Tensions boil over at Ahmed Kathrada Youth Summit

Frustration and petty arguments were the winners of the day, at summit meant to strengthen democratic practices among the youth.

On the morning of Saturday May 10 2024, a youth summit was hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) in the New Commerce Building at Wits University.

On the cusp of the 2024 elections, this summit aimed to host constructive political discussions between political party representatives about topics relevant to the more than fifty young attendees. However, said discourse quickly devolved into chaos as tempers flared.

The discussion devolved into a frenzy once Economic Freedom Front (EFF) representative, Nyakallo Mokoena derailed proceedings, by arguing that Anele Mda, an independent candidate, should not be given a platform, because she was late to the summit and “did not respect their time”.

This resulted in rage-filled arguments between Mda and the Mokoena, with representatives from the Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress drawn into the fray.

The summit was only able to continue after groups of the audience began to sing in unison, crossing political boundaries in pursuit of a singular goal – to calm the intense situation and get the summit back on track.

The representatives attending the summit, from right to left: Mark Surgeon (Freedom Front Plus), Nyakallo Mokoena (Economic Freedom Fighters), Henry Masuku (BOSA), Nicholas Nyati (Democratic Alliance), and Phathutshedzo Nthulane (ANC). Independent candidate Anele Mda is absent from the photo due to arriving late. Photo: Tristan Monzeglio

A question-and-answer session followed these discussions, where grade 11 student, Precious Hadebe, stated that the audience was “not here for [the representatives] to throw shots at each other”. She specifically criticised the EFF for providing “no solutions” and for continuing to “attack other parties”.

Mokoena, again interrupted the summit, arguing that Mda’s tardiness was representative of how the country is running out of time to make necessary changes.

This resulted in another extended chaotic interruption, which resulted in the Build One South Africa (BOSA) representative walking out on the summit during the lunch break.

After walking out, BOSA’s Henry Masuku, told Wits Vuvuzela that although he “appreciate[s]” the opportunity to have these sorts of discussions, he is concerned about the political leaders who “deflect questions” and “don’t have a real plan of action”.

According to a media release from the AKF, this summit aimed to help “develop young leaders” who are politically “active” and “conscious” and understand their role in “strengthening democracy in South Africa”.

Despite the disarray, the AKF did achieve its goal and informed the youth about their pivotal role in South African democracy, but not in the way it intended.

The audience’s ability to quell the chaotic bickering that ensued by standing united in song is indicative of how these issues could be solved by the youth in the future: collaboratively and with a singular goal of helping one another in the face of adversity.

FEATURE: Do we need a national referendum for coalitions?

A national dialogue on stabilising coalitions in our democracy was held to find common ground; but was overwhelmingly met with disagreements, walkouts, and boycotts.

Picture this – it is 2026 and South Africa is on its tenth democratic president. Public confidence in the government is at an all-time low shown by well over half of eligible voters not turning out to vote.

Power and water cuts are frequent, wastewater treatment plants are spilling raw sewage into rivers and unemployment, inequality and poverty levels remain on an upward trajectory. Yet, no administration has enough power to implement policy or provide service delivery because another motion of no confidence is around the corner, threatening their tenuous positions in key national departments.

This hypothetical becomes a reality if coalitions at a provincial and national level operate similarly to coalitions in the country’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg. 

Since the 2021 local government elections, Johannesburg has seen a revolving door of executives – five administrations in two years. Three of the five have seen partnerships with the African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other ideologically aligned parties. The other two seeing coalitions with the likes of the Democratic Alliance (DA), ActionSA, the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) and other largely anti-ANC and EFF parties.

This is why a dialogue on developing a framework for stabilising coalitions was hosted by Deputy President Paul Mashatile for political parties on August 4 to 5. However, it caused more friction than consensus – with an expert suggesting that a national referendum is needed for people to democratically decide how coalitions function before next year’s election.

Referendums are nothing new to our country in formulating a working democracy, as evidenced by the one in 1992, when (only) white voters indicated whether they supported the negotiations with newly unbanned political organisations, leading to the proposed end of the apartheid system.

In his analysis of the event hosted at the University of the Western Cape, a senior lecturer of political science and governance at Wits University, Dr. Kagiso Pooe, said that the dialogue did not provide a solid framework for stable coalition governments because “power politics was the main game.”

Quelling the chaos

In May 2023, a conceptual document was created by the Institute of Elections Management Services South Africa (IEMSA). The document identified the dysfunctionality of local government because of coalitions and provided suggestions to stabilise these marriages of convenience to best serve residents rather than party interests.

