South Africa

Analysis: By-elections in Tlokwe, another round of boxing and more blood-letting

By Paul Berkowitz 19 September 2013

On Wednesday, Tlokwe residents in three wards went to the polls in the latest round of municipal by-elections. The ANC faced challenges from two strong independent candidates in two of the wards and a confident DA in the third. The party did win two of the three wards, resulting in a hung council. Tlokwe has become an increasingly messy backdrop for all kinds of political shenanigans, and the fight for the municipality is far from over. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

Tlokwe has been a rich source of news for the past few months. Control of the municipality has swung this way and that between the ANC and a coalition of opposition parties. At the moment, the opposition has control of the council with 22 seats to the ANC’s 21. The DA leads the coalition with 19 seats, the FF+ has two seats and COPE has one.

There are a further nine wards seats that will be decided through the by-elections, and the ANC only needs six of these to retain its majority in the full council (i.e. 27 seats out of 52). All nine wards were supposed to be decided in Wednesday’s by-elections, but a last-minute order by the Electoral Court on Tuesday night resulted in the postponement of six wards.

With three wards up for by-election, the number of active council seats increased from 43 to 46 on Wednesday. Before the by-elections, the ANC knew that it would have to win all three to regain its majority in council for the first time since its expulsion of the erstwhile ward councillors. Two wards would result in a hung council, which at the least would make it difficult to sustain a vote of no confidence in the DA mayor, Annette Combrink. Only one ward would mean that the party remained in the minority.

The ANC did manage to win two wards on Wednesday, giving it 23 seats in the current 46-seat council. However, it lost the third ward to an independent candidate and its power in council has been checked.

The map below shows the urban portion of Tlokwe (there are three rural wards that surround this area) Wards 6, 18 and 26 were contested on Wednesday and they are circled on the map:

Ward 6 lies just west of the R53 provincial road, which separates the ANC-controlled wards on the West from the DA-controlled ones on the right. The ward covers the industrial areas of the municipality. The ANC originally won the ward in 2011 with 64% of the vote to the DA’s 34%.

The DA’s 2011 candidate, Johann Coetzee, returned to contest the ward on Wednesday. The party was confident that it would win the ward but this confidence was misplaced. The ANC retained its 64% of the vote, while the DA marginally improved its share to 36%. Turnout fell from 49% to 33%

Ward 18 was won by the ANC in 2011 with 94% of the vote. The ANC faced a strong challenge in this ward from an independent candidate, Xolile David Kham. He was an ANC PR councillor and the former chief whip in Tlokwe. He was also one of the 14 councillors expelled by the ANC for his role in the vote of no confidence against the former ANC mayor.

The ANC did retain the ward, but its share of the vote fell sharply to 62%. Kham received 36% of the vote while the AZAPO and UCDP received 1% each. Voter turnout fell from 61% to 45%

Ward 26 was won in 2011 by the ANC with 95% of the vote. When the party expelled its councillor, Butiki “Stone” Mahlabe, he promptly went and registered as an independent candidate. Some of the residents have strongly endorsed Mahlabe, and by Wednesday afternoon there were reports of busloads of supporters coming to the polls for both Mahlabe and the ANC candidate, Oupa Mogoshane.

After the votes were all tallied it was confirmed that Mahlabe’s personal appeal far outweighed any loyalty to the ANC in the ward. Mahlabe ended up taking the ward with 61% of the vote to Mogoshane’s 39% (1 425 votes to 900). Voter turnout fell from 64% to 42%.

Tlokwe now has a hung council, and for now nobody gets what they want. The ANC will find it very hard to kick out the DA mayor without a majority in council. The DA will find it hard to get anything done in the municipality, as the speaker in council is still an ANC member, and this will frustrate the opposition. The people of Tlokwe, who just want a fully-functional municipality, will have to live through more weeks of stasis and paralysis.

The controversy and drama are far from over. Six more wards require elections. Maybe the Independent Electoral Commission will have its house in order in the next couple of months and the remaining councillors can be elected. The ANC, DA and the independents will have to keep campaigning and fighting for control of the municipality. DM

Photo: Reuters

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