By Howard Feldman
Whereas the new mayor of Johannesburg is likely to have a name, I have not learned it. I have not spent any time reading up on his political views and have little knowledge of his qualifications. To be clear, I have nothing against him, other than that he is a puppet that represents the very worst of local politics and coalition governance.
I do know that despite it being summer, he chose to wear a scarf with “Palestine” emblazoned on it for one of his earliest public appearances. This means one of two things: that he is either not very good at geography, or that spelling is not his forte. This, given that it is the people of Johannesburg he is meant to represent. And where we might feel tremendous empathy for the people of Palestine, I would hope that it is Johannesburg residents who are his priority.
It is the very least that we should expect from our mayor.
As we head closer to a national election in 2024, there is a feeling of both optimism and concern. There is a sense that although it is unlikely that any of the opposition parties will win the election outright, South Africa might follow the example of the many countries around the world who are governed by coalition governments.
This, like anything, has advantages and disadvantages. In the case of South Africa, it could mean a move away from an ANC government for the first time since 1994. It could mean a broader based representation, depending on who is invited to the party, which brings more ideas, energy, and problem-solving skills: much needed if one considers the mess the ANC has created in almost every sphere of its involvement.
The disadvantage to a coalition government is that in some instances, parties that hardly represent the will of the people can become “king makers” and candidates with little mandate assume powerful roles. As is the case with the new Johannesburg mayor. A further concern for those hoping for a new dispensation, is a potential ANC and EFF alliance. Something that is becoming a concern if one looks at municipal politics.
None of the above, however, is as much risk as is the ability of the opposition parties to work constructively together. If the larger municipalities are a microcosm of the South African political landscape, South Africans have reason to be concerned. The inability to “play well together” has impacted on several cities and has contributed to a situation where a mayor with an ill-chosen scarf is positioned to lead the country’s largest metropolis and economic hub.
This is something that should be taken very seriously, because if this is a sign of what is to come, it can have an enormous negative impact on the future of the country following an election in 2024.
Although the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front have displayed an ability to work together, the capability to form a stable coalition with Action SA is a worry. The same could be said for Build One South Africa. Personal history and mistrust have had a major impact on these relationships and has been seen to be played out in the public space.
The capacity of these parties to “get it together”, to put personal history aside, to leave egos out of the equation and to put the country ahead of one upmanship is critical if South Africa is to move ahead without the ANC and possibly the EFF as the governing coalition.
The bad news is that they have not yet given South Africans the confidence that they have the maturity to do this … and yet the good news is that they do have the maturity. They have in common a love for the country, insight and qualifications to solve problems and to lead. They also have at the helm people of integrity and vision. They clearly have what it takes to take the country forward.
If there is anything positive about the election of the new Johannesburg mayor, let it be that it provides a warning to other parties what can happen in 2024 if they lose sight of what is important … and that in 2024 it is “South Africa” that they wear with pride around their necks.