Al Jama-ah’s Thapelo Amad became the City of Joburg’s youngest leader after he was sworn in this week through a coalition arrangement with the ANC and EFF. A few hours after he was affirmed as the mayor of South Africa’s economic hub, Amad was captured by cameramen from various media outlets wearing a Palestinian scarf over his suit.
The wearing of this scarf was obviously a political statement, made by a person who was elected to occupy the biggest position in the City of Joburg. Ultimately, this individual should aim to unite the people of the city, behind the common goal of service delivery.
It is no secret that there have been rising political tensions between the state of Israel and Palestine for many years, against a number of efforts to ensure lasting peace and stability in the Middle East and north Africa. Sadly, South Africa has not played an active role in restoring peace and stability between Israel and Palestine – not for the last decade.
It is widely known that Amad was at the forefront of a campaign to rename Sandton Drive Leila Khaled Drive. Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and is famously known for hijacking an aeroplane, putting countless innocent lives at risk. Now, mayor Amad wants to spend South African taxpayers’ money on renaming a street after her.
Amad and his coalition partners should rather use the city’s time and money on rendering quality service delivery to five million residents rather than on the political aspirations of the people of Palestine. It is important to remind Amad that he is representing the people of Johannesburg, not anyone outside of that city. The focus, therefore, should be bread-and-butter issues, from access to water, electricity, housing and roads, to improving education and public transport.
The focus on foreign affairs is a competence of the national government and rests singularly with the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, and it is the minister and her team who deal with those issues. Local councillors and mayors should only concern themselves with running an efficient local government for all the people they represent. The people of Johannesburg are desperate for service delivery, nothing else.
It is absolutely clear that a coalition arrangement works against the electorate because the one who leads in this arrangement is not the one who was popular and elected by the majority. It is absurd to be led by the minority because he or she will represent the minority ideals, which places the interests of the majority at risk. This is no different to giving a mad person an axe – he will chop everybody and everything he comes across. It is very important to place positions of power in the hands of people who will be responsible when using it.
I was also shocked to hear that the new mayor, Amad, is talking about processing a R2 billion loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). This is a strange undertaking, as the idea was rejected even by most opposition parties late last year. Has he not tried any other means of securing capital in his first week in office? This would be a move that even at the height of incompetence the ANC had originally rejected last year. Amad is plunging the City of Joburg into debt in his first week. And if no one stops him, it will be more than R2 billion by the time he leaves office.
This coalition government is fast becoming another slap in the face of the electorate. The ANC’s politicking in Gauteng has given minority parties, which secured marginal votes, the huge responsibility of presiding over powerful political offices that the electorate did not choose them for.
Coalitions in South Africa became a popular form of government following the 2016 local government elections, as a way to minimise the ANC’s electoral dominance. It was never about improving people’s livelihoods and lives.
Coalitions in South Africa have been characteristically defined by political egos and hurting certain political majorities as opposed to building a better society. While coalition governments may have worked temporarily for smaller political parties in the past, it has always led to greater instability, and decreasing voter confidence in a system that forces people to be governed by the political parties that were never supported by the majority at the ballot station.
When political parties come into positions of power they implement their manifesto during their time in government. The manifesto, which was used during campaign season, offers voters the political views of that particular party. This means that the minority political party in power now, given any opportunity, will not hesitate to implement its political aspirations while in government. Unfortunately, this means that taxpayers’ money is now being used to fund policies which the majority did not vote for at all.
Politicians in South Africa have done this to us many times – they seek political relevance by campaigning against Israel, while claiming to defend Palestine when in actual fact they are not doing that, they are seeking ways to boost their popularity and relevance in the political landscape. If they really wanted to protect Palestinians, our politicians would have at least tried to hold peaceful dialogues between both territories. But this has never been the case. It’s just cheap political advertising.
South Africa should rather establish itself as an ambassador of unity and freedom in our world. We should occupy the position of both a peace and pathfinder when it comes to the Israel and Palestine issue. We are respected for our peaceful transition from apartheid to a democratic state and we should offer this insight to other nations, by helping them create safe spaces for dialogue between warring sides – with the aim to assist others with finding a long-lasting solution to their own conflict.
Those occupying government positions must also remember that their decisions (be it on foreign policy or international relations) must be made based on the values of our Constitution. Minority political parties simply cannot be allowed to use taxpayers’ money in our big cities as a means to promote individual foreign policy positions. Mayor Amad, focus on Johannesburg please, not Palestine.