South Africa

High noon in Tlokwe, Take One

By G Nicolson & T Lekgowa 7 August 2013

Twenty-one wards will be contested in by-elections across five provinces today, but one will dominate the media's attention. The drama in Tlokwe has made it national news. The position of mayor has been swapping hands between the DA and ANC like a hot potato as the municipality played out its own mini drama. Today, voters in Tlokwe’s ward 9 get to choose. They do so in a climate of alleged vote buying and violence. By GREG NICOLSON & THAPELO LEKGOWA.

Let’s stick to what we know. The Tlokwe local municipality has embarrassed the ANC and encouraged the DA. The ANC’s mayor, Maphetle Maphetle, who is accused of corruption, was twice given the boot with the help of 14 ANC councillors. In court, the ANC fought the appointment of DA mayor Annette Combrink, but was eventually forced to accept the court’s decision and tell Maphetle to get out of the office he had refused to vacate. During the drama, ANC leaders appeared one after the other in Tlokwe, deployed to try to fix the party’s internal ructions and tell voters they actually give a damn.

Communist Party General Secretary and ANC NEC member Blade Nzimande was there on Sunday for the SACP’s birthday. “The SACP calls upon all ANC members and SACP cadres, including Cosatu members to ensure that we mobilise the people of Tlokwe to vote for the ANC overwhelming[ly], so that we can rightly reclaim this municipality from the party of the baases and madams!” he told the crowd. The ANC clearly want Tlokwe back, claiming its now expelled 14 councillors who voted against the party aimed to bring “shame and embarrassment to the organisation”.

But what is the party prepared to do to take Tlokwe’s ward 9, which votes in a by-election today? Turns out, a lot.

On Monday, the DA accused the ANC of trying to buy votes with food parcels. Social Development minister Bathabile Dlamini has led “social relief interventions” to reduce the impact of poverty in the area. In ward 9, 400 food parcels were delivered on the eve of the vote. “This amounts to one food parcel for 10 voters in the ward, all bought with public money. This is a continuation of last week’s abuse of state resources and government officials by the ANC in their desperate campaigning in ward 9,” said Chris Hattingh, DA leader in North West. “The Minister is trying to justify blowing public money on the ANC’s campaign by calling it a poverty relief intervention. This is indicative of the levels to which the ANC will stoop in their abuse of state resources for political gain.”

SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) regional secretary James Gadinabokao also slammed the intervention. “Why does the minister choose to go to ward 9, where by-elections will be held, of all the poverty-stricken areas in Tlokwe?” he asked. “This is a blatant abuse of state resources to campaign for votes.” Tlokwe has 19,000 children suffering from malnutrition and 17,000 child-headed households Dlamini said, to justify the intervention. Hattingh responded: “If these statistics were remotely accurate and trustworthy [it] would almost have been criminal not to declare a state of emergency in the municipality.”

Department of Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant did not want to speak on political matters, but said Dlamini learnt of the situation in Tlokwe from community members after a recent visit to the area, one of many she has made across the country since 2011. It is up to the department to dialogue with communities and identify vulnerable and poor families, said Oliphant. Complaints concerning social workers and children with malnutrition had come from the area and the minister decided to visit, tour the social development facilities and consult the community. “We have been through Tlokwe long before Tlokwe happened,” said Oliphant.

In May, Dlamini announced a drive to identify child-headed households and provide services, and Oliphant stressed that the minister has had a demanding schedule, regularly visiting communities across the country. The minister refuted claims she was trying to use her position to help the ANC in the by-election.

Colin, from ward 9, told Daily Maverick that residents are questioning whether it was only they, or the whole of Tlokwe who received the food parcels. They were wondering whether it was an election once off or if the deliveries would continue.

“We accept the food because we need it but it does not mean we will vote ANC. Gone are those days,” said Colin.

Campaigning ahead of the vote has not been smooth. There are four main contenders for ward 9 – ANC, DA, COPE and independent candidate Khotso Ratikoane. The independent candidate is proving a challenge to both the ANC and DA, which are both desperate for the ward. Ratikoane is well known to people on the ground and stood for election after being encouraged by the community. Lekgobo Mafoko, a resident and former spokesperson for a sub-regional task team in the area, said he is trusted.

Ratikoane was, until recently, the ANC’s branch chairman and is aligned to the expelled councillors. Three of his supporters, a man and two women, were allegedly stabbed on Saturday by attackers in ANC t-shirts. Both Mafoko and Ratikoane made the allegation, but Daily Maverick could not get independent verification before deadline.

“I am confident that I will win,” said Ratikoane over the phone on Tuesday evening. “The stunts pulled by the ANC in the ward are worrying … ANC councillors were registering community members in ward 9 for food parcels and blankets. Why now? Has the ANC not been noticing that people in this ward are suffering and why do it as elections approach? Are they trying to buy votes?” the candidate questioned. “I received death threats everyday and I am not surprised my supporters were stabbed, when my phone rings I get threats and some people have the audacity to threaten me physically.”

Ratikoane said he hopes the vote is fair but had heard that during special voting on Tuesday someone not on the voters’ roll was able to cast a ballot. “Tomorrow it might be worse, you never know. We will see then but a lot of non-registered voters might just vote. If the IEC allowed a non-registered voter to vote today then they are not fair … The ANC volunteers are still campaigning even though you cannot campaign 24 hours before elections. The IEC is aware of this and doing nothing. Now, that is being biased and not fair. Will the elections be?”

Whether or not today’s vote provides a real indicator of what will happen in 2014, the first step in the resolution of Tlokwe’s drama will provide enormous encouragement to the winner, and possible direction for the rest of seats that were vacated when the rebelling ANC councillors were expelled by the ANC. For the ANC, it is an extremely dangerous problem that needs to be nipped in the bud; Tlokwe could be start of a contagion that would be difficult to contain. For the DA and other opposition parties it could be shape of things to come. This North West city may just provide all of that. DM

Photo: Former Tlokwe mayor Maphetle Maphetle is seen at the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, 23 July 2013. The African National Congress has filed court papers in a bid to nullify a meeting that saw Democratic Alliance councillor Annette Combrink voted in as mayor.The ANC did not recognise Combrink as mayor and said that Maphetle still held the post. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA


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