Mayor's Gaffes Spur South Africa Opposition to Tighten Its Grip

  • DA sends task team to supervise its mayors’ performance
  • Mashaba welcomes task team, says it shouldn’t ‘interfere’

Herman Mashaba

Source: Foto24 via Getty Images

The opposition Democratic Alliance is scrambling to save its reputation as a party capable of governing in South Africa’s richest province following a series of gaffes by its mayor in Johannesburg.

The DA assembled a task team to supervise the four big municipalities it’s running in alliance with smaller parties. The decision came after its mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, 57, referred to undocumented immigrants as criminals in comments that sparked criticism from civil rights groups and President Jacob Zuma’s government. The DA won control of South Africa’s economic hub in alliance with smaller parties after the ruling African National Congress’s vote fell below 50 percent in the city in August municipal elections.

“We can’t appoint people and say, ‘we’ll see you in five years,’’’ DA leader Mmusi Maimane, 36, said Wednesday in an interview in his Cape Town office. “People must know there is accountability. There’s freedom for people to innovate in government but they must deliver on the manifesto. Johannesburg is a big metro. I have put together a team that must go support the new leadership.’’

The DA is hoping to use its control of administrations in Johannesburg, Pretoria, the capital, and Nelson Mandela Bay, as well as its political stronghold in Cape Town, to showcase its credentials as a party ready to govern the nation. If the ANC suffers a similar 7.7 percentage point drop in its share of the vote in 2019 general elections as it did in August, it would likely be relegated to the opposition and the DA could form the next government with support from smaller parties. The ANC currently has a 62 percent majority in Parliament.

Johannesburg, with a population of 5 million, will account for 23.8 percent of the expected budget revenue of 212.5 billion rand ($16.3 billion) of South Africa’s eight biggest metros this financial year, according to government data.

No Interference

Maimane is also concerned about the Johannesburg government’s plans to merge about a dozen municipal companies with the council’s departments that have sparked criticism from labor unions and unease in his own party.

Mashaba said while he was pleased about the involvement of the team sent by the party, it should let him proceed with his work.

“That is something I welcome, as long as they obviously do not interfere with my day-to-day business,’’ he said Wednesday by phone.

In November, Mashaba, a former cosmetics entrepreneur, provoked criticism when he said illegal immigrants are “holding our country to ransom” and said the ANC-run national government has opened South Africa’s borders to “criminality.”

Anti-immigrant attacks in 2008 claimed as many as 60 lives and forced about 50,000 to flee their homes. Violence flared against in 2015, when mobs wielding machetes and sticks killed seven people before the army and police restored calm.

“Statements like that do not help,’’ Maimane said. “The concerns about immigration, those are national issues that require national engagement. We must stick to the arrangements that are not only enshrined in our constitution but in our practice.”

Mashaba disagreed that the immigration issue in Johannesburg is a national issue.

“The problem of undocumented immigrants is not a national issue; it’s something that impacts directly on the city of Johannesburg’s ability to deliver to our people,” he said. “That is why, with immigration not being our competency, we engage the national government to do something about it because, how can anyone expect us to deliver to the residents of Johannesburg when we have so many undocumented immigrants.’’

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