Why the DA took a stand in Joburg

John Steenhuisen says the PA declined every opportunity to give the DA demonstration of good faith


19 May 2023

The DA has come under fire for not going into government in the City of Johannesburg. Here’s why we have not done so.

Reasonably confident

The DA would very much like to govern this crucial metro with the biggest economy of any in Africa. But let me be clear: we only want to govern if we can be reasonably confident of delivering progress for residents. In Joburg, it has not been possible to gain this level of confidence.

We are giving it our best shot wherever we believe the DA can play a role in fixing and building South Africa’s cities and towns. Where there is a prospect of success, however small, we try. Some of our best people are giving it their all in the face of bankruptcy, captured bureaucracies, crumbling infrastructure, and other crises.

Our mayor in Tshwane, Cilliers Brink, has one of the toughest jobs in the country fixing the capital city after two years of ANC “administration” and looting. He has the challenge of managing a five-party coalition and motivating a bureaucracy packed with ANC cadres. Same for Retief Odendaal, our mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay, who must hold together a ten-party coalition.


We have tried three times to govern Johannesburg and we’ve learnt some key lessons – the hard way. The main one is that where the Patriotic Alliance is the “kingmaker”, we cannot provide a stable, functional government that achieves measurable progress for residents.

Since the 2021 local government election, the Patriotic Alliance has held the balance of power in Joburg. The council has 270 seats and neither the ANC-EFF coalition nor the DA-led coalition has the 136 seats needed to form a majority coalition. Both sides need the PA’s 8 seats to get them across the line.

Not so Patriotic

Far from putting South Africa first as its name would imply, the Patriotic Alliance leadership negotiates coalitions based on what they can get for themselves rather than based on what is best for the residents of Joburg. To do this, they seek to play one side off against the other and then go into coalition with the highest bidder - the side that can offer them the most by way of positions and access to extraction or patronage opportunities.

After the 2021 local election, the PA sided with the ANC. But the DA-led coalition got into government because of the EFF’s unexpected and unsolicited support. The PA then approached us to be included in our coalition and were accommodated in a good portfolio and in good faith.

But, thereafter, every time we needed their vote to win a crucial election, they betrayed us and voted with the ANC. First, they voted against our nominated Speaker, Alex Christians, and then they voted twice against our mayor, Mpho Phalatse. On Friday 5 May, they again voted with the ANC.

Good faith

Having been betrayed three times, we now require a demonstration of good faith and seriousness if we are to go back into coalition talks with them. This is because the DA does put South Africa first, and we recognise that unstable coalitions undermine delivery and damage public confidence in coalitions.

Unstable coalitions also harm the DA’s brand, which is not in SA’s long-term interest. Going into the make-or-break 2024 elections next year, South Africa needs a strong DA with a brand of unequivocal good governance, not a DA failing to deliver. As we have always said: we would rather be good in opposition than bad in government.

The PA is in coalition with the ANC in at least eleven metros and municipalities in SA. As a demonstration of good faith, we asked the PA for a public commitment to remove themselves from the ANC’s ambit. Our reasoning is that if they stay in all those coalitions with the ANC through the country, the ANC will continue to have leverage over the PA, with the results we have seen in Joburg so far.

Politics of extortion

The PA has declined every opportunity to give the DA the demonstration of good faith we require if we are to trust them again. Clearly, they have no intention of turning over a new leaf and putting Joburg’s residents first. Clearly, they intend to maintain their strategy of bribery and extortion.

This strategy is what led to Al Jama-ah’s Thapelo Amad becoming mayor of Johannesburg, even though he was from a party that got less than 1% of the Joburg vote. The PA’s disregard for democracy and for voter preferences is clear. So too, their disregard for Joburg’s residents. It was blatantly obvious that Amad was hopelessly out of his depth as mayor.

After Amad resigned to avoid the motion of no confidence in him, the PA once again approached the opposition to join our coalition. Instead of showing regret for the damaging instability they have caused in Johannesburg and being willing to abide by the original agreement, the PA came to the negotiating table demanding that first Gayton MacKenzie, and then Kenny Kunene be the mayoral candidate, right up to the day before the vote. Clearly, they were trying to extort a better deal from the DA than what the ANC would offer them.

Let me be clear. The DA is not going to play this game. Not with the PA and not with any other party either. We are not going to take part in the politics of bribery and extortion. The short-term gain, if indeed there is any at all to be had for residents, is not worth the long-term harm to SA, to the DA’s brand of good government, and to public trust in coalitions.

Mayoral vote

The mayoral election on Friday 5 May vindicated the DA’s assessment of the PA. The PA demonstrated that they are not serious about opposing the ANC-EFF coalition. Believing the PA could be trusted, the other members of the original DA-led coalition that governed Joburg after the 2021 local election nominated ActionSA’s Funzi Ngobeni as their mayoral candidate. Their thinking was that the DA’s mayoral candidate, Mpho Phalatse, would be knocked out in the first round of voting and that the DA would then be forced to vote for Ngobeni over the ANC-EFF candidate in the second round. Relying on the PA’s vote as well, they believed they could get Ngobeni elected.

Their entire strategy was built on faith in the PA. And what did the PA do? Despite having given an assurance that it would vote with them, it voted with the ANC-EFF, yet again. This is despite the ANC-EFF putting forward another mayoral candidate from Al Jama-ah, again disregarding the democratic will of Joburg residents.

Negotiated agreement

Another lesson the DA has learned the hard way is that there needs to be a negotiated agreement in place between coalition partners before the vote takes place. This pre-election negotiated agreement needs to be published, so that the public can hold coalition partners to account if they go against the terms of the agreement.

Voting first and negotiating the terms of the coalition later, risks months of deadlock leading to even worse instability and failed delivery. It is also a recipe for extortion by self-serving parties like the PA, since the coalition no longer has the option of being in opposition.

This is why the DA put forward Mpho Phalatse as our mayoral candidate in the vote. In the absence of any new agreement, we reverted to the only negotiated agreement there is in Johannesburg, with Phalatse as the agreed candidate.

Many have blamed the DA for the outcome of the vote. But it is surely unreasonable to expect the DA to support a mayoral candidate from another party without any agreement in place. It is surely unreasonable to expect us to enter the fray of extortion and bribery. It is surely unreasonable to expect us to go into an unstable, dysfunctional coalition with parties we do not trust, knowing we will not be able to deliver progress for residents, knowing it will undermine public confidence in coalitions, knowing it will harm the DA’s brand of good government.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the MONC in Amad was brought unilaterally by ActionSA without any consultation of any of the other coalition partners. So, the DA did not engineer the situation, nor did we try to force any other party’s hand.


The DA is committed to fixing and building South Africa’s metros, including Johannesburg. But we will only go into government where there is a reasonable prospect of us being able to deliver to residents.

Yours sincerely

John Steenhuisen