Strange Bedfellows Set to Take Helm of Key S. African Cities

  • Opposition coalition may control Johannesburg, Pretoria
  • Ruling ANC says it’s open to partnering with other parties

Flush from its success of unseating the African National Congress in some of South Africa’s biggest cities, the broadly centrist Democratic Alliance now faces the challenge of sealing coalitions in hung councils with a radical partner demanding the nationalization of mines and banks.

The ruling ANC, led by President Jacob Zuma, lost outright control of the southern city of Port Elizabeth in Wednesday’s local-government election and is set to do the same in the capital, Pretoria, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. With no party on track to win a absolute majority, the Economic Freedom Fighters has emerged as a likely king-maker. While the DA and EFF have said they will work with other opposition parties, they are adamant they won’t work with the ANC.

Jacob Zuma

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“It’s not going to be an easy marriage,” Daryl Glaser, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, said by phone. “We are dealing with parties that are not natural coalition partners. Ideologically they are not comfortable fits.”

The DA’s campaign pledges included rooting out corruption and making it easier to do business in Africa’s most-industrialized economy. Besides nationalization, the EFF advocates increasing free services and access to land for the poor. Both parties said they will only begin cooperation talks after the release of final results on Saturday.

Former Enemies

“Where we don’t control an outright majority, coalitions are the way that we go,” James Selfe, chairman of the DA’s federal council, said in Pretoria. “It’s about service delivery, it’s about putting the voters first. If that’s the approach of other coalition partners then I’m sure we can do some business.”

The DA could potentially govern Port Elizabeth in an alliance with opposition parties other than the EFF.

Julius Malema

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

The ANC hasn’t given up on forming coalitions with its rivals. The ANC sees greatest scope to work with the EFF because their priorities are similar, according to ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa. The EFF was founded in 2013 by former ANC youth wing leader, Julius Malema, following his expulsion from the party for sowing divisions and criticizing Zuma.

“The ANC is always open to working together with other role players,” party chairwoman Baleka Mbete said in Pretoria. “We even had the ability to work with people who ordinarily would have been regarded as our enemies. We are always open.”

The EFF won’t initiate talks on cooperation and will wait until other parties approach them, Malema told reporters on Friday, before ruling out a coalition with the ANC.

“I have promised myself, in my lifetime, I want to see the ANC out of power,” he said.

Unstable Councils

While the rand gained the most among 24 emerging market currencies on Thursday, as investors anticipated that the ANC improve its performance in response to its poor showing, the shift in power may disrupt key services in centers currently run by ANC officials, according to Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the University of South Africa in Pretoria.

“Civil servants and some of the managers will be petrified by these developments,” he said. “It may make even the municipalities fragile, even unstable.”

The DA and EFF have common ground in their shared animosity toward the ANC under Zuma, according to Glaser. The president was found by the nation’s highest court to be in violation of the constitution for refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home.

“Local politics isn’t an arena in which ideological differences become the most obvious,” he said. “The DA and EFF might unite around a mantra of clean and efficient government.”

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