South Africa: DA Setback Limits Its Ability to Challenge ANC

On 4 December, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) lost control of the key metropolitan area of Johannesburg, which it had run in coalition with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) since the 2016 local elections. This represents a significant retreat for the party, which had won 26.9% of the vote at the time. The DA has now lost control of two of its four municipalities, while its position in Tshwane is also under threat. Following its recent leadership change, which ultimately saw Mmusi Maimane replaced by John Steenhuisen as interim leader, the DA will need to regroup and hope that it can use its elective federal congress tentatively scheduled for April 2020 to reset.

The disarray in the DA will alleviate pressure that would otherwise have been placed on the ANC, especially in light of recent power shortages and ongoing economic challenges. For IOCs, this will reduce the counterbalancing role that the DA has been able to play against the ANC’s dominance. However, the ANC will face its own internal divisions in 2020 when its general council, a mid-term policy review forum, takes place.

The DA’s Herman Mashaba resigned as mayor of Johannesburg following the election of former DA leader Helen Zille to federal council chairperson in October 2019. Although Mashaba only left office at the end of November, when he announced his resignation he highlighted concerns over the direction that the party would take. Under Mashaba, Johannesburg still struggled to live up to its marketing slogan of being a “world class African city.” Infrastructure weaknesses and service delivery problems did not significantly improve despite the change of political leadership. This, along with the change of leadership in the ANC from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa and the DA’s internal battles, has led to a loss of confidence among many voters who chose the DA in the 2016 local elections.

As expected, the DA has also struggled to balance the politically expedient move of forming a voting alliance with the EFF and the fact that the two parties are wide apart in terms of policy issues. On 4 December, the EFF chose to support its own candidate, Musa Novela, to replace Mashaba. However, even with the 30-strong EFF block, DA candidate Funzela Ngobeni would not have been able to secure sufficient votes against the ANC’s Geoffrey Makhubo. The latter won 137 votes compared to Ngobeni’s 101, suggesting that some of the DA’s own councilors, in addition to the party’s other voting partners including the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Congress of the People (Cope), voted for Makhubo. This will strain the DA structure in Johannesburg as well as its alliances with the other parties at the provincial and national levels.

For the ANC, the election of Makhubo is a major boost and will consolidate the national electoral gains that the party secured in the May 2019 general elections. However, the fact that Makhubo, who is chairman of the ANC’s Greater Johannesburg region, was reportedly paid 30mn rand between 2006 and 2015 by the Gupta-linked financial services company Regiment will raise questions over the ANC’s commitment and ability to tackle corruption. Makhubo’s company Molelwane Consulting had secured a 10% share of a contract that Regiment had with the City of Johannesburg before 2016 to, among other things, maintain strategic relationships. The ANC’s provincial committee had reportedly rejected Makhubo’s nomination, but his popularity among branch members was apparently enough to overcome that.

Meanwhile, in the Tshwane metropolitan area, which includes Pretoria, the DA is hanging on to control by a thread. DA Tshwane Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa, who has been placed on special leave after facing accusations of a sex scandal, lost a vote of no confidence on 5 December. However, on 6 December, a high court suspended the motion of no confidence pending a court hearing scheduled for 17 December. Ultimately, we expect the DA to also lose control of Tshwane, which would give the ANC a further advantage ahead of the next local elections in 2021.