South Africa

South Africa

ANC’s Xolani Sotashe: ‘The aim is to regain control of Cape Town’

ANC’s Xolani Sotashe: ‘The aim is to regain control of Cape Town’

Days before the local government elections, ANC Cape Town mayor candidate Xolani Sotashe said he’s “very pleased” with responses from residents across the city to the ANC campaign. Despite facing the odds – the ANC’s polling support last time round in 2011 was 32.8%, or almost half that of the DA’s 60.92% – Sotashe doesn’t entertain the notion of not donning the mayoral chains. There’s been a plan for electioneering. There’s a plan for voting day. There’s a plan for “when” the ANC takes control – and that does not include waking up one morning to build RDP houses in the leafy upmarket suburb of Constantia. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Sotashe stays on message. And that is that Cape Town remains an untransformed, unintegrated city that’s not home to everyone, and neither the current DA-run city’s policies nor budget are pro-poor.

“You must feel at home when you stay in Khayelitsha and come to town,” he said this week in an interview with Daily Maverick. “For us to have harmony in Cape Town, we must deal with the injustices of the past.”

And for the ANC, once in control of the city, that means priorities would be tackling the 400,000-unit housing backlog, providing dignified sanitation in informal settlements, and constructing stormwater drainage. Innovative budgeting during the annual municipal budget readjustment period at the end of August could achieve this, while balancing other necessities.

“We are not going to take away the money allocated to affluent areas. We will still maintain infrastructure there,” said Sotashe. “We are not saying we’ll wake up and build RDP houses in Constantia.”

When anyone asks about the Nkandla security upgrades scandal, for which President Jacob Zuma personally now has to repay R7.8-million for non-security benefits, Sotashe’s response is that the Constitutional Court has dealt with that matter and the “processes of government” must be allowed to take place. On corruption in ANC-led government structures and by those deployed by the party, the reply is that “the ANC has spoken out against corruption” and the very same government has arrested and prosecuted officials for corruption.

Staying on message is important in the fractious party that the ANC is in the Western Cape, although most of the focus traditionally has fallen on the provincial leadership.

Eyebrows were raised when Western Cape ANC chairman Marius Fransman last week showed up to accompany Zuma on the Cape Town campaign trail. It was Fransman’s first public, and high-profile, appearance since being asked to step aside amid an ANC integrity committee inquiry into the sexual harassment scandal earlier in the year.

Contradictory messages were sent out by ANC national leaders: while campaigns head Nomvula Mokonyane, also water and santitation minister, said Fransman was back, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said he was still facing disciplinary hearings in line with a decision by the ANC’s national working committee. The ructions continue to play out: over the weekend when Fransman issued a statement saying, “There is no confusion: I am the Western Cape ANC leader”, and briefly in court where his lawyers, according to News24, obtained the integrity committee report on the sexual harassment matter.

Sotashe said he would not talk about that; that questions on Fransman must be put to the national structures. “My focus is on the election campaign. All of us in this province, with all of the challenges, are united.” The aim? Regain control of the city the ANC lost in the 2006 local government elections.

Although the DA won just 41.85% of the vote 10 years ago, it outmanoeuvred the ANC, which only lagged about four percentage points behind, to form the then city government through a coalition of seven parties under then mayor Helen Zille. The ANC, already wracked by factional infighting, unravelled further amid generally ill-advised political strategies and lack of organisational muscle in Cape Town. In the 2011 municipal poll the ANC saw a 5% drop in support to 32.8% as support soared to 60.92% for the DA.

Wednesday, polling day, will be crucial. “We have to master election day. People must make sure to go out in their numbers and vote,” said Sotashe, adding that requests for transport assistance have been put out to taxi owners, while shebeen owners are asked to stay closed during voting hours. “We have to get people out of their houses on Wednesday.”

In some areas that will be easy, but even in traditional ANC township wards it could be a challenge. While several wards in Khayelitsha recorded a 90% turnout in the 2011 local government elections, according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), in several wards in Gugulethu and Philippi, for example, turnout hovered at best around the mid-50%.

But Sotashe, a councillor since 2000 and today the ANC chief whip in council, is possibly the most experienced of ANC mayoral candidates to date. Previous mayoral candidates in 2000 included Lynne Brown, an ANC MPL and party treasurer who today serves as public enterprises minister, and in 2011 labour federation Cosatu’s Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich, who served as leader of the opposition in the Cape Town council, but now returns to his trade union roots.

His nomination was unopposed all the way to the ANC national executive committee (NEC) which had the final say. Then came the official call from Mantashe, telling him to “bring hope to people”.

Since then, on any given day Sotashe makes several electioneering pit stops across the city from townships to the Cape Flats and the city’s posh suburbs. There are door-to-door campaigns across Heideveld, Rylands and Surrey Estate in the predominately coloured Cape Flats area of Athlone during driving rain on one day. There are similar door-to-door campaigns across black townships, often ending with a public meeting. On another day the electioneering diary includes addressing organisations like the Black Management Forum, ratepayers associations or an old age home in Cape Town’s posh and largely white inner City Bowl. Sprinkle in a series of election debates, to underscore what the ANC describes as its “positive campaign”, and more public meetings, some attended for interest like a Clifton ratepayers association meeting on a controversial proposed private property development.

It’s a level of visibility across the city from township to tenements on the Cape Flats and suburbs the ANC usually does not have in the DA-run city. Roped in are former Western Cape premier turned ambassador to the United States Ebrahim Rasool, while on other occasions Sotashe and his team accompany national ANC leaders and ministers in Cape Town. Five of the six ANC top officials have spent time in Cape Town: Zuma spent a day last week, Mantashe and his deputy Jessie Duarte also hit the campaign trail, and Friday [today 29.7] it’s the turn of deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

The one disappointment? Sotashe said he had challenged DA mayor Patricia de Lille to a debate. It was not to be as no such date was arranged and, although they were both billed to be at a number of events, only he arrived. “I will have to live with it.”

The energy spent on the 2016 campaign trail would be maintained, Sotashe maintained: “No one ever said our struggles will be a smooth ride. We continue to fight for our people… Our work does not stop on Wednesday”. DM

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