South Africa’s ANC buys up smaller parties to disrupt opposition 

By Ray Mwareya

Posted on Monday, 7 November 2022 15:38
African National Congress (ANC) president Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in Pretoria
African National Congress (ANC) president Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the launch of his party's election manifesto at Church Square in Pretoria, South Africa, September 27, 2021. Picture taken September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Opposition parties fear that the ANC government could destabilise their coalitions in the metros and the provinces by offering bribes to make smaller parties switch allegiance and that the ANC, with its grip on state machinery, could use that tactic in national elections in 2024 should its share of the vote in parliament fall below 50%. 

The turbulence rocking Johannesburg, the commercial capital, suggests the ANC is experimenting with bribes to buy the loyalty of some small parties and wrestle back South Africa’s metropolitan authorities ahead of 2024. 

Mpho Phalatse of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the first Black woman mayor of Johannesburg, was bitterly ousted on 29 September after councillors from smaller parties in the coalition government won a no-confidence vote against her with the firm support of the ANC.

The ANC is not a party to the coalition governing Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, as it lost its power in the national municipal elections. A day after Phalatse was ousted, the ANC bounced back into power in the city with a mayor from its ranks replacing Phalatse.

In September, in the run-up to the collapse of the DA-led coalition government in Johannesburg, accusations of bribes and ‘party purchasing’ surfaced.

Several councillors in the city opened a police case claiming that the ANC had dangled bribes worth ZAR 150 000 ($8200) to sway them to oust Phalatse.

R27m ($1.48m) bribe?

At the centre of the suspicions surrounding ‘party-purchases’ is the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), a utility owned by the city of Johannesburg.

Mayor Phalatse and the DA party accuse the JPC of paying ZAR 27m ($1.48m) to what they say is an ANC-linked front company registered in just two months. The shenanigans, she claims, happened in the weeks leading to her contested ouster.

It must be noted that the transaction was not subjected to any tender process, probity test, [or] service level agreement

“Days before [my] illegal ousting [as] the [Johannesburg city] duly elected multi-party government, I was informed by the member of mayoral committee, [Councillor] Nkululeko Mbundu, about information he had received from a whistle-blower,” said Phalatse, who became the Johannesburg mayor again last week, after the High Court ruled that the proceedings that ousted her in September were illegal.

“It must be noted that the transaction was not subjected to any tender process, probity test, [or] service level agreement, and [it was] a deviation process in terms of supply chain management processes.”

Phalatse believes that the R27m could have been part of a war chest for the ANC to win back power.  “Previously members of our [city] coalition [government] laid charges against members of [ANC councillors] for alleged bribery, so to suggest that these funds were meant for further nefarious means is not far-fetched,” she says.

Phalatse tells The Africa Report that as the returning executive mayor, she has opened a criminal case and deployed forensic investigators to stop the alleged payments.

Amos Phago, the ANC’s media relations coordinator, declined to deny or confirm these bribery and front company claims. He instead directed The Africa Report to speak to Pule Mabe, the ANC’s national spokesperson, who did not respond when we contacted him.

Sizeka Tshabalala, the acting CEO of the City of Joburg Property Company (JPC), however tells The Africa Report that the payment under probe was for a legitimate business purpose. The payment was not required to be subjected to any processes or further agreements as claimed by Johannesburg Mayor Phalatse.

“We have no knowledge of, or interest in, the political affiliation of the company to which we made the payment,” Tshabalala tells The Africa Report.

Coalitions and cash

The phenomenon of city coalition governments in South Africa, due to the ANC’s declining appeal with urban voters, has been spreading after the municipal elections last November.

Coalitions with disparate ideological goals and ever-shifting alliances, which are now in charge of South Africa’s major metropolitan areas of Johannesburg, Pretoria, East Rand, Nelson Mandela Bay, Durban, etcetera, have sowed chaos.

Some urban council sittings have been described as akin to ‘pub brawls’, with the ANC said to be plotting to collapse all opposition-led coalition metros in Gauteng, the wealthiest province.

…. the impulse is, firstly, if the ANC can’t rule, nor will anyone else.

Opponents are raising alarms that coalitions, which were expected to bring diverse democracy in the wake of the ANCs decline, could give the party a golden chance to extend its stay in office after the 2024 polls.

“The ANC is already preparing and rehearsing its strategy [in] the event [it loses] a parliamentary majority in the [2024] national elections. The rehearsals are in the municipalities where divide and rule is the active ingredient,” says Stephen Chan, a professor at London University.

Dr. Chan argues that “…. the impulse is, firstly, if the ANC can’t rule, nor will anyone else; secondly, should the ANC not have a parliamentary majority it will still be the largest party and will indeed dangle inducements to smaller parties to enter a coalition on ANC terms”.

He speculates that the ANC, knowing it may well lose its parliamentary majority in 2024, is covertly exploring coalition options, and Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, could be offered the position of South Africa’s vice-president.

Smaller parties tend to be swayed by positions they could score as kingmakers and whoever [from the big parties] can offer more will likely win their support

Makashule Gana, a former member of parliament in Gauteng, and former deputy federal chairperson for the DA agrees that the self-serving nature of some of the smaller parties making coalition governments could rescue a beleaguered ANC in 2024.

Gana is not surprised by allegations of bribery. He says: “Smaller parties tend to be swayed by positions they could score as kingmakers and whoever [from the big parties] can offer more will likely win their support. There will be incentives offered for those that will choose the ANC and at some level cash [is] offered.”

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