening now is a step in the right direction that political parties must find each other.” 

Freedom Front Plus – Pieter Groenewald

“We are (having) growing pains. South Africa is not really used to coalitions so it may appear that because we only seriously started with coalitions that it’s not sustainable but it’s not true. For 2024 we will point out those specific practices that can strengthen a coalition and put it to the electorate.”

ATM – Vuyo Zungula 

“Parties are in coalition for their own material gains not the interests of the people. The parties with the bigger share of seats bully and undermine “smaller” parties. This leads to friction in coalitions.”

Inkatha Freedom Party – Bonginkosi Dhlamini 

“Parties put their interest above those of the citizens. Here in Johannesburg there is a threat that this coalition could collapse because of individual self interest. I don’t think coalitions have failed but I think politicians are putting their interest first, they want power at all cost even if it means destruction of essential services to the people.”

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