Joburg: What the DA offered the PA
John Steenhuisen | 26 January 2023
Text of two letters by John Steenhuisen to the Multi-Party Coalition Oversight Group setting his party’s offer
The multi-party coalition government in Johannesburg seems likely to collapse today, after the Patriotic Alliance rejected the DA’s final offer to rejoin the coalition, following the PA’s decision to join the ANC coalition in September last year.
The collapse of these negotiations will inevitably give rise to a blame game, as the PA tries to exonerate itself from responsibility. ActionSA, which has backed the PA’s demands throughout the negotiations, will do the same.
The Democratic Alliance places on record its correspondence with the coalition partners during this final crucial week of the negotiations.
In letters to the Coalition Partners, John Steenhuisen spells out the DA’s history of compromise and its final offer to ensure that the multi-party coalition could survive to keep the ANC/EFF out of Johannesburg.
The first letter from DA leader John Steenhuisen to Dr Corné Mulder and the members of the Multi-Party Coalition Oversight Group, 23 January 2023
Attention: Dr Corné Mulder and the members of the Multi-Party Coalition Oversight Group
23rd January 2023
As I undertook in the Coalition Oversight Group meeting on Sunday night, 22nd January 2023, we convened the DA’s Federal Executive (Fedex) this morning (Monday 23rd January) to deliberate again on the PA’s demand, to return to our coalition in Johannesburg on what they have described as their non-negotiable terms and conditions.
This involves their demand that the Multi-Party Coalition allocates two crucial portfolios, Transport & Roads, as well as Economic Development, to the PA.
In considering this demand, it is relevant to recap the history of the PA’s relationship with the multi-party coalition in Johannesburg. We cannot wish this history away as we consider the future of our coalition in Johannesburg. If we do not learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.
We all recall that, soon after the 2021 local government election, the PA took a decision to side with the ANC and rejected approaches by the multi-party government to become part of the coalition.
Early in 2022, the PA changed its mind, occasioning a major re-negotiation of coalition portfolios to free up a Mayco position for them and requiring the FF+ to sacrifice their MMC position in Health & Community Development. This accommodation was made to bring in the PA to secure a working majority for the multiparty coalition in Johannesburg.
Despite absolute assurances from the PA at the time that they would be loyal to the multiparty coalition for the duration of the term (till 2026) things soon changed.
Without any notice to us, an unexpected proposal emerged sometime later, from ActionSA to re-assign the Speaker’s position, negotiated for the DA in the coalition agreement, to the IFP. The Patriotic Alliance seized on this proposal to demand that the entire coalition agreement be re-negotiated to secure for themselves a portfolio they preferred in comparison with Health & Community development.
The DA regarded this as an unwarranted violation of the coalition agreement. Significantly, when the Motion of No Confidence was moved against our Speaker, Vasco da Gama, on 1st September 2022, the PA chose to vote with the ANC, despite their assurances of loyalty made a few months previously.
The PA withdrew from the coalition, voted with the ANC in an unlawful motion to remove our Mayor, and announced a renewed partnership with the ANC, with major fanfare countrywide. In terms of its arrangement with the ANC, the PA would get two Mayco positions of their choice namely Roads & Transport and Economic Development in Johannesburg. This raised clear red flags because of the exceptional opportunities for corruption these portfolios offer.
We, and other coalition partners regarded the PA’s defection back to the ANC as a serious violation of good faith and showed us, once more, that the PA could not be relied upon in a coalition, despite their protestations of loyalty and good faith.
Not long after that, with a new Speaker, Colleen Makhubele in office, a Motion of No Confidence was moved in the Multi-Party Coalition Mayor, the DA’s Mpho Phalatse on September 20th, 2022.
Again, the PA voted with the ANC to remove our Mayor, in a procedurally flawed process.
The DA then challenged the unlawful removal of our Mayor in court and won. We thus took back the government without the PA, as a minority coalition.
Once the Multi-Party Coalition was back in the office (as a minority government) two of our coalition partners sought to persuade the PA to return to the negotiating table with the multi-party coalition.
Given the history of the PA’s repeated betrayal, not only in Johannesburg but in coalitions across the country involving the DA (eg Knysna and Cederberg), the DA was deeply sceptical of this initiative.
We nevertheless agreed with these discussions proceeding, on two conditions:
1) That the PA should not return with more MMC positions than they had when they left to side with the ANC;
2) That they were not seen to benefit from their betrayal, as this would provide an incentive for further extortion, as the PA continued to play off offers of the ANC against those of the DA.
We consider these to be eminently reasonable conditions in the circumstances.
Nevertheless, the PA demanded that they retain the two portfolios given to them by the ANC as the price for returning to the multi-party coalition.
They also promised to bank R10 million as the price they were prepared to pay if they should betray the coalition again. The DA rejected this unenforceable offer as another aspect of the PA’s politics of bribery and extortion. The DA does not undertake chequebook politics. If we were to fall for this kind of tactic, we would be no better than the ANC.
