NEWS & ANALYSIS

Israel: DA vs DA

Monessa Shapiro questions Yusuf Cassim's conduct in the Mpho Phalatse affair

Yusuf Cassim and the tweet that nearly handed Johannesburg to the ANC

There have been prominent headlines this week over the suspension of Johannesburg MMC Dr Mpho Phalatse. What many are missing in the story is that the problematic tweeting that caused the predicament came not from Dr Phalatse, but from DA MP Yusuf Cassim.

To understand why this is so, one must first go past the usual headlines.

At the Johannesburg City Council meeting (Tuesday 12 June 2018), the key item on the agenda was the passing of the Municipal Budget, which had been hampered continuously by the disruptive antics of the EFF. This budget was particularly important because had it not been passed, the City of Johannesburg would have gone under administration and thus under the control of the ANC.

On the Sunday prior to the vote, MMC Dr. Mpho Phalatse, gave a welcome at the opening of 8th annual South African Friends of Israel Conference. An attendee at the event tweeted a video where the MMC is shown speaking to a diverse and enthusiastic crowd of about 700 Joburger’s, stating that she is a friend of Israel and that the City of Johannesburg is a friend of Israel. All to much applause. Normally this would have been an unremarkable statement.

The Mayor and City of Johannesburg officials regularly meet with the Israeli Ambassador, and have attended events geared towards providing the city with Israeli solutions to developmental challenges. In this way, the city does seek out friendly relations with the Israelis, like it does with many other countries, cities, organisations and groups, including the Palestinians. Dr Phalatse’s comments simply highlighted this reality. To argue, as some have done, that her remarks constitute some kind of ad-hoc international relations policy making in the name of the city, is the kind of conceptual twist that would make the public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane proud.

The tweet being uncontroversial remained undisturbed for more than 24 hours with no particular reaction other than a couple of favourable comments. That is, until it was picked up by DA MP Yusuf Cassim, who responded “On what mandate? These views do not represent the views of the DA nor that of the DA led Johannesburg. Charges will be laid accordingly”. It’s only then that the tweet went viral, including input from the normal twitter kangaroo court.

The ANC in Johannesburg then issued a statement on the matter, immediately followed by the EFF. The latter statement threatened the budget vote unless the MMC was fired. To Mashaba’s credit, he at least stood firm against the firing, and Phalatse’s right to her views, but apparently felt compelled to suspend her, no doubt as a means of getting the budget passed.

It may not have been the principled decision, but this is politics after all, and the mayor governs with a razor thin coalition. We now, however, have a good councillor who sadly has been suspended for effectively telling the truth. 

The irony, of course, is that were it not for MP Yusuf Cassim, who has visited Israel himself, this whole thing would have been a non-issue. Instead, we now have a suspended MMC, a victory for the EFF and the ANC, a metro that was put at risk, and some extremely angry core constituents of the DA. To add to this, Cassim isn’t even particularly sorry for what he has done. After the suspension he tweeted. “Breaking: Mayor @HermanMashaba has suspended MMC Mpho Phalatse pending an investigation into her conduct. Leadership".

 The DA is at the moment grappling with how to deal with social media, after a number of incidents. It would seem that Cassim’s twitter conduct against other DA members is now on that list. If the DA is going to be referring Phalatse’s conduct to the Federal Legal Committee, then the least they should do is add Yusuf Cassim’s to the list.