The enormous scale of the political changes sweeping across SA will sink in only once the real business of governing begins in the three prized metros snatched from the ANC in the dramatic finish to the 2016 local government elections.
Once a one-province party, the DA now governs half SA’s metros across three provinces: Tshwane and Johannesburg in Gauteng, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape and Cape Town in the Western Cape.
In a heated meeting of the Johannesburg city council on Monday, the DA’s Herman Mashaba was crowned mayor of the city, with a budget of R54.8bn, underlining the ANC’s steep decline in support in the local polls.
Mashaba, a businessman who founded hair product company Black Like Me, was elected three days after the DA’s Solly Msimanga took charge in Tshwane and after the party’s Athol Trollip was sworn in as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay.
It was all made possible for the official opposition through a decision by the EFF to vote with the party for key posts in the metros rather than entering into a formal coalition with it.
The announcement by the EFF leadership last week left the ANC reeling.
The EFF began talks with the ANC and the DA shortly after the election, placing the conditions under which it would enter into a coalition on the table for both parties to chew over.
For the ANC, the EFF’s list of demands was long and varied. It included nationalising the mines and banks, putting in place policies of land expropriation without compensation and free education, halting any nuclear deal with Russia, dropping "Die Stem" from the national anthem and launching a judicial inquiry into the dealings of the Gupta family. A key demand was for the ANC to recall its president, Jacob Zuma, as head of state. EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema said his party did not have the authority to ask the ANC to remove Zuma as party president, but he had to relinquish his post as head of state.
The ANC balked.
According to Malema, it chose its president over governing metros.
Of the DA, the EFF made similar demands, but within the ambit of what could be delivered by a party that was not in the driving seat of government — which included public support for its policies on nationalisation and land.
The DA’s response was unsatisfactory to the EFF leadership, which then opted to steer clear of formalised coalitions and instead "cooperate" with opposition parties in all hung municipalities to ensure that the ANC did not govern them.
The DA entered into a formal coalition with four smaller political parties: the Congress of the People, the United Democratic Movement, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Front Plus.
This, along with the undertaking from the EFF to vote with opposition parties against the ANC, secured the DA’s position in the three metros.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane hailed the political moment, which is set to accelerate the realignment of politics in the country, as historic.
But what does the EFF’s stance mean for actual governing?
Though the DA was given the 50%-plus- one majority to elect its mayors, speakers and chief whips into their posts, no such support from the EFF is guaranteed in the day-to-day running of the metros and in taking critical decisions such as passing budgets — for which a majority vote is also required.
A failure by a municipality to pass its budget could eventually lead to it being placed under administration by the provincial government and, after three months, a re-run of elections.
Malema says that while his party will not allow the ANC to return to governance by stealth in this manner, he will not agree to budgets that are not pro-poor and do not directly meet the needs of the EFF’s constituency. He describes a new era of politics by "consensus", a return to the style of politics where debate over benefits to the people carries more weight than anything else and where parties will have to compromise, even at the cost of their own constituencies, for the greater good.
This is set to pose a challenge for the DA, which has long fought to retain its "core", its generally wealthier white, Indian and coloured base. A long-standing critique of the party’s style of governance in the City of Cape Town is that it prioritised the suburbs over development in the townships.
The EFF’s proposition will be a serious hurdle for the DA, should it slip into this default position in the metros it governs outside of the Western Cape.
The outcome of the 2016 election marked a tectonic shift away from the movement of liberation, the ANC, both psychologically and politically. It has also ushered in a new dawn in governance.