25/08/2017 10:37 SAST | Updated 25/08/2017 11:54 SAST

Coalition In Crisis: Why Would The General Risk The NMB Coalition?

The UDM's man in the DA-led coalition in Port Elizabeth seems to have gone rogue. Why would Bantu Holomisa defend him?

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(L-R) Bantu Holomisa (President of United Democratic Movement), Mmusi Maimane (DA leader) and Julius Malema (President of the Economic Freedom Fighters) address the public in Cape Town. Photo by Gallo Images / Brenton Geach

There is a better than ever chance that Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), will take his party out of the coalition government of the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality.

Holomisa has threatened the Democratic Alliance-led coalition that he will instruct the UDM's two councillors to walk out on the DA, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Congress of the People (Cope) and the Patriotic Alliance if ousted UDM deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani is not reinstated by Monday.

The tale of Bobani seems to be one mired in allegations of corruption, dirty money, intimidation and obstruction and that the vote of no confidence in him, passed on Thursday is seen to have been the last resort. Atholl Trollip, the mayor in Port Elizabeth, has over the last eight months made numerous calls to the coalition leadership to try and convince them to remove Bobani, to no avail.

According to a letter by DA leader Mmusi Maimane, sent to Holomisa late on Thursday night, Bobani has set himself up as part of the opposition, often voting with the African National Congress (ANC) and openly talking about confidential conversations and meetings. It got so bad that he was earlier removed as the mayoral committee member for public health. There is now an official investigation by auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers into Bobani's dealings while in office, with criminal charges against him being a distinct possibility.

The root of Bobani's insurrection allegedly is his involvement in the ANC's surprise victory in the hotly-contested ward 30 in the metro. The UDM took it from the ANC during a by-election in 2015, but then astonishingly surrendered it again during last year's municipal election. Some election-watchers said the amount of money that floated around in the run-up to the election and the funds the ANC pumped into their campaign raised a number of red flags, including questions about Bobani's involvement in the UDM's defeat.

Holomisa -- or "the general", as some refer to him -- is known as an honest grafter, a principled politician not easily swayed by the crosswinds of politics and expediency. He led the charge to enable the recent secret ballot in the motion of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma and has been consistent in his calls for Zuma to step down. But it's unclear why he would so steadfastly continue to support a politician who is openly defying the terms of the coalition agreement between his party and their coalition partners. Even if all the allegations about Bobani, money and corruption aren't true, surely the fact that he is voting alongside the ANC is enough for Holomisa to remove him?

Bobani seems to be a law unto himself in the UDM, with frustration in the party's regional leadership that he is allowed to come and go and do as he pleases also simmering. And Holomisa's behaviour in this instance looks to be at odds with his calls for Zuma to vacate his office because of allegations of corruption and state capture.

The DA is preparing for Holomisa to back up his threats and walk out of the city's government, which would leave a hung Council: 57 DA councillors plus 1 each from the ACDP, Cope and the Patriotic Alliance versus 58 from the ANC and two UDM seats. Sixty plays sixty.

The survival of the governing coalitions in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane is vital to gauge whether our system is able to withstand the shocks of short-term politics. Helen Zille's grand coalition in Cape Town in 2006 was a success because of the sheer force of her personality and a determination to make it work. But that won't always be the way to ensure survival. If coalitions are going to realign our politics, there needs to be a basic foundation of principles and rules of engagement from which to build partnerships.

Holomisa understands this. Which begs the question: why risk the coalition?