This week the seismic tremors measured north of nine on the political Richter scale as the once impregnable ANC found itself under a heap of rubble with one citadel after another falling to its opponents.
Still, even after the tectonic plates shifted so decisively under the giant’s feet, there were some upsides for the country’s no longer “natural party of government”.
There was, for instance, a ray of light from Durban to offset the gloom and despond radiating from Gauteng and many other places in the country, from Thabazimbi to Graaff-Reinet, where ANC decapitation proceeded apace.
Anyway, at least the new deputy mayor of eThekwini, Philani Mavundla, whose ABC (Abantu Batho Congress) outfit with just two seats and less than 1% of the total municipal vote, proves that a little can go a long way. He might have few voters, but in the auction he bagged both the deputy mayor slot and a seat at the executive committee table.
A wag said “some people give hypocrites a bad name”. Councillor Mavundla on Monday gifted to posterity the promise to remove the ANC from office. He was reprising his election pitch in September when he pledged “change will only come when voters kick the ANC out of power … the disgrace must end”.
Still, whatever shortcomings on the consistency and ethics front deputy mayor Mavundla might exhibit, at least he is neither a paedophile nor a rapist. That label belongs to newly installed Kannaland mayor Jeffrey Donson, who the ANC lifted to office there as part of a deal for a share of its municipal spoils.
Forty-eight hours later Donson had patched a deal with the ANC to keep it in power.
It might also be a moment to pause the recent and unmerited adulation for so-called community outfits (Donson heads one such) and “independents”. These in the main are answerable to only their founders and, as recent events prove, are entirely biddable, usually with awful results for residents.
The new dawn does not have much of an afterglow these days, especially now in the fractured ANC — by any objective measure the double loser from this week’s events.
Its November 1 poll drubbing, when for the first time it failed to obtain 50% of the national vote, translated locally into a series of massacres and political ambushes few saw coming, least of all perhaps the biggest winner from this week’s mayoral derbies, the DA.
The DA’s leader, John Steenhuisen, on Monday held a pair of twos in his hand; by the weekend he had achieved a royal flush. That is until the EFF decides to topple the card table it helped to construct.
The DA, though, has some prize-size hangovers to deal with after its victories. These range from obstructive opposition (non) partners to recalcitrant municipal administrations that were left in place even as their political overlords were ejected from office. But these are the problems of relative success, unintended and unlikely as some outcomes were.
For Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC there are, bar its fragile win in Nelson Mandela Bay, very few consolations from this week’s events.
First, the nostrils of the RET faction in the ANC’s national executive committee are now twitching — alert to the scent of blood. “The ebb and surge of the tides of factions”, as Tom Holland described the divided court of the emperor Claudius, are plain to see at Luthuli House. The eThekwini win, whatever the purchase price, sees the reinauguration of implacable Zuma-backer Kaunda, now joined in high office by Zuma-funder Mavundla as deputy. And success there contrasts with the dismal failure of the Ramaphosa side in its bailiwick of Gauteng.
Second, however durable, or fragile, the opposition successes in the major metros prove to be as one ANC administration after another was booted from office, a slow new reality dawned on the body politic: there is life after the ANC.
Still, even as we hurtle into a new and previously unimagined reality, Ramaphosa retains two advantages.
Internally, he benefits from an acronym once attached to long-time former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She stayed in office for 11 years because of the TINA principle: “There Is No Alternative.” Simply put, there is no credible candidate who can replace Ramaphosa and prevent the further slide of his party at the polls.
His external advantage is the fissiparous structure of the opposition.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa lashed the DA for not entering a pact to topple the ANC in Johannesburg. Then, on Monday, he delivered Nelson Mandela Bay to the ANC. Herman Mashaba criticised the DA for its “1652 attitude” while simultaneously demanding it enters a formal coalition with him.
The distressed residents and ratepayers of our broken cities and towns hope, against expectation perhaps, that at some time their interests and needs might get a look in.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.
Featured in The Sunday Times