Local government will never be the same again

Smaller parties focused on local issues made their mark in areas where they were well organised.
Of the 26m South Africans registered to vote, less than half actually did. Image: GCIS

The era of liberation party politics may be coming to a close.

The big picture is this: the ANC polled 46% of the national vote in the last local government elections, followed by the DA with 21.8% and the EFF with 10.4%.

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The graph further down shows the ANC-controlled areas in green, but what it doesn’t show is how well some smaller parties and community forums did at the local level with just months, and in some cases weeks, to prepare for the election.

Eastern Free State

One of these is the Setsoto Service Delivery Forum (SSDF), which won eight seats in three wards in the Eastern Free State. The ANC squeezed by with a majority 17 seats on the same wards, though SSDF spokesperson Selloane Lephoi reckons the forum is just a by-election away from dethroning the ANC forever from its long and fruitless rule in the Eastern Free State.

Smaller opposition parties won 16 seats against the ANC’s 17.

“Last time the ANC got 21 seats in this area. This time it is 17. We are suspicious of the results, particularly in those areas where we weren’t fully resourced or vigilant about minute polling details. Those areas where we were vigilant, we won. There’s no question in our opinion that theft went on in this election.”

The SSDF fought a vigorous campaign focused on local issues – potholes, corrupt tendering, unrepaired water pipes, arrogant ANC councillors deployed for party affiliations rather than any particular talent for administration, and a desire to see business investment return to the area.

“This is the start of something,” says Lephoi. “We are very proud of our result, considering we only had a few months to prepare for this, but we are known entities in this community, unlike the ANC councillors who are put into positions of management because they [are] loyal to the party big-wigs.

“We are now in a position to watch them like hawks and get them out of public service.”

North West

Like the SSDF in the Eastern Free State, the Azanian Independent Community Movement (AICM) fought an energetic campaign in North West province based on reining in corruption and cronyism, and came away with eight seats in five municipalities. AICM coordinator Mandla Mpempe, like Lephoi, believes the election was anything but free and fair in some of the wards.

He has complained to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) of bias among IEC officials towards the ANC – complaints that were dismissed as being without merit.

AICM is nevertheless delighted that it secured eight seats in ANC strongholds.

“The face of local government will never be the same again,” says Mpempe.

“We have only just begun our journey to hold the crooked and corrupt municipal officials to account and chase them out of office. Our message to the ANC officials is their time is up. We are here for one reason only – to restore accountability and good governance to local government.”

And, like the SSDF, AICM is now setting up an office and preparing for much bigger things. AICM’s success was achieved with virtually no financial support and only weeks of preparation. “Imagine what we could do with more time to organise, and more funds – which we will get,” says Mpempe.

Makana, Eastern Cape

The Makana Citizens Front (MCF) won five seats on the Makana Council (Grahamstown), giving it the same number of seats as the DA and cutting the ANC’s majority to less than 1%.

“If you put one lion into a council of chickens, the chickens will be terrified. The people of Makana have put five lions into Makana Council,” says MCF management committee chair Lungile Mxube.

“We have a highly qualified, diverse slate of candidates. As a civic organisation with a campaign less than five months old and minimal funding, we have shown what people power can do. Despite ANC dirty tricks, we almost pushed them out of office.

“We now focus our attention on bringing government to the community and calling government to account. Our biggest promise was a different way of governing that involves the whole community and we will demonstrate that in practice from opposition.”

ANC wake-up call

It was the worst election for the ANC since it swept to power in 1994 as the party of liberation.

The DA has drawn comfort from the fact that the ANC’s overall support has dropped below 50% and the EFF, with its race baiting and divisive politics, did not gain significantly.

While the ruling party traditionally fares worse in local government than national elections, there are some who believe the ANC might not recover from this.

It now appears that all metros (with the exception of East London/Buffalo City) are lost to the ANC, and the big shock in this latest result was the loss of eThekwini (Durban), a traditional ANC stronghold. This time it polled just 42% and will have to cobble together a coalition to retain control.

The blame game has started, with the ANC’s equivocal response to the July riots and looting, the devastating economic effects of the Covid lockdowns and years of administrative entropy being pointed to as sources of the ruling party’s dismal result.

ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe says the low voter turnout, especially in traditional ANC strongholds, communicates a clear message: “The people are disappointed in the ANC with the slow progress in fixing local government, in ensuring quality and consistent basic services, in tackling corruption and greed. People are happy with the renewal of the ANC and therefore, our nation’s mission in building a better life for all.”

Midvaal and Emfuleni, Gauteng

The DA won outright control again in Midvaal in Gauteng, where 34 year-old Mayor Bongani Baloyi built a reputation for running a clean ship (six clean audits) and cash reserves of more than R2 billion.

That success has not gone unnoticed in neighbouring Emfuleni, generally reckoned to be one of the worst run municipalities in Gauteng.

