Crumbling coalitions cripple service delivery

The Tshwane metro has been placed under administration, the City of Joburg has no majority and Nelson Mandela Bay’s coalitions have collapsed. All the while, the people suffer.

On 5 March 2020, Gauteng Premier David Makhura placed the City of Tshwane’s council under administration, saying the municipality had failed to carry out its constitutional obligations. The mismanagement of the City has led to a halt in service delivery, which has adversely affected residents.

Since the resignation of the mayor at the end of February, Tshwane does not have an executive arm, which means there is no mayoral committee. There is also no head of administration because there is no longer an acting City manager.

Makhura says the exceptional circumstances in the municipality warranted the dissolution of the council. An administrator will be appointed to run the municipality until the new council is elected within 90 days.

The ANC and the EFF have previously staged walkouts, leaving the council without a quorum. On more than one occasion, they have demanded that DA council speaker Katlego Mathebe recuse herself, saying she is not fit to preside over a meeting.

Previously under the leadership of the DA, Tshwane has been at the heart of a political struggle for power between the ANC, the DA and the EFF. The council, which is the highest decision-making structure in local government, convenes frequently to make tough decisions and approve budgets. But petty political infighting, legal battles, walkouts and numerous breakdowns have meant the council in Tshwane has not managed to convene since last year. This has had widespread ramifications, and will continue to do so.

Related article:

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says the continuing political vacuum in the capital has worsened the already chronically crippled delivery of services. “The whole thing may cause a legitimacy crisis for the political class where people begin to [ask], ‘Are political parties serious about our condition?’ Because neither party will work with each other … They are not working in the interests of people or trying to improve their plight, but rather prioritising themselves and position and access to resources,” he says.

Three weeks ago, the ANC failed to attend a council meeting it had called to discuss the four motions of no confidence it had petitioned against the speaker, the acting speaker, the chair and the former mayor.  

They accused the DA’s Mathebe of undermining the “principles of natural justice” by wanting to preside over a meeting to vote on a motion of no confidence against her. The conflict of interest meant the DA was labelled unfair, and opposition parties opted not to participate. 

To adopt an adjusted budget for service delivery, recreational development, the payment of mayoral committee members’ salaries and service providers, the council needs to convene. If it doesn’t, a number of workers risk not being paid at the end of March.

Failing to perform duties

At the beginning of February, South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) members led a protest to Tshwane House over the dysfunctional council and its failure to pass resolutions on service delivery projects, including budget adjustments. 

Samwu wrote to Gauteng member of the executive council for human settlements, urban planning and cooperative governance and traditional affairs Lebogang Maile to intervene and consider placing the City under administration.

“Managers [ran] their portfolios without the necessary oversight of council, which may have serious implications when the audit period comes because certain approvals ought to have to seen the sitting of the council,” says Fikeni, adding that whoever takes over the administration will have to be neutral and non-partisan as there will be a lot to resolve.

Related article:

There have been allegations of corruption, including the 2017 multimillion-rand GladAfrica Consultancy agreement with the City, which was signed to help it manage its infrastructure development projects. The auditor-general and a law firm found irregularities in the consultancy firm on more than one occasion. The agreement was at the heart of a political scandal and has since been terminated.

This has had implications for the rolling out of infrastructure, striking at the heart of the economy of the City and putting pressure on it to ramp up its internal project management capacity.

Problems piling up

Among a number of pressing issues, Tshwane is dealing with problems at landfill sites and water-treatment plants, allocating RDP housing and relocating flood victims.

The City has some of the most non-compliant landfill sites in the country, with some facing closure. Member of the executive council for economic development, agriculture and environment Kgosientso Ramokgopa even issued a notice against the metro to get landfills to comply with the permits and licences under which they operate. 

The Onderstepoort landfill site was closed to the public a month ago. Prior to that, three other landfill sites were closed. There is not enough in the budget allocated to waste management and this under-resourcing has had a significant, negative effect on the environment. Without budget adjustments and allocations, landfills will continue to be non-compliant. 

Related article:

Water-related issues hound the City. A water crisis in Hammanskraal means poor-quality drinking water remains unaddressed. The City has reached an initial agreement with the East Rand Water Care Company (Erwat) to assist with the refurbishment of three water-treatment plants. 

“Even when you have a water crisis, you need a political champion to go to the ministers and MEC [member of the executive council] to say we want this to be declared a disaster or we want some intervention by Treasury. Without any clear leadership, such interventions will not be forthcoming,” says Fikeni.

Mamelodi Ward 15 councillor Mmina-Tau Marishane’s home and office were torched after he allegedly failed to allocate a block of RDP flats in Mamelodi Ext 4 that were occupied and later emptied by way of court order. The housing backlog continues to grow, increasing frustration among people who have been waiting for years.

Related article:

Those affected by the Mamelodi floods in December remain without help as the City and province squabble over who is responsible for acquiring land to relocate the flood victims. Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, previously told New Frame that acquiring the land could only happen with budget approval from the council, adding that they were exploring other options. 

Former Tshwane mayor Stevens Mokgalapa explained that the acquisition of land was the responsibility of the Gauteng provincial government, which had broken its promise to relocate victims before Christmas last year. Frustrated Mamelodi flood victims staged a picket on the day of Makhura’s State of the Province address in Ga-Rankuwa.

Leadership crisis

Jasoro Consulting director Tessa Dooms says that even before the current impasse, the City of Tshwane was doing badly in terms of service delivery, adding that it would be disingenuous to suggest the reason the DA has not delivered is only because of coalition-related issues. 

