Herman Mashaba: Walking away from Johannesburg would be the DA's biggest mistake

Joburg's multi-party co-operation is not something that should be a source of trepidation, it should be celebrated. It is almost certain that the future of South African politics will be linked to coalition governments, writes Herman Mashaba.

I was profoundly disappointed to read in last week's Sunday papers that the DA's election review panel will recommend the collapse of our coalition governments to the Federal Council.

Unlike others in my position, I have been fortunate enough to have succeeded in business over many years. To be very honest, entering the political arena and serving as the Mayor of Johannesburg was not how I had imagined spending my twilight years.

I was ultimately moved to do so because I could not stand idly by and watch the downward spiral of my city and country.

When the results of the 2016 municipal elections were released and I learnt that my candidature was the barrier to a coalition government in Johannesburg, I was called by journalists for my response. It was simple, "tell the DA that I will step back and let someone else lead the city."

I said this because the project of unseating the ANC and delivering change to Johannesburg was far bigger than me, and I still believe this is as true today as it was then.

My disappointment arises from what I fear will be the DA's short-sighted approach to its recent poor election showing. The rationale, so I read, is that working with the EFF is compromising our message as a party.

I believe that walking away from Johannesburg would be the DA's biggest mistake. It does not appear as if our residents are being properly factored into this decision and political parties get punished for this kind of decision making. 

So, while the review panel considers its inward-looking recommendation, I think we should consider for one moment what the residents of Johannesburg stand to lose.

Infrastructure network turned around

Our infrastructure investment programme has begun reversing the decline of our roads, electricity, water and bridge networks. When we entered office, our infrastructure was on the brink of collapse. After having increased the share of the capital budget which addresses infrastructure, from 58% to 71%, the situation is improving.

For the first time power outages have reduced, from 6.1 to 5.6 per household per year. The number of leaks and bursts in our water network has come down by over 4 000 per year. Over 900km's of an inherited 4 000km poor condition road network has been resurfaced.

The City is close to welcoming 1 500 new JMPD officers who have been undergoing training since we initiated their recruitment in 2017. This will represent a 50% increase in the size of the JMPD force and greatly assist our efforts to bring law and order to the streets of Johannesburg. In addition, a specialised K9 Narcotics Unit, another first in Johannesburg, is currently waging a war against drug dealers.

Operating hours at 26 clinics have been extended, offering life-saving services to communities during the evenings and over weekends. The first mobile clinics are taking medical services to communities that simply never had them before. Our drug rehabilitation services, another first for the City, are offering hope to those afflicted by substance abuse. Our libraries are also operating with extended hours of service to offer learners a safe place to study and read.

Fighting fraud and corruption

Johannesburg is unrivalled in its achievements in the fight against fraud and corruption. Led by a world class former Scorpions boss, the City now has over 6 000 cases under investigation totalling R34bn in expenditure. Over 1 000 people have being arrested. Implicated officials are being fired. Even the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) efforts to stall prosecutions will not succeed as we prepare to approach the courts to force them to fulfil their constitutional mandate without fear or favour.

Facilitated investments in the city has ballooned to 400% of where it stood in 2016, rising from R4.5bn in 2015/16 to R17.3bn in 2018/19. My dream of turning the inner city of Johannesburg into a construction site is on the verge of being realised with 139 properties already awarded to developers and the first spades are starting to move soil. This alone promises to deliver R32bn in investment, over 7 000 affordable housing units and more than 12 000 construction sector jobs.

There are many things that I could continue to highlight, but these successes are not mine. They are the product of a multi-party coalition government that is working together, sharing different solutions to the complex challenges that form the lived experiences of our residents.

When I was approached by the EFF about insourcing security guards and cleaners in Johannesburg, I realised there was a case to be made for this action. To date, 6 000 families have increased their household income and have the added benefits of a pension and medical aid. It contained the cost of outsourced security contracts and took business away from tenderpreneurs who took advantage of these people to line their own pockets. If there was ever a case for redress being achieved through a multi-party platform, it is this.

Two questions for the DA

Our multi-party co-operation is not something that should be a source of fear and trepidation, it is something that should be celebrated. It is almost certain that the future of South African politics will be inextricably linked to coalition governments.

Arising from this commonly held view, the DA must ask itself two questions ahead of this week's Federal Council meeting. Firstly, what message do we send out when we say coalition politics is bad for our party when coalitions are the likely future of South African politics? Secondly, will the residents of Johannesburg forgive the DA for squandering this opportunity to deliver change in their lives?

Does the DA, with all its present challenges, really want to face the 2021 local government election when it has effectively said "we cannot govern in coalition"? Does this not suggest we will be rendered irrelevant in a future that will certainly involve coalitions? Does the DA want to face an electorate after returning Johannesburg to the ANC with all its corruption, nepotism, failures and arrogance?

I hope the DA places at the heart of their decision making, the residents of Johannesburg and the message we will send to South Africans about our prospects of governing anywhere again in 2021.

I love the DA. I associate at a very personal level with its values of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity. I recognise that without the DA, our country is in deep trouble and I want my children and grandchildren to have a bright future.

However, as should always be the case for any patriot, I must never be asked to choose between my party and the future of my country.

- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

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