News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
3 minute read
19 Jun 2019
9:35 am

We hope for wise decisions in Gauteng city politics

Martin Williams

Compromise is necessary in the two big Gauteng metros. But there must also be a line beyond which principle cannot be bent.

Motorists are seen driving past election posters in Alberton. A record of 48 political parties will contest this year's elections, 22 April 2019. Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency (ANA)

Our political set-up is not democratic. MPs are not accountable to the electorate. They are beholden to party leaders.

You can’t vote for MPs or members of the provincial legislatures. There is no mechanism for incompetent or crooked MPs to be voted out. Party hierarchies decide.

That’s one reason Jacob Zuma and his cronies stayed in power so long. Those who did not toe the Zuma line risked losing their livelihoods. For lazy folk bereft of talent, the fear of being unemployed induces loyalty to leadership.

The only directly elected politicians in South Africa are ward councillors, chosen by voters every five years. In municipal elections, you get two ballots, one for the ward candidate and one for the party. Proportional representation (PR) councillors are selected from party lists, ward councillors are directly elected.

Yet ward councillors have little say in important city matters. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has zero ward councillors in Tshwane or Johannesburg, is demanding the mayorship of Tshwane. It also wants MMC (member of the mayoral committee) positions in Johannesburg.

The EFF has been making these demands since before the May 8 national and provincial elections. Thankfully, Democratic Alliance (DA) leadership has not given in.

Discussions on these matters are held at high level, without involvement of directly elected politicians. Even mayors, not directly elected, are excluded from talks. Democracy at work?

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has been advised that if his party agrees to EFF demands, some ward councillors will resign, resulting in by-elections. Electoral support will dip further. EFF policies are not what DA councillors stood for, nor what DA supporters voted for.

Over the weekend, the EFF issued new threats. According to Rapport, EFF chair Dali Mpofu and spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said if their demands were not met, the EFF would collapse the Tshwane and Johannesburg councils. They said this would bring fresh elections.

In line with this threat, at the June 13 Joburg Council meeting, the EFF employed obstructive tactics, without success. The ANC voted with the DA, but how long will that last?

Is it democratic when politicians, who are not directly elected, deliberately collapse city councils, which are the only structures in SA at least partially populated by people chosen by voters?

Given the prospect of losing two mayorships, does the DA look for a deal with the ANC instead? This would be unacceptable to many DA members. So, too, would an EFF mayor in Tshwane, or EFF MMCs in Johannesburg.

Politicians often have to compromise in order to stay in the game. As 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck said: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable.” However, if a party cannot govern according to its principles, being “in power” makes little sense. Too much compromise becomes appeasement, epitomised by pre-World War II British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s dealings with Adolf Hitler.

Compromise is necessary in the two big Gauteng metros. But there must also be a line beyond which principle cannot be bent. Thus far and no further.

We await wise decisions. In hope.

Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.