South African political maverick Mashaba becomes power broker


At the time, Herman Mashaba’s decision to step down as mayor of Johannesburg in 2019 seemed to be a blow to any prospect of South African opposition parties ending the African National’s long rule anytime soon. Congress.

As the maverick businessman fell out with the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, the ANC returned to power in the country’s financial hub despite voters’ anger at his many corruption scandals.

But today, as Africa’s most industrialized economy begins to prepare for the 2024 national elections, Mashaba has reappeared as the main intermediary in any post-ANC future. He took that position after the ruling party’s disastrous performance in local polls last month, when it won less than half the vote for the first time since apartheid ended in 1994.

Mashaba – an entrepreneur who built a hair products empire at the end of apartheid in the 1980s, before turning to politics – stunned South African politicians in the wake of the November municipal elections by pushing the DA, his former party, in a minority government position in Johannesburg and other major cities in Gauteng, the industrial heartland.

Neither party won overall control of the vote, and the DA rejected a coalition with Mashaba’s new party, ActionSA.

Instead, Mashaba persuaded his ideological opposite, the radical left-wing fighters of Julius Malema for economic freedom, to ensure that the ANC was kept out. They voted in the DA without a formal coalition in place. This means that the main opposition will have to depend on its votes, for example to approve budgets.

“My agenda has always been to remove the ANC from power,” Mashaba told the Financial Times in an interview. “This is a criminal enterprise, not a political party. “

The exploit alerted President Cyril Ramaphosa: his party could be the loser of any future coalition if power outages, record unemployment and its inability to fight corruption give the ANC less than half of the vote in the next national elections.

But it could also risk political instability and the division of the opposition, as the DA has yet to formalize full coalitions to lead all Gauteng cities, where basic services such as electricity and water are falling apart.

President Cyril Ramaphosa faces many challenges ahead of the next national elections in South Africa © Luc Gnago / Reuters

The DA must work with other parties, said Mashaba, who became Johannesburg’s first mayor after the ANC in 2016, to quit the DA amid internal feuds. “For the DA to run [these city governments], they must either go to the ANC or come back to real life ”and work with other parties, he said.

From his home in an affluent Johannesburg suburb, a relaxed Mashaba said his old party had learned a lesson.

Mashaba said the idea of ​​working with the EFF to keep the ANC away from Gauteng municipal governments came to him in the shower on the morning of the vote to nominate Johannesburg’s mayor, after talks ended. evening with his old party ended without agreement. Although he has just called Mashaba a “political illiterate”, Malema’s party agreed.

If the unusual arrangement survives, ActionSA could use it as a model for exerting disproportionate national influence in 2024 – as a newcomer who has enjoyed continued support for the DA.

ActionSA was created a little over a year ago and in local elections it chose to target only large cities where the ANC was vulnerable. But it won 16% of the vote in Johannesburg and is already the fourth largest opposition party nationally.

“We are the only political party that attracts all South Africans,” and that attracts former DA and ANC voters, Mashaba said, highlighting the party’s performance in ANC strongholds such as the sprawling township of Soweto in Johannesburg.

Herman Mashaba addresses a crowd in Durban, South Africa
Herman Mashaba said his ActionSA party is setting up a campaign mechanism across South Africa for the country’s national elections in 2024 © Darren Stewart / Gallo Images via Getty Images

ActionSA believes in free markets, but also in social justice in a society that has become more unequal since apartheid, Mashaba said. Critics say his strategy for gaining support includes populism and stoking anti-immigrant sentiment.

Although Mashaba has said he condemns xenophobia, he has taken a tough line on immigration to a country where undocumented foreign nationals are often accused of felony.

“You can’t just open your borders and say everyone has to come in,” he said, adding that he was not apologizing “for” focusing on illegal immigration.

ActionSA is setting up a campaign mechanism across South Africa for national elections, Mashaba said. “In 2024, we will compete in the nine provinces. “

Although ActionSA has worked with Malema’s group to overthrow the ruling party of local governments, nationally “an ANC and EFF coalition would be the most disastrous for this country,” Mashaba said. .

For many of Mashaba’s critics, this underscores how the political marriages of convenience he has arranged will not last. This week, Ronald Lamola, the ANC justice minister, said the DA and EFF were like a couple who paid the bride price, where the groom’s family pays the bride’s family for her hand, but also insists that they are not married.

Meanwhile, Johannesburg’s new DA mayor Mpho Phalatse has yet to name key officials as the terms of cooperation with the other parties are still being negotiated.

Even so, that hasn’t stopped analysts from viewing the next election through a whole new political calculation – including the possibility of a Mashaba presidency.

South African presidents are elected by parliament, not directly, which will raise the stakes for Ramaphosa and the ANC if the party returns with less than half of the MPs after the next election, even though it remains the largest party .

Mashaba said it was “too early to say” whether South Africa’s top office could come into play. “I’m not even sure if I make myself available to be the presidential candidate” of ActionSA, which will elect the post through a competitive primary, he added.


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