Jo'burg Mayoral Fiasco adds Impetus to Calls for Federalism
The appointment of Al-Jamah-ah’s Thapalo Amad as mayor of Johannesburg has caused quite a stir.
The prevailing sentiment was captured perfectly in a tweet by ‘African Renaissance’ which went viral and was retweeted by Helen Zille, “Johannesburg residents did not vote for this, and the sooner they protest against this impostor, the better. This cannot be allowed to continue further.”
As an advocate for Cape Independence this was a bitter-sweet moment. The majority of Western Cape voters have been living with this predicament for 29 years and many of those suddenly incensed by their loss of agency have been at best indifferent to the plight of Kaapenaars. Now they know.
But the significance of Amad’s comical ascent to power is far greater than the understandable irritation of longsuffering Joburg residents. It is the manifestation of a far greater evil which should have all South Africans trembling in trepidation.
Our system of democracy must change
Amad is a powerless puppet offered up as misdirection to the hapless crowd. The ANC and EFF have now reached a formal agreement to ‘co-govern’. For objective analysts, this was always the anticipated outcome, but wishful thinking had kept a vocal majority believing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, South Africa’s salvation lay in coalition governments.
The key to the ANC/EFF pact was their realisation that it didn’t matter who the puppet was, access to power and resources lies with those who pull the strings. With the formula perfected, the plan will be rolled out nationwide, initially at municipal level, but culminating in the 2024 national election.
Sadly, there is no shortage of willing puppets. De Lille has made a career out of political charlatanism, whilst Mckenzie increasingly resembles Smigel from the Lord of the Rings. You sense there is a good person somewhere inside, but the power of the ring is simply too great for him to resist.
If democracy in South Africa is to remain substantive, then changes to our democratic system are both urgent and essential. In this context, imagining the most likely post-2024 political landscape is actually very helpful.
Post-2024 election landscape
At this stage, the most probable outcome of the 2024 election is an ANC/EFF coalition in national government. It will control the purse strings, it will have effective control of state owned enterprises, and it will control almost all major policy decisions including the economy.
The Western Cape will remain a DA stronghold, although perhaps in coalition with the VF Plus and ACDP. Gauteng may very well fall to a DA led coalition, but one which would be very different in composition and character to the Western Cape. The DA’s largest ally would be Action SA, together with the VF Plus, the IFP, and the ACDP.
KZN is harder to call, but there is also the outside possibility that an IFP led coalition could take the province, supported by the DA and a handful of small parties.
In this scenario the deficiencies in South Africa’s system of government should be apparent to all.
Opposition parties would control the economic heartland of South Africa; Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. Collectively they employ 62% of the active South African workforce and produce 65% of South Africa’s GDP. Despite this, they would have no control over economic policy, labour law, or the welfare system.
In contrast, the ANC/EFF coalition will have been elected by a predominantly rural based and unemployed electorate, producing relatively little, and largely dependent on government grants. Regardless, they will have decision making powers over how and on what terms the big three provinces conduct business, how the money they generate is spent, and what portion is allocated in grants to the rural voters who elected them.
In any state this would be a recipe for disaster. Given the ANCs track record of theft on a gargantuan scale, and substantial evidence suggesting that the EFF would be even worse, it simply cannot be allowed in South Africa.
An examination of the provincial coalitions is however just as illuminating.
A compromise that suits no-one
The Western Cape is South Africa’s least racialised province. It is the most ethnically diverse, it is the only province which habitually elects leaders who differ in race to the majority, and it is the only province which elects a party supporting genuine non-racialism. It has a more Western character than the rest of South Africa, and the political threat to the DA who have governed the province for the last 14 years comes predominantly from those who most vehemently reject African nationalism.
Gauteng has a much more Afrocentric character. The composition of Gauteng’s economy is not radically different to the Western Cape, but it is abundantly clear that Gauteng is African nationalistic in nature. Gauteng supports racialised policy and wants to vote for black led parties. It is willing to reject the ANC but unwilling to adopt the DA in its place.
KwaZulu-Natal is tribal. When the ANC was led by a Zulu, the power of the IFP waned and ANC achieved hegemony. When the Zulu influence over the ANC reduced, the IFP re-emerged as a political force. Like the Western Cape, it has an independence movement, and the new King is said to be seriously considering secession.
Even setting aside the lunacy of a national ANC/EFF coalition, were it a viable option, forcing these three disparate provinces into a compromise coalition agreement which suited none of them would make absolutely no sense at all. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the positions these three provinces hold providing they have the democratic support of the provincial majority and they protect minority rights. Our system of government just needs to accommodate them.
Emerging consensus around federalism
There is growing consensus that some form of federalism is the answer. The DA, IFP, ActionSA, VF Plus, ACDP, and Good all formally support federalism. In a federal system much less power is concentrated in the central national government, with significant power vesting in provincial and municipal government where it is closer to the people and more responsive to local needs.
An ANC/EFF government in waiting now makes this essential. Parties and civil society must act with urgency, and it is in principle possible to achieve federalism before the 2024 elections.
The Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) is currently lobbying to have a ‘Western Cape Peoples Bill’ tabled in the provincial parliament which will use the provisions of the Western Cape Constitution to formally establish that the Western Cape people are entitled to make decisions for themselves (self-determination), including claiming federal autonomy or, as a last resort, independence.
It would be followed up by a ‘Western Cape Federal Autonomy Bill’ in the National Parliament which would amend the South African Constitution and deliver federalism. Whilst it would theoretically require two-thirds support, to deny the Western Cape people self-determination would breach the South African Constitution and initiate an application to the ConCourt to have parliament compelled to pass the legislation.
Once in opposition hands, Gauteng and KZN could emulate the Western Cape process. If they do, democracy in South Africa will have been greatly strengthened and the future will look much brighter indeed.