Instability at the local government level has “resulted in diminishing public confidence, poorer service delivery and allegedly millions of rands squandered.” as said by the author of the document Nkululeko Tselane.

However, coalitions are here to stay. The 2016 and 2021 election results in major municipalities showed no political party emerging with an outright majority. Something the ruling party is alive to, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula admitted: “We are fully confident that 2024 will result in not us or anyone having the outright majority to govern.”

The DA, ActionSA, IFP, Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+) and three other ideologically aligned parties have already signed a pre-election coalition pact with one another, in anticipation of this reality.

Infographic: These are the 2021 municipal results in metropoles of Gauteng, with no outright winner, each municipality was forced into unstable ‘marriages of convenience’ to achieve a 50% + 1 to form a government.  Graphic: Seth Thorne

Blame game ensues

Although the consensus from parties was that they believed that the issues of coalitions stemmed from their formation, those hoping for an agreement on the way forward were left bitterly disappointed. This is because political party leaders sought to shift the blame of instability from themselves, rather than meet each other in the middle.

As has been the case at the municipal level, larger parties blamed smaller parties for the instability, and smaller parties pointed the finger right back.

The “[root of the issue is] not about the formation of coalitions, but the reality that politics in South Africa is failing and cooperation is going to be needed,” argued Pooe.

Thresholds and boycotts

The EFF boycotted the initial dialogue citing the “ANC’s involvement in the formulation of the framework… [is an] attempt to protect their fading grasp on power.”

The two current largest parties, the ANC and the DA, are suggesting implementing legislation which would ensure that the party that receives the most votes within a bloc governs the coalition. They also argue that should be a minimum threshold for parties to join any coalition (1%).

Pooe said this is an example of power politics on full display, and “gives insight into the fractured nature of power politics in South Africa, the ANC and DA in one corner and other smaller ones [in the other].”

Parties such as the VF+, Good, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) are strongly opposed to these legislative suggestions. Dr Pieter Groenewald of the VF+ said that these suggestions were “not based on true representative democracy.”

Pooe expected opposition given much of the country’s link to kingmaker politics at the local government level – which is a system where smaller parties generally decide the fate of larger parties. “[The opposition to the threshold] only makes sense [because] parties like them and others would want to negotiate what the new rules of the game might look like.”

It is important to note that these suggestions could inhibit the growth of other parties and arguably prove hypocritical from some of the contributors. “It’s rather odd that had… this proposed action occurred in 1994, there would be no DA today,” said Pooe.

The horse has bolted

Backlash arose when Cooperative Governance minister Parks Tau revealed that a bill on coalition governments was already in the process of being developed and is expected to be finished by the end of the year. Pooe believes that this lies at the heart of the problem.

Some parties are accusing the ANC and DA of sidelining contributions from smaller parties and using these dialogues as a coverup of a preexisting deal between the two largest parties in the country.

However, both parties refute this. Mashatile criticised the accusations from opposition parties arguing that “inputs saying that the ANC and DA have a grand deal… there is no deal.” Meanwhile, DA leader John Steenhuisen responded on social media saying “[The DA] want to build an opposition majority that will unseat the ANC, not keep (them) in power.”

In an open letter to Mashatile, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa slammed both the bill and dialogue: “… it is safe to assume that the Bill has, firstly, already taken into account the ANC’s basic ideas and secondly, it does not take into account the majority of opposition parties’ views on most issues, for example on the issue of thresholds.”

A way forward

Pooe believes a referendum is the only way forward. “We have had a multiparty approach, and to change the game so drastically needs a referendum. This referendum should speak to things like thresholds,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the ANC in government has a history of feigning public participation and then simply ramming through policy positions… and given the ANC and DA seem to have a spotted a chance to resolve their failures to map actual coalition talks, it only makes sense for them to create new barriers to entry,” Pooe added.

Coalitions are seemingly here to stay and legislation would shift how our democracy currently operates. With no real consensus amongst parties as to the way forward, maybe it is best for us, the everyday citizen that feel the negative effects of bad coalition deals, to be as decisive as possible at the polls come 2024 to decide how our democracy should operate and function going forward.

Summary of the views of each of the parties represented. Graphic: Seth Thorne

FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023, electing its 5th mayor in two years. Photo: Seth Thorne

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WITH GALLERY: Kabelo Gwamanda elected as Joburg mayor 

After nearly two weeks without one, Joburg has its fifth mayor in just 18 months. 