“[It] wasn’t necessarily because budgets weren’t being approved. It was legitimately just bad service delivery. Promises … were reneged [upon] with communities [and there was a] slow response to [the] water and housing crisis. So there was a failure in the administration to [deliver services] that had nothing to do with council, but everything to do with the DA administration,” she says. 

Former mayor Solly Msimanga resigned to pursue his failed provincial political ambitions, while his successor, Mokgalapa, was briefly replaced by acting mayor Abel Tau while Mokgalapa was on special leave. Mokgalapa was then removed in a legally contested motion of no confidence before resigning. 

The DA has recently put forward Randall Williams as the new mayoral candidate.

Related article:

Political analyst Khaya Sithole says it remains to be seen if Williams will do a good job as “he clearly was never the first choice for the DA in running that particular metro”.

“They will be going for a third mayor in just over three and a half years in that particular administration, which indicates a lot of internal instability within the DA and shows that they were perhaps premature to take over the administration of a City where they cannot even identify who the best person is to run the City and keep that person in the job,” Sithole says.

Dooms says Tshwane was left in a weaker position than Johannesburg, as the DA seemed more reluctant to work with the EFF in the capital. 

“If you take a weak coalition … and add corruption within bureaucracy on both their parts, that left Tshwane in a [weak] position.”

The state of Johannesburg 

In the City of Johannesburg, Geoff Makhubo took over as mayor from the DA’s Herman Mashaba after his resignation in October following former party leader Helen Zille’s return as the chair of the federal council. There is now no party with a majority on the City council.

“With no majority, it was left to three major parties to be more mature in handling issues, and that political maturity at times has not been forthcoming, where they would say what is in the interests of the citizens of this municipality instead of what is in the interests of our parties,” says Fikeni.

Dooms says the genesis of the political crumbling of the partnerships lies in the instability of coalition partners. In some metros, coalition partners worked together to drive governance issues forward, while in others it was clear that some partners were using bigger parties as scapegoats and exploiting their mistakes. 

In the City of Johannesburg, EFF leaders blamed former DA Ward 109 councillor Werner Smit for failing to relocate people before a fire in Alexandra devoured shacks under a powerline after a pylon cable snapped in March 2019. Smit maintained that there were both bylaws and national acts prohibiting people from being there, warning the EFF against gerrymandering. 

In a briefing on service delivery issues on 19 February, Makhubo – who has been mayor for just under three months – levelled a number of allegations of mismanagement, political patronage and misconduct against the Mashaba administration. He criticised it harshly for allegedly bringing the City to the brink of financial collapse and breeding an environment in which “maladministration bordering on fraud and corruption has thrived”.

Related article:

Mashaba retorted that the 2018-2019 pre-audit statements showed a significant improvement in the City’s financial health and liquidity. He accused Makhubo of crying wolf, saying he should be serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption.

An ANC integrity committee cleared Makhubo of wrongdoing after an amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism report implicated his consulting firm in taking a 10% cut of a controversial contract.

“The difficulty with the electoral system is that it can be very opportunistic,” says Dooms. “They have the ability to use failures as a tool to lure voters. You don’t want the governing party to succeed because you want to use their failures and capitalise on their failures as opposed to using your seat as an opposition to ensure that all that needs to be done can be done.”

Nelson Mandela Bay in crisis

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA governed primarily using the United Democratic Movement (UDM) as its political crutch. The UDM was the only party with two seats, which the DA needed for a majority vote as other parties only had one seat. The alliance did not last long as councillors collapsed the coalition. Thsonono Buyeye is currently the metro’s acting mayor.  

Ongama Mtimka, a political analyst and professor at Nelson Mandela University, says a year and a half into its governance, the coalition in the metro was on the path to recovery but blatantly failed to manage the political side of affairs. He says the breakdown in the metro has the potential to cripple the administration.

“They could have done better in stimying the conflict because the DA unilaterally started moving against [former mayor Mongameli] Bobani, and this became a council problem,” says Mtimka.

Fikeni says the DA lost its claim to run corruption-free municipalities with clean governance. “Corruption in Nelson Mandela Bay was already a daily reported matter. It looks like corruption has no party colours, they differ in degrees of intensity and clumsiness,” says Fikeni.

Related article:

Bobani accused former mayor Athol Trollip of overlooking people identified in the integrated public transport system investigation, claiming they had a hold over him. The inquiry took place after billions of rands were swindled from municipal coffers. Trollip levelled a corruption counterargument against Bobani, but although the Hawks did some investigating, there were no clear results. 

Mtimka says it is yet to be seen if another coalition will form, speculating that it will be a fragile one if it does come together. Dooms says that if a party does not have a strong coalition, things easily fall apart. Sithole agrees, saying there will always be a leadership crisis in the absence of an outright majority, adding that coalition partners have to rely on the benevolence of fellow political players to get their way. 

“We have seen why it didn’t work out in Nelson Mandela Bay, why it collapsed in the City of Johannesburg and in Tshwane,” says Sithole. “You have the same problem where no party has a majority, therefore you are always at the risk of one event leading to collapse and this may lead to voters picking one animal over another because the paralysis we have seen is not ideal for anyone.”

The situation will become even more unstable as the appointment of portfolio positions will be used as a proxy war in the coming elections, says Fikeni. 

After being voted in, parties seem not to be held accountable until the next election. “That’s a serious indictment of the electoral system and why conversations on electoral reform are important … why voting is on the decline because people feel they cannot fully and meaningfully participate if someone can play political football until the next election,” says Dooms.

Correction, 9 March 2020: This story previously stated that the City of Joburg speaker was from the DA. The speaker is from the ANC.

If you want to republish this article please read our guidelines.