C&B Notes

Transition of Power in South Africa?

As we noted last month, South Africa’s ANC party has experienced a series of defeats, which collectively represent the biggest challenge to the political rule it has maintained over the country since the end of apartheid. Herman Mashaba, a member of the rival Democratic Alliance and one of the country’s most successful black entrepreneurs, is taking the reins of Johannesburg as mayor with the goal of pragmatically improving the government’s effectiveness in South Africa’s largest city.

As a boy growing up under apartheid in the small town of Hammanskraal, north of the South African capital of Pretoria, Herman Mashaba would often drink water to stave off hunger pangs.  It was the start of a now famous rags-to-riches story, with Mr. Mashaba blazing a trail as one of the country’s most successful black entrepreneurs, the founder of international haircare company Black Like Me.  Now this extraordinary tale has taken another improbable turn. Last month the businessman, 57, was sworn in as the mayor of Johannesburg, which accounts for one-fifth of South Africa’s gross domestic product and is the country’s economic engine.  He is the first post-apartheid leader of Johannesburg not to hail from the African National Congress, which has dominated politics since 1994.

Instead, Mr. Mashaba represents the opposition Democratic Alliance, a party he joined only two years ago and which last year elected its first black leader, 36-year-old Mmusi Maimane. Mr. Mashaba’s victory in Johannesburg is the biggest test yet for the DA and could offer clues to how the party might one day govern South Africa.  “I always made it clear to the voters, please, don’t give us a blank check, looking at how political leadership in this country abused power.  Please give us terms,” Mr. Mashaba told the Financial Times in an interview.  A weak economy, allegations of corruption and scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma contributed to the ANC losing control of some big cities in August’s municipal elections.  Its share of the national vote fell by eight percentage points to 54 per cent, its lowest since the end of apartheid.  The ANC’s poor showing allowed the DA, which polled 27 per cent, to cobble together minority governments in Johannesburg and Tshwane.  It will now deliver basic services for 12m South Africans, overseeing budgets of almost 300bn rand ($21bn).

The DA is pouring in expertise from its Western Cape heartland, where it has governed Cape Town for a decade.  But it is still “uncharted territory”, said James Selfe, an MP and the party’s federal chairman.  While unemployment in Cape Town is 10 percentage points lower than Johannesburg and the Western Cape’s municipal government audits are the cleanest in the country, it will not necessarily be easy to replicate the DA’s success in Cape Town. Mr. Mashaba has outlined ambitious plans to tackle endemic joblessness of more than 30 per cent by doubling Johannesburg’s economic growth to 5 per cent.

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“Changes,” said a young DA voter among the illegally built scrap metal and breeze-block shacks on Hammanskraal’s outskirts, when asked why she chose the party over the ANC in August.  “Water and electricity, and then houses,” she added, declining to be named.  “People have been voting for the ANC for a long time.   They haven’t seen changes.”

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