Constitutional crisis looms in Western Cape

Just as tanks roll into Bangkok as part of a coup d’etat in Thailand, the ANC is seeking to change the system of local government in Cape Town with the apparent intention of removing the Democratic Alliance from power in the city and replacing its power structure with an executive committee in which the ANC and its partner, the Independent Democrats, would be in the majority.

The DA rose to power through a coalition put together with the assistance of the African Christian Democratic Party and other minority parties after the recent local government elections countrywide.  The DA won the single most number of seats in the election with the ANC coming second and the ID coming third.  There has been tension in the Cape Town city government since the DA’s success in seizing power from the ANC and this tension has now risen to a new high.

Provincial Minister for Local Government, Richard Dyantyi is seeking to effect this change in the governing structure of the Cape Town city government using the provisions of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act to force a change in the executive structure of the local government in that city to effectively hand power to the ANC and ID without first going through an electoral process.  The Cape Town city mayor, Helen Zille has sworn to resist the proposed changes if it means the matter must be taken to the Constitutional Court.

I can imagine that one of the key questions will be whether the provincial government may use such a legislative measure to interfere in the consequences of an election to shift the balance of power in a region?  This, of course, assumes that the legislation concerned permits such an initiative in the first place.  In other words, is this an abuse of power by the provincial government.

One consequence of a decision in favour of the provincial government is that elections will become less valuable as determining factors of political power if a political authority retains the ability to change the result to suit its own needs after the fact.  While it may be the case that the current coalition does not represent a clear majority of the voters in Cape Town, the system that allocates seats in the mayoral committee has worked to the benefit of the ruling coalition, led by the official opposition in the national government.  If the ANC is permitted to change the playing field then it will effectively be given carte blanche to change the rules that underpin our electoral system.  Surely that is power no party should enjoy?

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