South Africa

Op-Ed: The Peoples’ Verdict the ANC must not ignore

By Isaac Bayor 5 August 2016

Any attempt by the governing ANC to downplay the results of the August 3 local government election would be a declaration of their eagerness to hand over power to a different political party in the 2019 general election. By ISAAC BAYOR.

The official results of the August 3 local government election suggest that the ANC has endured its worst loss of support in municipal elections since it took power from apartheid rule in 1994.

Since the fall of apartheid, 22 years ago, the ANC has dominated the political landscape in South Africa. The ANC successes in past elections have been based on its history and legacy.

The ANC to date has taken advantage of an opposition that was unable to command the buy-in from voters by consistently winning elections with more than 60% of the national votes at every election held. However, this year’s local election has charted a different course for the party which, no matter how unpleasant this might seem, the ANC itself has created the necessary conditions for its electoral catastrophe.

As results show, the loyalty the ANC has enjoyed over the years from the black majority seem to be gradually weaning away. The ANC is in effect morphing into a “rurally-based” party in terms of its support.

There are a myriad issues that can explain this political demise. Unemployment is currently estimated at 26%. Clean water, affordable and reliable electricity, sanitation and housing are still not accessed by the majority in South Africa.

The important issue today among the majority of South Africans is no longer the glory of liberation from apartheid; rather, it is about secure sources of livelihood, accessibility, and affordability of basic services. The ANC has largely been unable to account to the majority of poor South Africans how it has met, or intends to meet, these necessities of life.

The results are also a reflection of the internal wrangling, corruption, and discontent that has hit the party. Corruption is synonymous with the governing party – President Zuma, who is supposed to lead by example, is himself implicated in the Nkandlagate saga relating to the public funds he spent to renovate his private house.

The ANC’s campaign was marred by alleged intimation and pockets of violence in areas such as Pretoria, Durban, and Johannesburg. This avoidable internal party bickering led to the loss of treasured votes.

The results of the elections are an expression of the ANC’s panic campaign. The ANC’s strategy revealed an element of anxiety and fear during the election. For example, the ANC cried wolf about the DA’s use of Nelson Mandela in their campaign advert. Then again, the ANC complained when the DA placed an advert touting their achievements in the municipalities that they govern.

It would have been helpful if the ANC had channelled its energy into showcasing what it has done, or wants to do, to improve the living conditions of the poor South Africans instead of engaging in repudiations. This erratic approach to campaigning revealed a party in disarray.

The 2016 local government election verdict does not only provide a warning to the ANC, it also provides lessons for other African governments. The outcome would be an indicator that, increasingly, ordinary voters are becoming empowered.

It would show that the African voter is becoming aware of how to demand accountability from government and those they vote into power. There is still a long way to go, but steadily, the days whereby elections are relegated to a mere ritual and the electorates are sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, one hopes, are coming to an end across the continent.

Already, there are reports of discontent from the masses emerging from neighbouring Zimbabwe, with citizens mobilising around the #ThisFlag movement.

Going forward into the 2019 presidential election, the ANC would ignore the verdict of the local government elections at its own peril. If the ANC wants to achieve its ambition of retaining power in 2019, it must take stock, reflect and take seriously the outcome of the local government elections.

Important, the ANC must work hard to bring unity into the rank and file of the party. The party must endeavour to heal wounds and ensure that the party goes into the 2019 election with a united front.

The party’s messaging needs to go back to the drawing board and focus on proving the progress they have made so far and what they intend to do in the coming years. The days for complacency and riding on the back of Madiba’s legacy are over. Laying the sole claim to Mandela’s legacy contravenes the principles enshrined in the South African Constitution.

More important, President Zuma must invoke the spirit of former leaders of the ANC and be willing step aside for new leadership to re-orientate the ANC. The government must recognise that pushing the rhetoric of the emancipation from apartheid has an increasingly smaller audience in the brave new world of a post-1994 generation. DM

Isaac Bayor is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and a former Peace-building Co-ordinator at the West African Network for Peace-building in Tamale, Ghana.

Photo: A file image dated 10 May 2014 shows one of the thousands of African National Congress (ANC) supporters at a party rally in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to election results released on 06 August 2016, the ANC has lost the Nelson Mandela Bay area to the opposition party the DA and although the ANC still lead the polls nationally the DA has taken two major cities. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

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