The other coalition partners, however, backed the PA’s position to set non-negotiable conditions for their return to the governing coalition in Johannesburg and acquiesced to their demands for the MMC of Transport & Roads as well as the MMC, Economic Development.
Both these portfolios are currently headed by councillors from ActionSA, but as they are subject to a coalition agreement, it is not exclusively in ActionSA’s gift to hand them over to another party that is not a formal member of our coalition.
The DA has repeatedly met to determine whether we can modify our conditions for the PA’s return without sacrificing our principles entirely on the altar of political expedience.
We have therefore taken the major step of agreeing that the PA can keep the Portfolio of Roads & Transport, as a test case, with adequate oversight mechanisms, to evaluate the PA’s protestations of good faith and their apparent commitment to clean, corruption-free government. This is an enormous compromise on the DA’s part, made in order to go the extra mile to keep Johannesburg out of the ANC’s hands.
But, based on the advice of the Mayor’s office, and other senior DA politicians in Johannesburg, we cannot make a similar concession with Economic Development. We are prepared to consider another portfolio to allocate to the PA, but on condition that if that concession requires the DA to sacrifice an executive portfolio, we will withdraw our offer to sacrifice the Speaker’s position, and retain it for the DA.
It is true that all portfolios offer opportunities for corruption to unscrupulous politicians. But the history of abuse in the entities of the Department of Economic Development, in particular, is so egregious as to make it impossible for the DA to make this concession with a clear conscience.
During consultations with the representative of Mayor Phalatse’s office, and other Mayco members, the long history of alleged extreme abuse in the three entities housed in that Department (the Johannesburg Housing Company, the Johannesburg Market and the Metro Trading Company) was detailed. Given this information, it would be thoroughly irresponsible for the DA to enable the PA to retain this portfolio as the price for returning to the coalition.
We are absolutely committed to keeping the ANC out of government in Johannesburg, but equally, we cannot be expected to do this on the basis of an arrangement that could bring corruption, potentially comparable to the ANC’s record, back into government in Johannesburg. We certainly could not countenance that happening on the DA’s watch.
So, we reiterate: We have made all the concessions in this latest round of negotiations with the PA. They have refused to budge from their pre-determined non-negotiable price to return to the multi-party coalition. We are very surprised that, despite the PA’s record of betrayal, our other multi-party coalition partners are willing to countenance this.
We believe that crucial political decisions such as this one must be taken not only with an eye on the present, but with an eye on the future, and on the past. We know of the PA’s history; we know from experience that this is likely to be repeated. We do not want to lose power, and least of all do we want to hand Johannesburg back to the ANC.
But the price we are required to pay cannot be disproportional. In particular, we cannot knowingly deliver Johannesburg into the hands of a government in which we cannot guarantee an improvement to the ANC’s politics of extortion and corruption, and which could easily replicate it, to the great detriment of the DA and the other coalition partners.
We believe that any objective observer will recognise that we have made all the sacrifices here, while the PA refuses to compromise on any of its demands.
The DA cannot, in good faith and in the interests of the residents of Johannesburg, offer anything further than what we have proposed above. To summarise:
1) The PA keeps Transport & Roads (with agreed adequate coalition oversight mechanisms on tenders and contracts).
2) The Department of Economic Development cannot be allocated to the PA.
3) The PA be offered another executive portfolio. If this is at the expense of the DA, the DA will revoke its offer of relinquishing the negotiated DA position of Speaker.
We think the above is highly reasonable in the circumstances and represents the extent of the concessions the DA is responsibly prepared to make to keep Johannesburg out of ANC hands while simultaneously offering the prospect of improved service delivery and good governance.
We trust that our multiparty coalition partners will recognise what an enormous concession this represents and respond to us accordingly.
We look forward to your response.
The second letter from DA leader John Steenhuisen to Dr Corné Mulder and the members of the Multi-Party Coalition Oversight Group, 23 January 2023
To Dr Corne Mulder and party leaders in the Coalition Oversight Group
24th January 2024
Dear Dr Mulder
Your letter of 24 January 2023, in reply to our submission to the COG dated 23 January, has reference.
While I do not intend to re-state any of the factual and documented developments that have led to the current impasse, I merely repeat that the DA has made a series of concessions in an effort to reach an agreement for the return of the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to the Johannesburg multi-party coalition.
The PA has not been prepared to modify any of its demands, which from the outset have been non-negotiable. We note that this is not conducive, and in fact contradicts, the very essence of negotiation that we have sought to approach in good faith.
We are also making no allegations against the PA that have not been asserted and confirmed by that Party themselves. On numerous occasions of which you will be aware, Mr Gayton McKenzie has stated that the PA is not interested in values, principles or policies. His Party seeks to be in government for access to the public purse and the opportunities this opens.
