I am now 66. Yet in my whole life the country of my birth has had just TWO governing parties.
From 1948 it was the Nats, who brought us apartheid. Since 1994 it’s been the ANC, who have become mired in a festering swamp of corruption and nepotism.
What the local government elections have done is to allow multi-party politics to be born.
In communities up and down the country there are now multi-party coalitions.
Take Nelson Mandela Bay, as an example.
In the 3 August 2016 election, the African National Congress lost their majority.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) gained 57 seats, 4 seats short of a majority.
On 17 August 2016, the DA announced a coalition government with the African Christian Democratic Party, the Congress of the People, and the United Democratic Movement.
Athol Trollip – Xhosa speaking DA mayor – has set about rebuilding the metro’s reputation.
Outlining his plans for his first 100 days in office with promises of jobs and a clean administrations, Trollip said:
“Political instability in this metro has rendered this city moribund and unresponsive …. It is time to lock the revolving doors of corruption‚ cadre deployment and cronyism and bring about a new model of administration by this multiparty government, that will eschew the blight of such practices and that ushers in a model of good government … “.
Last night Johannesburg was won by the DA, in a tacit alliance with the Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema.
After a day of complex, anxious voting, in which one ANC councillor collapsed and died, the DA’s Herman Mashaba was sworn in as mayor.
He has delivered his vision of a new Johannesburg, with the slogan, “out with the cadres, in with the professionals.”
In Tshwane, which includes the administrative capital, Pretoria, the DA also took power.
Solly Msimanga was elected mayor, to the loud cheers of the EFF.
Can the DA now deliver?
Winning may come to seem the easy part, once the reality of power sinks in. Certainly the opposition will have their hands full in trying to administer newly won metros and councils. All have difficult problems to overcome.
From its power-base in Cape Town (where it won an outright majority, taking 135 of the 221 council seats) the DA now has an additional 15 municipalities to run in the Western Cape alone.
The opposition will have to show tact, skill and extraordinary diplomacy if it is to hold its alliance with difficult parties like the EFF together.
And already there have been challenges from trade unions that have been close to the ANC, like the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu).
As the commentator, Stephen Grootes warned, this is going to be rough: “Samwu is likely to try to bring administration in DA-led metros to a halt. But it also faces a risk. It has tended to get what it wants through illegal actions and political pressure in the ANC through Cosatu. This time, it could well find that Mashaba, Msimanga and Trollip are tougher nuts to crack.”
The ANC and the president
Meanwhile, the ANC and President Jacob Zuma are not without resources.
They still run central government. And they have won key councils and metros themselves – including Durban, Bloemfontein and Kimberley.
But it is still true to say that the ANC is struggling to react.
Its first response was to deny that Jacob Zuma had lost the party votes – preferring instead to take collective responsibility for their defeats.
And there are suggestions that the ANC are now so weakened and ineffectual that they have almost ceased to govern.
As the well-known analyst, Carol Paton wrote in Business Day: “No one runs SA. It is an aircraft in which the pilot has left the cockpit and locked the door behind him.”
Paton accuses President Zuma of having: “centralised power in his office, using his powers of appointment, in a way that is highly effective in achieving his personal goals, but has had chaotic consequences for the process of governing.”
How much longer can this really continue? In the meantime ordinary South Africans must muddle through as best they can.
But one fact seems certain: the era of one-party rule, which has been around since 1948, is over.
South Africa has become a much more interesting, complex country.