Come next month, the EFF will table a motion to remove Athol Trollip as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay. Announcing this during a heated parliamentary debate on land last week, EFF leader Julius Malema fired the first salvo in retaliation against the DA’s opposition to land expropriation without compensation.
The motion, it seems, is not precisely about Trollip, but what the EFF believes he represents.
Addressing supporters last week Malema said, “These people, when you want to hit them hard, go after a white man.
“They feel a terrible pain, because you have touched a white man. We are cutting the throat of whiteness.”
Put differently, Malema believes that as a stalwart of the DA and part of its top leadership, Trollip is the very embodiment of what the EFF sees as the DA’s white supremacist attitude from which its resistance to the shift in land policy stems.
The validity, fairness and even legality of Malema’s statements is the subject of much public debate.
Depending on where you stand on the issue, you either believe that Malema called out an uncomfortable truth about the DA or that he is a polarising figure whose currency – especially in the absence of one Jacob Zuma – rides on the politics of race.
My interest today, however, is the more immediate issue of what may lie ahead come April 6 (should the council meeting take place that day).
There are three considerations to make in this regard.
The most obvious one is the Mcebisi Jonas matter.
The EFF has compelled the ANC to field the former deputy finance minister – or a credible leader like him – as the candidate for mayor. Should the ANC oblige, the EFF would use its voting power in council to get the ANC back into City Hall.
If the ANC failed to put forward a credible candidate, the EFF would “fold its arms”, Malema said.
Only, even if the ANC were to approach Jonas, he is unlikely to come to the party.
Since resigning from parliament last year – following that scandalous cabinet reshuffle by Zuma – Jonas has increasingly become involved in civil society activism.
He has hardly demonstrated an appetite to engage in party political matters, let alone to lead a fractious marriage of convenience in this metro.
This means the ANC would have to reach deep down to the bottom of the barrel to find a willing local so-called credible candidate that the EFF would approve of.
The second consideration is the numbers game which will ultimately determine the outcome on the day.
The DA-COPE-ACDP coalition holds 58 of the total 120-member council. (That’s 59 seats if the DA retains Ward 1 in today’s by-election).
The ANC and the rest of the opposition parties collectively hold 61 seats.
It is true that in the last motion against the mayor, it was the EFF’s six votes that saved Trollip when the rest of the opposition ganged up to push him out.
It is presumed, therefore, that with the EFF leading the charge against Trollip this time, the mayor is as good as gone. While this may be, it is only half the story.
Even if the ANC finds a credible candidate to field, he or she may get the nod from the EFF but not necessarily from the smaller opposition parties.
Unless, of course, the ANC dangles a big enough carrot to sway them.
As things stand, to win the ANC’s candidate would have to be voted in by every single councillor outside of the current coalition.
The EFF cannot guarantee this, especially in the context of the inter-political power dynamics between the smaller opposition parties with each desperate to entrench its own power as the ultimate kingmaker.
The third consideration is the most important in my view.
To understand it we must consider why the ANC lost power in Mandela Bay in 2016.
By its own admission the ANC lost because it was corrupt, self-serving and utterly chaotic.
It lost legitimacy even in the eyes of its supporters and many who lived here and were on the receiving end of its politically-driven madness.
When this was put to him last week, Malema pointed out that no party won by an outright majority in the last local government elections. This is true. Supporters of the EFF motion go even further to argue that the DA-led coalition government has failed to live up to its promise of an efficient and well-run city. Indeed this is also true. The municipality’s own mid-term report demonstrates as much.
But does this mean installing a credible ANC candidate could yield the desired returns for our city? Unlikely. There is no evidence to suggest that the character of the ANC in this city has changed. Why is this important? Well, history has shown us over and over again that to run an efficient government is as much about implementing laws and policies as it is about the political management of the relationship between the party and the administration. The ANC in this city sucks at this. The party has had potentially great mayors who failed primarily because, realistically, an unstable party cannot run a stable local government.
They may not say it publicly, but ANC leaders know that their structures in this city are a hot mess.
They have shown no political will to clean house and to get their affairs in order.
Why then should they be trusted again with managing public resources, even if it is in coalition with others?
The EFF’s motion may indeed succeed next month.
Soon we may see the back of Trollip and, who knows, the ANC may pull a rabbit out of a hat.
But rest assured, it would only be the beginning of yet another vicious cycle of instability.
We have been through many of these before.
And with each one the poorest, most vulnerable in our city lose the most.