Given this frank admission on his part, it behoves us to believe Mr McKenzie and to act accordingly. The PA’s track record, in several places where we have experience with their governance, attests to this.
We certainly cannot ignore this experience when it comes to arguably the most important local authority in the country, namely Johannesburg, with its myriad entities that, in many several instances, are alleged to have been targets of criminal syndicates, in the same way as Eskom and Transnet have been. This cannot be ignored, nor can it be allowed to happen on our watch.
We, therefore, believe that the most rational and reasonable approach to resolving the impasse around Johannesburg would be for the coalition partners to persuade the PA to acknowledge the extent of the concessions made to date by the DA, to bring them back into the coalition despite the unfortunate history of our relationship; And, for the PA in return, to show they are also prepared to make a few concessions to keep the City out of the Hands of the ANC.
But, on the contrary, Mr Kenny Kunene, the Deputy Leader of the PA, was widely reported as saying on Radio today that PA is “confident that Joburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse would be ousted at the city’s council meeting on Thursday”. He was also quoted as saying that the PA would then vote for the ANC’s mayoral candidate.
While the DA is absolutely committed to doing everything rational and reasonable to keep the ANC out of government in the City, the PA has already clearly stated its intention to vote for an ANC mayoral candidate on Thursday, 24th January, after they have helped to oust the mutli-party coalition DA Mayor, Dr Mpho Phalatse.
We regard this as a further indication of bad faith and a clear reflection of a lack of fundamental commitment to the multi-party government. As the PA leadership has often said: they are not committed to any set of political principles or parties. They will go where the best deal is offered. They mean what they say, and this approach is unlikely to change in the future, no matter how many concessions are currently made.
It is true, as you state, that the DA’s Federal Executive (Fedex) decided that the negotiations around the PA re-joining our Johannesburg’s coalition should not extend to demands for PA mayoral committee positions in Ekurhuleni. You requested us to review this position.
I am able to inform you that, at a late-night meeting on Tuesday 24th January, Fedex did reconsider this position and agreed that we could offer the PA two Mayoral Committee positions in Ekurhuleni. It is a concession we are willing to make, which once more underscores our seriousness about remaining in government in Johannesburg and keeping that City out of ANC hands.
We are prepared to offer the PA the positions as MMC of Community Safety, as requested, in Ekurhuleni, but not Transport. Instead, our counter-offer is that the PA accept the MMC position of City Planning.
We urge the PA to accept this sincere and far-reaching offer made in a further attempt to resolve the current situation.
2. Economic Development in Johannesburg
Just as is the case with Eskom, there is widespread anecdotal knowledge of the abuse of the City’s entities to extract resources, but little established proof. We would suggest a forensic audit, going back at least ten years, of the entities in the Department of Economic Development, namely the Johannesburg Market, the Metro Trading Company and the Johannesburg Property Company.
The PA has itself repeatedly spoken about the alleged extreme corruption in the Johannesburg Property Company under the ANC and its connected cadres. The PA is well aware of the prospects for corruption in that entity and the extent to which these opportunities have been exploited in the past.
If a thorough historic forensic audit into these entities shows a history of responsible and financially prudent governance, I will be prepared to take this matter back to the DA’s Fedex and ask them to reconsider the matter.
At this time, however, the Fedex has reaffirmed its position that it will not accede to the PA being allocated the MMC for Economic Development.
We are, however, ready to offer that portfolio to the Freedom Front Plus, which would then vacate the position as MMC of Health & Community Development. This position would then be vacant and offered to the PA, which is a position this party held before it broke with the multi-party coalition last year, to join the ANC-led coalition.
This is another eminently reasonable further concession the DA is prepared to make in these negotiations to assist us in reaching a resolution.
However, we are not prepared to sacrifice the Environment and Infrastructure Services Department, for reasons that we have previously spelt out. This Department is responsible for all of Johannesburg’s utility services, which profoundly impact the functioning of ward councillors on a daily basis. As the DA has by far the most ward councillors of any of the coalition partners, it is surely reasonable that this portfolio should remain with the Democratic Alliance, as negotiated from the start.
From the above, it is clear that we have given very serious consideration to your proposals, and that we have again made further concessions, although we still cannot meet all PA’s demands, on which they have refused to negotiate or compromise on, since they indicated a wish to return to the multi-party coalition. Given that they today announced they would be voting for the ANC on Thursday, the depth of their commitment to the multi-party government is open to question.
Despite the fact that our Fedex was only able to convene its meeting at 20h00 tonight, we nevertheless honoured our commitments to attend the Coalition Oversight Group meeting held today.
That too should underscore our good faith.
The Fedex meeting tonight ended with a decision that the above constitutes our final offer which we would be happy to discuss with the coalition partners jointly, or individually and directly with the PA if they wish to have a one-on-one with the DA.
We offer this as a further sign of our commitment to saving the multi-party government and keeping the ANC and EFF out of Johannesburg and the other Gauteng Metros.