The high court in Pretoria has overturned Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s decision to dissolve the Tshwane municipal council. Earlier this year, Makhura placed the City under administration for failing to carry out its constitutional obligations. An appeal process is underway, and the matter has been taken to the highest court in the land for clarity.
Gauteng’s Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Lebogang Maile tried to place the City under administration in December and, after accusing DA speaker Katlego Mathebe of abusing power, suspended her in January without investigation. He backtracked after getting legal advice.
Previously, ANC and EFF council members barred Mathebe from presiding over a meeting to vote on a motion of no confidence against her, the acting manager and the former mayor.
Director of Jasoro Consulting Tessa Dooms says the body of the dissolved council was not even cold when the provincial ANC acted, immediately appointing a new administration. The ANC’s political tool was the province, she says.
Dooms says coalitions are effective when you leave party politics aside, work together – even when inconvenient – and put all voters first, not only those who actually went to the polls. None of the parties have been able to do that.
She says the ANC attempted to grab power using the muscle of the province.
“The fact that they [ANC] don’t have the City right now shows they haven’t got what they would see as a positive result for themselves in terms of governance but I think the biggest failure is that we have no stability in the City … the stability of the City comes first,” she says.
Dooms says Maile, the DA and the EFF all have a lot to answer for.
“There hasn’t been due diligence in terms of [Maile’s] engagement with legal counsel, which he has access to, and doing things according to the law and in the best interests of the City. [This] indicates that there is a lot more politics driving the decision-making rather than the interests of the residents of the City of Tshwane,” she says.
The Gauteng provincial government’s decision on 4 March 2020 to dissolve the municipal council was supported by the national council of provinces as well as Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. It was overturned on 29 April in a scathing judgment after an application by the DA.
Makhura claimed the council was dissolved under extraordinary circumstances, saying it was not carrying out its executive responsibilities. But neither he nor the MEC have ever attempted to get the parties to sit together to engage on good governance, nor have they acted against those intentionally collapsing the council sittings.
The DA came into power in 2016 with the EFF and others as its coalition partners. As far back as last year, the municipal council in the metro had failed to sit because of the ANC and EFF’s various staged walkouts, motions of no confidence and political squabbles. The interests of the residents were not prioritised and service delivery deteriorated and, in some places, halted.
Without 108 seated members in the chamber, there was no quorum and the council could not sit. The coalition partners and the DA made up about 99 of the seats.
“There has been no political maturity. [Parties] have not coalesced and they are acting impotent as if there’s no way for them to come together,” says Dooms. “For them to not be looking for some kind of solutions among themselves as to how to go forward so that the City can function again is a dereliction of duty.”
Senior politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria Sithembile Mbete says there is no innocent party in the entire debacle, adding that the political situation has gone beyond just crippling service delivery – it has left the city ungoverned in the middle of a health crisis.
Having been in power in the City of Tshwane for 20 years, the ANC was desperate to regain its authority before the local government elections next year. Mbete thinks the ANC and EFF created obstacles at council meetings to force a particular response, while Maile used his position within the provincial government to support a particular political outcome.
“What’s important here is that his role as MEC is to facilitate proper governance at municipal level, to step in when there is evidence of the place not being run properly. He was in breach of [that] role,” she says.
The ANC has now escalated matters to the Constitutional Court as it believes the Pretoria high court “erred in several respects”.
Maile criticised the high court judgment for “creating more confusion as opposed to providing greater clarity on the dynamic interplay between provincial and local government and the checks and balances and constitutional responsibilities therein”.
The EFF has also lodged an appeal.
The ruling by the Constitutional Court will be crucial in providing constitutional clarity on the powers between the three spheres of government, a hurdle that constantly crops up in politics, says Mbete, who thinks that exhausting legal possibilities might force a political solution.
No standout party
While the appeal process plays out, the team of administrators Maile appointed on 23 March headed by Mpho Nawa continue to run the City.
The current judgment is suspended pending the lifting of lockdown restrictions. This means lawfully elected councillors remain out of office. On 11 May, the DA went back to court to ensure they are able to govern again by asking that the April high court ruling be effective immediately, giving back its council members their power as things remain in abeyance during the appeal process.
“The people of Tshwane are in a government limbo … [This] is having administrative consequences in very real ways,” says Mbete.
On whether the coalition failed in Tshwane, Mbete says there is a broader question to be asked about our political culture.
“We need a great deal in our political culture for coalitions to function and that kind of maturity is created by political leaders and politicians – there is a leadership crisis across political parties and their factions,” she says. “Coalition governments are a product of the fact that there is no single political party in South Africa that is attracting the confidence of most people. It is about the interests of different factions.”
Next year’s local government elections won’t make anything any clearer. They are likely to end in another coalition or a hung municipality.
“The dynamics of political support are not substantially different in 2020 to what they were in 2016, including [in] Gauteng. The ANC hasn’t regained so much support that it can win an election on its own. The political dynamics are still enough that they can produce a hung vote in any of these metros.
“What we have seen from coalitions is that what makes them successful is the willingness to compromise across ideological lines and political maturity. I don’t see how we won’t be in this position next year,” says Mbete.
Both Dooms and Mbete are not convinced that the EFF can win a majority next year. Dooms contends that in the City of Johannesburg, the EFF has only proportional representation seats and not ward seats, which is a sign the party has a long way to go.
“[The] EFF is far from a majority anywhere, as it stands,” says Dooms. “There are more chances of more coalitions for the 2021 elections than anyone winning an outright majority because people’s confidence is being shaken in the system. There is no party showing itself to be exemplary. Different parties for different reasons have shown bad sides of themselves, so we will see more fragmentation for them to govern particularly the big metros. They struggle across the board to get over the line anywhere.”