The Constitutional Court’s (ConCourt’s) ruling last week that local government elections must go ahead by November 1 has energised opposition parties and civic society who see an opportunity to deliver a kill shot to the ANC.
The court ruling was in response to an application by the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) for the postponement of the elections on the grounds that free and fair elections could not be guaranteed due to the impact of Covid-19.
On Monday (September 6), the IEC issued a statement saying it was complying with the ConCourt ruling, but that a new deadline would have to be set for candidate nominations.
“It is clear [that] there are different interpretations amongst parties as to whether the order of the Constitutional Court permits the commission to reopen nominations,” says the IEC. “The commission has taken advice on the matter and is of the view that amending the timetable to reopen nominations is reasonably necessary in the circumstances.”
The ANC failed to register candidates in 93 of the country’s 257 municipalities.
This would be fatal to its local government election campaign should the IEC be blocked from reopening the candidate registration list.
There are currently 77 970 candidates, 911 of whom are independent, contesting more than 10 500 municipal seats across the country.
DA plans to fight IEC’s move
The DA says the ConCourt ruling gave the IEC a revised election timetable in the form of a five-day delay, which the IEC has used to reopen the candidate registration process.
It says there was a clear deadline for candidate registration, which the ANC missed.
The IEC cannot be used by the ruling party to do its bidding, and any attempt to reopen the candidate registration process will be fought, says the DA.
“It cannot now demand a second bite at the cherry. This has never been granted before when other parties have requested leeway on an IEC deadline, resulting in the NFP’s total exclusion from the 2016 local election, and the IFP’s partial exclusion from certain wards in the 2011 election.
“What we saw today [Monday, September 6] gives the ANC an advantage that other parties have never enjoyed,” says the DA.
The ANC last week said it had indicated its intention to lodge an application with the IEC to amend the electoral timetable after a number of parties had failed to register all their candidates for local government elections. This failure was due to a combination of technical challenges on the IEC’s online candidate registration system and the pressure placed on candidate selection by restrictions on meetings to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some opposition parties smell blood.
“The ANC is wounded and people are fed up with years of cadre deployment and corruption at local government level,” says James Lorimer, the DA’s shadow minister of mines. He says the timing to unseat dysfunctional ANC-led municipalities has never been better.
‘Change must start at local government level’
Newly-formed civic society, the Azanian Independent Community Movement (AICM), is fighting six municipalities in North West province on a platform of getting rid of corrupt local councillors and restoring social justice and accountability to local government. Ultimately, it wants to build a nationwide movement that will contest dozens of municipalities in future elections.
“Our message is simple: it’s a war on potholes,” says Mandla Mpempe, one of the founders of AICM, and head of the Centre for Good Governance and Social Justice.
“We want clean water, a sewage system that works, we want the lights to stay on and we want to get rid of corrupt councillors.
“What we are demanding is what municipalities are supposed to provide but are not. That must change. If we are to bring change to SA, it must start at the local government level.”
Anger on the streets
King Sibiya, head of the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, says the mood on the street in areas such as Soweto is angry, after years of deteriorating service delivery, and this will be preeminent in people’s minds come election day.
“We have a structural problem at local government level. We elect councillors and they very quickly step into line and see it as a job where they can draw a salary rather than represent the people who elected them.
“I know this because I have been there and it’s why I left local government. At some point when you challenge some budget spending item, you get pulled aside and told to toe the line,” says Sibiya.
“One of the projects we are working on is to train young people to be effective and accountable local government representatives.
“We have to get past this idea that one party or another is going to deliver freedom to us. It won’t happen. Let’s focus on those issues that we can influence, like electrical connections.”
He adds: “In Soweto, we have whole blocks being disconnected by Eskom even though people are paying their bills. This is blanket punishment, and there are old people who have had no power for a year.”
Melanie Veness of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business says it defies belief that the local municipality can find R9 million in funding for the Maritzburg United football club but not for the fixing essential infrastructure like roads and electricity.
“The [nearby] Edendale area was one of the worst hit by the recent looting,” she says. “The shopping mall and most local shops were trashed, which means people now have to travel to Pietermaritzburg and other areas for groceries. The effect on this community has been devastating.
“We need a lot more civic action to get rid of inept and broken local government.”
There are civic movements across the country that are challenging local municipalities through the courts, or through ratepayer revolts. The upcoming local government elections present an opportunity to unseat those who delivered the country to what Ratings Afrika says is a R51 billion hole that must be filled.
The extent of SA’s municipal problem? R51bn, says Ratings Afrika
North West residents appeal court decision handing service delivery back to municipality
However, not everyone is on board with the ConCourt’s ruling to compel the IEC to hold elections by November 1.Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) President Narius Moloto says the ConCourt “missed the critical point fundamental to the freeness and fairness of the elections, given the often almost impossible task of conducting political activities under these extreme restrictions, which have had a devastating effect on the poor and unemployed”.
“The implications of this judgment are that smaller political parties with limited budgets will not able to interact with their constituencies and their voters, due to the restrictive conditions prevailing at the time of the judgment, in particular the limit of 50 people for indoor and 100 people for outdoor political meetings.”
By implication, says Moloto, the Constitutional Court has endorsed the holding of local government elections under conditions that cannot be free and fair.
ActionSA, the party founded by former DA mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, welcomed the IEC’s judgment and says it “stands ready to deliver inclusive and prosperous change to the metros of Gauteng and the people of KwaZulu-Natal in eThekwini, Newcastle, and KwaDukuza.”
It also says the IEC must work to reopen the Voters’ Roll until the very last possible moment.
“A failure to properly reopen the Voters’ Roll before the local government elections would disenfranchise many South Africans, predominantly young South Africans who became recently eligible,” says ActionSA in a statement.