Now let’s watch as the parties woo their enemies for the sake of ...

Ideas

Now let’s watch as the parties woo their enemies for the sake of power

All their pre-election promises will mean nothing as they form their coalitions to control municipalities

Columnist
DA leader John Steenhuisen says his party will not form coalitions with the ANC.
WE'LL SEE DA leader John Steenhuisen says his party will not form coalitions with the ANC.
Image: Werner Hills

Everyone will be talking about coalitions this week, but I will be looking out for something else: power.

The “power” quote I will be keeping in mind is from the Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts ... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”

Alongside this line, which applies to those in power today, I will be looking out for signs among our politicians that they love power so much they are prepared to cast all their promises and pledges on the campaign trial aside to acquire positions, salaries and perks in new local government administrations.

It is inevitable coalitions will be necessary to form governments in many municipalities across the country. The politicians are resigned to that fact. Last week, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said her organisation has identified parties with which it is not willing to enter into agreements, in line with its ideological standpoint, though she did not name these parties.

SA entered the era of coalitions in 2016 when Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni had to cobble together governments after an ANC led by compromised former president Jacob Zuma was forced below 50% in all of them. It has not been smooth sailing.

In Joburg, an arrogant EFF threw its weight around, trying to bully then-mayor Herman Mashaba. With the help of the party, the ANC took over administration of the city. Joburg styles itself as a “world-class” African city. Well, look at it. The ANC has brought large parts of it to its knees. The inner city is a wreck.

In Tshwane, the DA was similarly in thrall to its coalition partner, the EFF. In Nelson Mandela Bay, the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani helped eject the DA from power and jumped into bed with the ANC. His first act after being rewarded with the mayorship was to appoint a mayoral committee that included scandal-ridden convicted criminal Andile Lungisa.

Incumbent politicians fear the loss of power as opposition parties and independents nip at their heels. What pledges to the electorate will they compromise to avoid loss of power?

In many instances these coalitions were not about principle or delivery of services to the people. They were about politicians’ access to taxpayers’ money.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, for example, the ANC pretty much got back into the driving seat so its members could continue to live sumptuously off the metro, while service delivery collapsed. Today, these incumbent politicians fear the loss of power as opposition parties and independents nip at their heels. What pledges to the electorate will they compromise to avoid loss of power?

In light of the failed coalitions of 2016 we have not asked enough tough questions about what it is our political parties are prepared to give up to participate in coalitions. Indeed, many of the small parties and independents are just disgruntled ANC members paving their way into executive positions in a municipality.

So how do we judge these looming coalitions? In the case of the ANC, I will ask myself: what is the party giving up in its core principles to stay in power? Does it fear losing power so much that it is prepared to accede to anything to stay at the top table so it can eat?

The same will apply to the rest — what are they prepared to give up to join the ANC in enjoying the perks of power? The DA’s John Steenhuisen says his party does not want to go into coalitions with the ANC. Speaking in Tshwane, he said: “I am here to tell you quite unequivocally today, and in front of this crowd, that we do not want to get into bed with the ANC. We want to kick the ANC out of the bed. We want to bring them below 50% so that we can change this country.”

I will be watching for a change of mind here, given that throughout the campaign we’ve heard murmurings to the contrary. At what price will that change of mind be?

Herman Mashaba, the ActionSA president who was mayor of Joburg when it was run by the DA in coalition with the EFF, has ruled out a coalition with the ANC, which he labels an “evil” organisation.

“You cannot fix the problem by partnering with the cause of the problem. How can you live up to a promise to fight corruption while you are in coalition with the party responsible for the corruption? What madness is that?” he told supporters last week.

Yet to gain access to power, what is ActionSA willing to concede? And what will his party members, eyeing the perks of high office, be pushing him to concede to so they can taste power?

This week will be about the breaking of promises made on the campaign trail. The only question will be at what price this comes.

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