Sometimes politicians say things that confirm what we know about them. It may be a throwaway remark or a pattern of language, but once people have been in the public eye for long enough, they will utter something that confirms what we have always thought.

For example, Julius Malema said at a rally a few years ago that he was not calling for the ‘slaughter of white people … at least for now’, confirming in the minds of many people that he is a potential genocidaire.

Or consider the statement addressed to the opposition benches by Jacob Zuma in Parliament in 2012, while he was President, that political minorities had fewer rights than political majorities in a democracy, revealing a frightening ignorance (or misunderstanding, if we are being generous) about how a modern liberal democracy works. Given the trail of destruction the former President (often aided and abetted by his political party) left in many of our democratic institutions, this statement revealed what Zuma thought of modern democracy.

Something similar  

We saw something similar after the local government elections in November last year. The way many politicians spoke about the country’s municipalities – as if they were baubles to be passed around, rather than the coalface of service delivery – showed what they really think about South Africa and its voters.

The number of hung councils in South Africa was unprecedented after last year’s poll, with nearly one third of municipalities failing to see one party emerging with a majority. Gauteng was no exception, with no party winning a majority in any of the three metros – Tshwane, Johannesburg, or Ekurhuleni. This led to Julius Malema making a bizarre proposal that his party would govern Tshwane, the ANC would be in charge of Ekurhuleni, while ActionSA would be in power in Johannesburg.

Malema made it clear that coalitions would not govern in these municipalities. At the time he was quoted as saying: ‘We are very simple – we give Mashaba (ActionSA) Joburg, ANC takes Ekurhuleni, we take Tshwane … we won’t co-govern … we all govern alone, one of us is your opposition at any given council.’

Thankfully this situation did not come to pass and all three metros are now governed by DA-led coalitions, with varying levels of stability.

But Malema was not the only South African politician to act as if he believed that municipalities were like lucky packets to be handed out at a children’s party.

Coalitions in Northern Cape

Gayton McKenzie, the leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), said something similar following his party’s relatively good showing in the November election. The party came to an agreement with the ANC to govern in the Northern Cape. 

Following negotiations with the ANC, McKenzie said: ‘We were fighting between Hantam and Karoo Hoogland municipalities. We then suggested for the ANC to control Hantam and we said we’ll vote with you and not interfere but then give PA their own municipality (Karoo Hoogland) so we can do what we promised our people we would do.’

This despite the PA winning only two seats on the 11-seat Karoo Hoogland municipal council (the ANC won five seats, meaning that the two parties had a fairly comfortable majority on the town council). A situation where a party that has gained fewer than one-in-five council seats gets the opportunity to govern a municipality without interference (thanks to the support of a larger, silent partner) is, in fact, an affront to democracy and the fact that the PA and the ANC went into this arrangement is extremely revealing of the two parties.

McKenzie and his party’s slip were exposed again recently when he said he would take the PA out of two coalitions it had with the DA in the Western Cape. This was in order to punish the latter, following statements allegedly made by the DA’s interim leader in the Western Cape, Tertuis Simmers, about McKenzie after his election as a district mayor in the Northern Cape.

Instead of resolving personal issues and ensuring that coalitions work for the residents of the two municipalities, McKenzie and the PA have rather elected to resolve a personal issue by sabotaging their agreement with the DA.

The statements above are incredibly revealing of how some politicians consider governance of our towns, and by extension our provinces and the country.


Municipalities do not belong to political parties; they belong to the residents of those places. And municipalities are not ‘given’ to a political party to govern, but rather are held in trust by the municipal (or provincial or national) government for the people who live there.

At the same time, it is clear that the sentiments expressed by Malema and McKenzie are not rare among many of our politicians. Although few politicians speak quite so brazenly about being ‘given’ municipalities as the respective leaders of the PA and the EFF, it is clear that many of our politicians consider the places where they govern – from municipalities and upward – to be their personal property to do with as they wish.

Consider the case of Zandile Gumede, the former mayor of eThekwini, who received millions in kickbacks in her time as head of the city. It would not be surprising if she considered the municipality’s assets ‘hers’ in some way and needed to cash in while she had access to the city’s coffers. And there is another mayor from further down the coast, Zukiswa Ncitha, the erstwhile boss of Buffalo City, who has also been fingered in corruption around Nelson Mandela’s funeral. These are but two examples of corruption by those who have been tasked with governing municipalities. Compiling a more comprehensive list would turn this article into a tome rivalling the Lord of the Rings (with all of its appendices and The Hobbit included in one edition).

One must wonder if this is the real reason people like Malema and McKenzie want to be ‘given’ municipalities, rather than having any real sense of their civic duty to fix towns around South Africa for the benefit of their residents. 

I think we all know the answer to that.

[Photo: (Paul Botes/M&G)]


Marius Roodt is currently deputy editor of the Daily Friend and also consults on IRR campaigns. This is his second stint at the Institute, having returned after spells working at the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a Johannesburg-based management consultancy. He has also previously worked as a journalist, an analyst for a number of foreign governments, and spent most of 2005 and 2006 driving a scooter around London. Roodt holds an honours degree from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand.