Unlikely coalition may work: The Herald — Cull on Mondays

AT first glance there might be a justifiable temptation to describe the possibility of a coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay after the 2016 local government election between the DA and a still-to-be-formed political party backed by Numsa as preposterous, even laughable, such is the ideological gulf between the two entities. The possibility of such a coalition has been mooted by DA provincial leader Athol Trollip on the basis of a common commitment to good governance.

There is a need to recognise immediately that this is not a national coalition in which consensus on economic direction would be required. It is one at local government level in a specific municipality where decisions of that nature are not made and where, at least in the metro, it is common cause among all parties that the budget has to be pro-poor.

Coalitions and alliances do hold together, despite significant ideological differences. The tripartite alliance is an example of this as well as an example of how the glue that binds them together melts when critical issues, such as those around economic policy, are left to fester.

The critical point at which the glue in this case started to lose its tackiness was the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy embraced by former president Thabo Mbeki and then finance minister Trevor Manuel that was seen as an unacceptable ideological shift by Cosatu, among others. In the case of a coalition between the DA and a new party backed by Numsa, however, these would not be issues.

What then would be the glue that would bind them together apart from, as Trollip has stated, a commitment to good governance? One would suggest that that would be a joint commitment to turning around what has become a dysfunctional metro for the benefit of all the people who live in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Only those completely delusional would not admit that Nelson Mandela Bay is, in many respects, in a state of crisis. That state of affairs impacts on all the people who live here.

It impacts on business and it is instructive in this regard to consider a recent statement by Ford Motor Company of South Africa president Jeff Nemeth with regard to the electricity supply in Port Elizabeth. He stated that while the company did not have “significant issues” with power supply in Gauteng, it was a different story in the Eastern Cape, adding that the company had experienced 90 power outages in the past 12 months, a figure one suspects is probably higher after last week.

Two questions emerge from this. The first is what it would require for Ford to relocate its engine plant from Port Elizabeth to Gauteng and the second is what the ruling party in Nelson Mandela Bay is doing to address the legitimate challenges faced by Ford, a major employer in the metro.

Nemeth explained the difficulties Ford experienced, pointing out that the Port Elizabeth engine plant was essentially a manufacturing operation using high-speed equipment that required a specific shut-down process.

If this shutdown process was not followed and the power went out, even for five or 10 minutes, the plant lost “a couple of hours”, as technicians had to repair the equipment affected by the outage, adding that repair and spares costs were also high.

Nemeth said he tended “to put everything in the context of competitiveness.

“How can my operation be globally competitive, especially as it exports to 150 countries? If I don’t have a competitive product at a competitive cost level, then I won’t sell my vehicles. I’ll lose production and jobs here in South Africa.”

It impacts as well on the poor, those, for example, waiting for houses or land on which to build their homes or for the most basic of services such as the people of Walmer/Gqebera. It impacts on those marginalised by apartheid social engineering who are still waiting for the IPTS to take them efficiently and inexpensively from areas such as Cleary Park, although not even the most optimistic apparatchik would be willing to wager that the IPTS will be operational within the foreseeable future.

It is all but impossible to gainsay the fact that the ANC has not been able to demonstrate that it is capable of resolving the challenges facing the IPTS, any more than it has managed to provide land for housing for the Walmer community or resolve the challenges faced with regard to power supply by Ford and many other companies that employ significant numbers of people.

Election and by-election results over the past decade or more would suggest that the DA is unlikely to be able to win Nelson Mandela Bay outright. And, for that matter, given the inroads into its support base by new entrants into the electoral contest, neither is the ANC, while its track record is anything but impressive.

Coalitions would therefore appear to be all but inevitable post-2016 and that makes the most critical issue the kind of glue that will bind them together and whether it will hold. — Patrick Cull