There was justifiable amazement last week, when several councils, including three large Gauteng metropolitan councils, were put out of the reach of the African National Congress (ANC).
Words such as ‘earthquake’ and ‘collapse’ were used liberally across the print, online and broadcast media, while social media offered up brutal memes about the second coming of Jesus, amid jabs about ANC mayors who arrived in brigades of blaring blue-lights but left in Ubers.
The sobering reality of what had actually happened soon dawned, however. These were not well-crafted coalition governments, backed by firm commitments to a sustained period of voting stability and service delivery.
Instead, the outcome was the result of a strategic decision by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to dislodge the ANC.
While the EFF’s motives are not immediately apparent, they appear designed to ensure maximum disruption.
The immediate disruption was felt by the ANC, whose members woke up on the morning of the scheduled Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg votes believing they had the numbers, but then went to bed having lost both metros and with the full knowledge that others would follow.
The medium-term disruption will no doubt be felt by the Democratic Alliance (DA) and its new executive mayors, who are under no illusion about the political pitfalls ahead, despite their brave faces.
Effectively, the EFF delivered to the DA precisely what the party was seeking to avoid in Johannesburg: unstable minority governments, beholden to the EFF. What’s more, the EFF ensured that this instability was not confined to one large metro but spread far more widely for maximum effect.
What the longer-term disruption will be is far from clear.
There could be a time, however, when the EFF will realign and join forces with a faction of the ANC to have a maximumly disruptive effect on the ANC’s internal elections to the point where current distinctions between the EFF and the ANC become indiscernible.
Should that not be resisted, the prospects for a so-called reverse takeover and a reintegration of key EFF figures could improve materially.
So, are there any upsides to these latest developments?
For one, it will reinforce with citizens (at least those who are still engaged, with dwindling voter turnout a real concern) that there is an alternative to the ANC and that the world doesn’t end when the ANC is no longer governing – nor does Jesus return!
This is an important signal, as there were justifiable fears about whether a peaceful transfer of power was possible, especially after the July riots.
Equally, the aims of the disruptive EFF strategy may not be achieved.
It is possible, although not immediately likely, that there could be another political realignment, which results in closer cooperation between the DA and the ANC, which some commentators felt was the actual will of voters post the most recent elections.
What does this mean for much-needed service delivery?
Sadly, it looks precarious, to say the least.