“Politics is about coalitions,” said the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Geordin Hill-Lewis in a Daily Maverick opinion piece.
It’s therefore odd that he then goes on to blame only former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, and not anyone else connected to the DA, for the party’s loss of the City of Johannesburg to the ANC last week.
This is strange – since this defeat entailed the party failing to convince their coalition parties to vote with them. They were abandoned by their entire coalition, except for its two most right-wing members – Freedom Front Plus and ACDP.
It seems obvious that the party has offended many, including three of its own members, who appear to have voted for the ANC’s corruption-accused Geoff Makhubo, with its swing to the right-wing, which has involved the return of Zille, the overt meddling of think tank the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), and the adoption of a report which called for the party’s first black leader Mmusi Maimane to “consider stepping down“.
But Hill-Lewis is committed to showcasing the official opposition doing what it does best these days – blaming anything and everything other than themselves, and distorting reality.
Hill-Lewis and I do agree on two things. He says he “could never abide Mashaba’s views of foreign immigrants”. Me neither. The former mayor’s apparent xenophobia – which the DA did nothing to discourage, because after all, populist politics gets the votes – was indeed obvious and noxious.
Hill-Lewis adds that Mashaba “got far too close to the looting EFF”. Having read amaBhungane reports suggesting that the City of Johannesburg under Mashaba gave AfriRent a massive tender, and the proceeds somehow ended up in what appears to be a slush fund for Julius Malema, I’d agree there too.
This column does not seek to show support for Mashaba, only to argue that it’s absurd that he is being entirely blamed by Hill-Lewis for the party’s ill fortunes since he left.
The fact remains that without Mashaba, the party lost the support of the EFF, and without the EFF, they no longer had the majority they needed in the Joburg Council.
The DA, therefore, either wanted to give Johannesburg up due to a refusal to keep working with the EFF – their reaction appears to show that they in fact hoped to keep power – or are simply guilty of bad political manoeuvring, regardless of whether you think the corruption-accused Geoff Makhubo or Mashaba would make a better Joburg mayor (personally I think they’re both terrible options).
Hill-Lewis argues that Mashaba’s decision to leave was entirely his own.
“The facts are that he was not ‘forced out’, there was no ‘imminent move’ against him, and the report of the DA’s internal election review did not recommend that we voluntarily leave government,” he writes.
Mashaba’s “reckless resignation”, as Hill-Lewis calls it, may have been of his own accord, but those who believe he was “forced out” – or at least pushed into leaving – have certainly been informed by actual evidence.
It has been widely reported that many within the DA voiced opposition to his close relationship with the EFF. And Mashaba – despite being further to the right of Zille when it comes to economic policy – was understandably unable to get behind the political implications of her return to the party, considering her views on topics like colonialism and “black privilege“, her expressing the view that all race-based politics must be abandoned, and her cosying-up to SA right-wing media figures like cartoonist Jerm, podcast The Renegade Report, and YouTuber Conscious Caracal.
“The DA’s internal election review did not recommend that we voluntarily leave government,” Hill-Lewis writes.
But it did state that forming governments with the EFF’s support in “Johannesburg and Tshwane was a mistake“.
It said that the party’s close relationship with the EFF was harmful to its brand and stopped it from being able to govern according to its policies.
“Where the DA can dominate coalitions and protect its identity and brand while doing so, it should not hesitate to enter cooperative government. If it cannot do that, it should avoid such governments,” it continued.
If that’s not a call to “voluntarily leave government” I have no idea what is.
The report did say that “the party should not make a final decision on whether to exit government in Johannesburg or Tshwane without a proper study of voters’ views and a careful consideration of the consequences”.
But Mashaba, who made it clear he was not comfortable with IRR’s involvement in the party’s politics, or with Helen Zille’s return, didn’t wait for careful consideration. And why should he have?
Those in the DA espousing the kind of so-called classical liberalism popular with the global alt-right appear unable to accept that they have moved to the right, or to acknowledge that their ideas are considered toxic to the majority of South Africans.
Hill-Lewis was once both Helen Zille and Mmusi Mamaine’s chief of staff. But it’s Zille he seems to identify more with, and his closeness to the woman – who now holds the powerful position of DA federal council chairperson – led several analysts and journalists to tip him to replace Paul Boughey, who resigned as the party’s CEO in October [the party has not yet replaced him].
Everything he writes about the party should, therefore, be seen through the lens of someone heavily invested in the DA’s jump to the right – a direction denied by many of those within the party who champion it.
As long as the DA continues to moves rightwards – a development which clearly makes many uncomfortable – it will continue to lose support.
The party’s recent refusal to take the advice of analysts or the media, however, means they’re unlikely to learn this lesson, as long as there are still outside factors to blame.