Reports that the Economic Freedom Fighters could announce that it would be the ultimate kingmaker in hung councils by abstaining from going into any coalitions, had Democratic Alliance and African National Congress supporters alike in a flurry on Tuesday.
Some ANC campaigners were asking what an absence of coalitions would mean, while another source close to the party, and with an inside track on negotiations, said “there are so many speculations, you no longer know what to believe”.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told news agency Bloomberg on Tuesday that the EFF had turned the ANC down “but we are still talking”.
The DA in Gauteng also still remained hopeful, with a source in the party saying the deadline for the EFF signing the memoranda of understanding that would underlie their co-operation, was on Tuesday night. These had, however, not been signed by early evening.
The EFF’s abstention means that, in crucial councils like Johannesburg and Tshwane, the red berets will have the decisive vote over, crucially, budget issues – unless fellow opposition leaders attending the commemorations in Marikana on Tuesday convince them otherwise.
Passing a budget, a by-law, loans, rates, taxes and levies requires a majority in council (50% plus 1).
If the EFF abstains from the process, due to unhappiness with the budget, it might become impossible to pass the budget and this would trigger fresh elections.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, ahead of the EFF’s Monday night meeting, mentioned both abstentions and “re-runs” as options under consideration by the EFF, but urged patience until the EFF’s expected announcement of coalition decisions at 12:00 on Wednesday in Alexandra.
However, he did hint that the EFF would not get into “bed” with any other party, but that it held “the key to a lot of classrooms where people are going to be taught a lot of lessons”.
‘EFF won’t push too far’
The EFF’s abstention will likely leave the DA to govern in Tshwane – where it obtained 43.1% of the vote, the ANC 42.2% and the EFF 11.7% – while the ANC will retain Johannesburg, where it got 44.6% of the vote, the DA 38.4%, and the EFF 11.1%.
Nelson Mandela Bay metro will likely go to the DA, as the party had been talking to smaller parties there, like the United Democratic Movement and the United Front for the four seats it needs. The ANC would need the EFF’s co-operation to form a government there.
The African Independent Congress has already confirmed that it has reached an agreement with the ANC in the Ekurhuleni metro, where the ANC needs the AIC’s four seats to govern.
Business Day on Tuesday reported that highly placed sources in the EFF said party leaders had decided to go it alone at their Monday night meeting at the party’s headquarters in Braamfontein.
A well-placed DA source in Gauteng has confirmed to News24 that the party had known since Sunday that the EFF was unwilling to go into a coalition in Tshwane.
Other sources, however, said there was more contention over Johannesburg, where DA and EFF voters cast protest votes against the ANC and might prefer the smaller parties to go into coalition to topple the ANC.
The source said “a once off coalition deal would give the EFF less bargaining power. Now they have to be bought over every time [before] a budget or by-laws can be approved.”
However, the source added: “The EFF won’t push it too far though. Re-elections in any metro, and Tshwane in particular, is the last thing they need. The ANC will nail them hard, outspend them [and us] and would be able to focus all energy and resources on one municipality.
“Re-elections might be an option and work in their [and our] favour in places like Thabazimbi and Rustenburg.”
‘Not as easy as people expected’
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the EFF’s decision was a difficult one, but not surprising.
“I suspect leadership in the party was made aware of the cost of getting into a coalition that has not been thought through properly. It’s not as easy as people expected it to be,” he said.
He also said the party might have taken a decision to disappoint pundits who expected a marriage between the EFF and the DA in order to protect its image.
“They would rather be blamed by experts for missing out on an opportunity, than their voters.”
Mathekga also suspects a question posed to followers by the EFF on its official Twitter handle, on which party they should go into coalitions with, might have served as a sign that the party was never sure of the way forward.
“Putting the question to party loyalists showed a lack of set strategy on how to deal with the issue,” he said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane is set to brief the media about the party’s coalition choices at 14:30 on Wednesday, while a briefing from the DA’s expected mayor-elect of Nelson Mandela Bay metro, Athol Trollip, will follow after that.