Coalitions will not be built on forked tongues

ActionSA’s Michael Beaumont responds to Douglas Gibson's attack on his party

Coalitions will not be built on forked tongues

18 February 2021

Douglas Gibson’s latest piece “Time for more tea parties?”unwittingly demonstrates just how coalitions will fail because of the political double-speak and arrogance.

Having served as Herman Mashaba’s Chief of Staff in the City of Johannesburg, I have an understanding of why coalitions succeed or fail as well as what really went on, both of which I will use to analyse Gibson’s piece.

Having declared my bias, lets examine Gibson’s.

Gibson was the former Chief Whip of the, then, Democratic Party in Parliament. To his immense credit, he was a part of a small team that built an opposition against all odds from an almost zero base in 1994. He left, and took up a post as the Ambassador to Thailand representing Jacob Zuma’s administration. This seeming contradiction is replicated by the fact that Gibson served as a director on the Board of City Power under Mashaba’s Mayoralty, during which time his conscience appeared to be at peace.

Perhaps with our cards on the table, we can start to address the ‘substance’ of Gibson’s piece and ask you, the reader, to determine where credibility lies:

“Until his ActionSA has tried, and as expected, failed…”

A golden rule in politics dictates if something is failing, don’t resuscitate it by giving it your attention. This would demonstrate a contradiction in Gibson’s dedication of the many column inches he dedicates to attacking Herman Mashaba and ActionSA.

Gibson knows that there is no need to attack something which will fail.

“Mashaba’s problem is that as a businessman, not really a politician, he is used to issuing instructions that must be obeyed”

The inalienable truth that career politicians miss spectacularly here, is that South Africans aren’t crazy about career politicians.

Generally, career politicians have never built a business (legally), created a job, taught a child, healed a patient or arrested a criminal. Yet, excruciatingly, career politicians are entrusted to solve these pressing challenges.

Actually, South Africa may benefit from its parliamentary benches having fewer career politicians and more educators, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and policemen or women. While this thought may terrify most political parties, it would be good to have Mashaba in Parliament, a man who built a business empire from nothing.

“While Mashaba was mayor, the EFF claimed that he was “their” mayor and more than a few in the DA were unhappy at the way in which EFF demands were accommodated by him.”

Let’s focus on three very important events which discredit this argument:

Mashaba, like most successful businessmen, did not want to be the DA’s Mayoral Candidate. It took a lot of coercion from senior DA leaders to get Mashaba to leave all his business interests and enter politics but now, when convenient, this is forgotten.

When the election results were finalised Julius Malema held a press conference in Alexandra, almost entirely with the purpose of expressing his rejection for Mashaba’s capitalist tendencies.

It was the DA’s Federal Executive, not Mashaba, who decided to enter coalition arrangements that depended on the EFF. This is something that both Gibson and the DA are desperate to erase from public memory because it is fatal to this line of attack against Mashaba.

Gibson offers no substantiation of his claim that Mashaba gave into every demand of the EFF. Not even an example that can be scrutinised.

In the face of this ambiguity let me be clear. Mashaba made a difficult coalition work, achieved unprecedented successes for the residents of Johannesburg and can, under pain of perjury, testify to have acted ethically throughout his tenure.

What Gibson and the DA choose to mischaracterise, is the truth that successful local government coalitions are built on collaboration and shared programmes of service delivery, where ideology is less important than delivery.

This shared programme of action produced, for example, the universally celebrated Inner-City Rejuvenation project, which required multiple approvals from Council – including the EFF. As you can imagine, handing over properties to the private sector wasn’t out of their playbook.

As to those who were angered by the arrangement, I can offer only this.

It was apparent, from day one, that many in the DA did not want to be in government. As a matter of fact, during one DA caucus breakaway facilitators realising there was an issue, did a poll to ask whether the DA councillors preferred being in government or opposition. 43% preferred opposition.

The true tragedy for democracy is that the DA of today has regressed to mirror the same ambition it had during Gibson’s time - to be a party of opposition in perpetuity.

“Opening the way for the ANC to resume power in Johannesburg.”

Beware this sleight of hand, to cast Mashaba as the villain who gave the Johannesburg back to the ANC. Consider this now:

While Mashaba was Mayor, the DA Federal Council produced a report paving the way to the withdrawing from these coalition arrangements.

After Mashaba left, it was DA Councillors who gave the ANC’s Geoff Makhubo the votes he needed to become Mayor of Johannesburg. Despite Gibson’s claim that the issue for the DA Councillors was Mashaba’s leadership style, DA Councillors voted for the ANC’s Makhubo over Funzi Ngobeni, their own selected replacement for Mashaba.

The DA has subsequently given Makhubo the votes he needed to pass his budget, when he otherwise could not do it himself. DA Councillors in Johannesburg continue to serve as Chairpersons of Section 79 Committees, positions earning higher incomes normally meted out to coalition partners.

Despite this appearance of a de facto DA/ANC coalition, Gibson and the DA have the temerity to suggest Mashaba handed Johannesburg to the ANC.

Gibson, bizarrely, goes on to suggest ActionSA would be a natural choice as a partner. This is the kind of arrogance that undermines coalitions – after spending considerable effort trashing Mashaba and ActionSA, Gibson proceeds to refer to the party as a likely coalition partner. Really?

Gibson moves on to pose the question as to whether ActionSA will merely oppose and weaken the DA. It reveals the inherent dishonesty. Earlier, Gibson brands ActionSA an imminent failure but then later expresses fears that ActionSA may weaken the DA. Which is it, because it can’t be both?

ActionSA has said it many times on record; we will gratefully receive the votes of South Africans looking for a new political home. However, we will focus our efforts on the 18 million South Africans who have given up on our political system.

Perhaps then, when the elections are finished, there can be the best chance to initiate the process of removing the ANC, by unseating them in as many municipalities as possible.

We take no delight in the regression of the DA, nor does ActionSA court DA support. It would not bode well for coalition numbers after the elections. The fact that it is coming our way in droves is not a feature of our efforts, but rather Somadoda Fikeni’s characterisation that “the DA is mutilating itself in a corner, unprovoked.”

Michael Beaumont is National Chairperson of Action SA.