The ANC lost outright control, with its share of the vote dropping to 38% (55.8% in 2016), while the DA increased its share to 24% (24.6%) and the EFF 14% (12.2%). The Freedom Front Plus also picked up a significant number of votes.

Emfuleni has had three mayors since 2016 and three municipal managers, and has been a basket case of misgovernance, with unpaid Eskom bills, sewage leaking onto the streets and almost complete breakdown of basic services.

Baloyi, who is exiting the Midvaal mayorship, says the Midvaal success undoubtedly had an impact on the ANC’s declining support in neighbouring Emfuleni. “It’s the best exit I can ever dream of. I think it is as a result of the hard work during the [last four-year] term and endeavouring to fulfil the promises we made to our community in 2016.

“Clearly the consistent, reliable delivery of service, good governance, transparency and ethical leadership enabled us to build a stronger bond and trust with our community,” says Baloyi.

“And that is why we were elected with an increased majority. I think [the declining ANC support in Emfuleni] is a combination of lack of service delivery, voter apathy and Midvaal’s success.”

uMngeni, KwaZulu-Natal

The DA also won control of uMngeni municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, the first time it has secured a majority in a local council in the province.

The DA won 13 seats to the ANC’s 10.

Incoming Mayor Chris Pappas, a fluent Zulu speaker, has promised to fix the council and throw open the area’s doors to business. Municipal workers who didn’t do their jobs “better not be at work when the DA comes to the office”, he said, according to Times Live.

Source: IEC

Joburg, Gauteng

Former Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA polled almost the same as Freedom Front Plus at 2.36%, a surprisingly strong showing given it only contested a handful of metros.

Action SA has become a potential kingmaker in metros where it did well, but has sworn not to enter any coalition with the ANC.

“ActionSA contested six municipalities with the principle that we would not be an opposition party. In all six of these municipalities, the ANC has been pulled under 50% and, in three municipalities the ANC has been pulled under 40%, leaving coalitions wide open,” says Mashaba in a post-election analysis of the party’s performance.

Further analysis

Inkatha Freedom Party also polled well at 5.7% nationally, a much better performance for a party that seemed destined for irrelevance just a few years ago.

Of the 26.1 million South Africans registered to vote, slightly less than half of that actually turned out, with the ANC winning a majority in 161 of the 213 municipalities contested. The DA won a majority in 13 and the IFP in 10 municipalities.

The ANC’s slippage in the major metro areas continues.

It polled 33.6% in Johannesburg, against the DA’s 26.5% and ActionSA’s 16%.

The only municipality in Gauteng the ANC managed to win outright was Lesedi, and even here the percentage drop in support is alarming – from 62% in 2016 to barely over 50% this time around.

Even more alarming was the ANC’s extraordinary drop in support in Maluti-a-Phofung in the Free State, where it polled 39% (down from 67% in 2016).

The ANC was dealt a crippling blow in the area by a group of former ANC members who blew the whistle on corruption and now contest the area as MAP16 – which won 20 seats in the municipality, making it the kingmaker in coalition negotiations now underway.

The DA also out-polled the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay, with 39.9% against the ANC’s 39.4% and the EFF’s 6.4%.

In Tshwane, the ANC out-polled the DA 34.3% to 32.3%, with the EFF coming in at 10.6%.

In Ekurhuleni, the ANC won 38.2% against the DA’s 28.7% and the EFF’s 13.6%.

The ANC won just 18% of the vote in Cape Town against the DA’s 60%. It looks like the city is lost forever to the party of liberation.

What remains to be decided is which party ends up running these hung metros once coalition negotiations are formalised.

In the remaining 66 municipalities, no party achieved an outright majority. As this article is being written, negotiations between political foes are hammering out the finer details over who gets to rule where and at what cost.

In the EFF’s case, that cost is delivering on expropriation without compensation (EWC) within six months. Various polls show there’s not much enthusiasm for EWC.

But for smaller parties campaigning on local issues, the focus is on fixing the streets and sewage pipes outside the place where you live. And getting jobs and businesses back into the locality.

It already seems to be having an effect: Lephoi points out that the election shock of an emergent new force in the Eastern Free State motivated the local municipality to start doing what it should have been doing years ago – clean the streets.

“They know we’re coming for them,” she says.

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A voting process cannot be deemed free and fair if people have to stand in lines for more than 4 hours in some places. The IEC intimidates and handicaps people who have things to do and lives to live. The election was not an unanticipated national disaster, it is a regular event which they should have been prepared for. They have a complete list of registered voters who have no alternative place to vote. How is it possible that the IEC is unprepared and short of staff and equipment to facilitate this simple process?

When people are already despondent and disheartened about democracy, why will they waste a holiday by sitting around at an IEC station?

Maybe we should forget the IEC and contract Shoprite, Checkers, Spar, and Woolworths to facilitate the voting process. If they are able to facilitate secure and reliable card payments without errors and delays, they will be able to facilitate a voting process without problems.

This country has all the solutions, but we choose to embrace incompetence and frustrate active people.

End of comments.

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