Al Jama-ah’s Kabelo Gwamanda has been voted in as Johannesburg’s new executive mayor by councillors in a secret ballot at the City Council sitting on May 5, 2023. 

Out of the 266 ballots cast Gwamanda received 139 votes, while the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse got 68 votes and ActionSA’s Gauteng chairperson Funzi Ngobeni, got 59 votes. 

This was the council’s fifth attempt at voting in a mayor since the resignation of Al Jama-ah’s Thapelo Amad on April 24. A sitting on Tuesday, May 3 was postponed due to squabbles amongst coalition partners.  

Messy horse trading  

Failed negotiations among those in the former ‘multi-party coalition,’ saw the DA unable to come to an agreement with ActionSA, IFP, VF+, ACDP, UIM and PA.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela DA Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse said that the reason negotiations failed is because the DA could not come to terms with the proposition by the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to nominate Kenny Kunene as mayor. “[We] could not fathom how such could be allowed,” she said. 

The PA, the swing vote in council, then put their weight behind Gwamanda, alongside the ANC, EFF, Al Jama-ah, AIC, AHC, ATM, Good, PAC, Cope and APC. In return, Kenny Kunene received an executive position and now has control over the city’s transport portfolio. 

Gwamanda labels this coalition as “one of national unity” which will continue to “prioritize service delivery,” arguing that regime change in the city will not negatively impact service delivery. 

Former mayor Thapelo Amad said that the election of his Al Jama-ah colleague is a good thing for the city, stating that “the city is in capable hands”.  

ActionSA mayoral candidate Funzi Ngobeni says that his party is happy with the working relationship with the ACDP, IFP, UIM and VF+, however it is “unfortunate that we could not get DA on board.” He says that the aims of the partners now are to be “a constructive opposition”.  

FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne

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GALLERY: DA Marches to ANC headquarters over loadshedding

Thousands of ANC and DA protesters took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday, January 26, blocking roads around Chief Albert Luthuli House.

DA supporters swarmed Gandhi square near Luthuli House while the ANC Youth League marched around the ANC’s headquarters. The former to demand action on loadshedding and the latter to ‘protect’ their party in a counter-protest. Here’s how events unfolded and how the police managed to keep control.

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Campaigning for the youth vote

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Q&A with Tony Leon

Tony Leon, former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA). Photo: Provided

Tony Leon, former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA).   Photo: Provided

 

Tony Leon is the former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA). He was also South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina between 2009 and 2012. He studied Law at Wits and was elected onto the the Wits SRC during the 1980s.

How do you think the DA has fared since your departure?
Electorally, the DA has done well and improved its position in each national election and gained some share of the elusive Black vote. But it failed in its declared objectives of either getting 30% of the national vote in May 2014 or winning the province of Gauteng. Existentially, it faces the prospect of being overshadowed by the bare-knuckled tactics of the EFF as an opposition and then in defining itself as a distinct entity from the ANC.

What are your thoughts on the new opposition politics?
I would add that the real dilemma for opposition politics is that, notwithstanding significant public disenchantment with the ruling party, there is still a 40 point spread between ANC and DA and the ANC governs in eight of nine provinces, but this could shift as conditions deteriorate.

Do white males have a future in South African politics and why?
There are still many white males in the DA (and certainly in the small FF Plus) and even one or three or so in the ANC. But I think there has been a withdrawal of whites from the body politic, which is a pity since, under the constitution, there should be room for all races to participate and prosper in politics.

What are your thoughts on the current conflict in the Middle-East?
I think it is a war without end, sadly. Many states do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, which is the existential issue at the heart of the conflicts and Israel certainly has made the conditions for a properly constituted Palestinian state almost objectively impossible to achieve. Now we have the rise of extremist Islam in the form of IS and the Sunni-Shia divide playing itself out across the borders of states which, in the case of Iraq and Syria, do not really exist as functioning entities. Democracy arrived briefly via the Arab Spring and, with perhaps the exception of Tunisia, never took root anywhere. It is a profoundly depressing picture.

What inspired you to write your new book Opposite Mandela?
I was encouraged by my publisher, Jonathan Ball, to write the account which appears in Opposite Mandela on the basis that, with all the accounts of Mandela and his hugely impactful leadership, no one, until this book, had written from first-hand observation an eye-witness memoir of what it was like to be in opposition to Mandela and still have a good, often warm, relationship with him and his presidency. Hopefully my book sheds some new light on this extraordinary man and the time when he led our nation.