South Africa

BY-ELECTION SUPER WEDNESDAY

KZN polls: Pharaohs, water shortages and a crucial battle

By-elections are an important measuring tool to gauge public sentiment on party affiliation, and Wednesday’s results will be used to further plan for the 2021 local government elections.

A host of municipal by-elections will be taking place countrywide on Wednesday, November 11, but in KwaZulu-Natal – where politics and violence are too frequently linked – there is only one ward battle that currently matters.

Additional reporting by Lwazi Hlangu.

Mtubatuba Local Municipality, on the far north coast, is currently governed via a peculiar coalition between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress.

Peculiar because the ANC and IFP have a long, complicated and violent history. They are also the two largest parties in the municipal council, with the IFP holding 19 and the ANC 17 of the 40 available seats. 

They are the only two parties to have governed the municipality since 2000, with the current coalition linked to a coalition agreement in the City of Johannesburg. 

In 2016, the IFP had  a co-governance agreement with the Democratic Alliance, which holds two seats in Mtuba, as the town is referred to by locals. In turn, the IFP supported the DA in Johannesburg. But the IFP reneged on that deal in 2019, allowing for the ANC’s Geoff Makhubo to be elected Johannesburg mayor. 

The relationship has been a strained one. As recently as October, ANC councillors in Mtuba’s council colluded with some of their IFP counterparts to boot out the IFP-appointed mayor, Velenkosini Gumede and replace him with the ANC’s deployee – Thobelani Ncamphalala. The IFP has since threatened to exit  its coalition with the ANC. 

How this plays out will only become clearer after what has been dubbed Super Wednesday, when over 107 seats will be contested across the country.

By-elections are an important measuring tool to gauge public sentiment on party affiliation, and Wednesday’s results will be used to further plan for the 2021 local government elections. 

In KwaZulu-Natal, by-elections will also be held in eThekwini, Pongola, Nkandla, Melmoth, Greytown and Nqutu.  

If the IFP retains the seat in Mtubatuba it could seek a simple coalition with the DA and pull out of its agreement with the ANC in Johannesburg, which will give it a simple majority in Mtubatuba. But if it loses to the ANC, coalition talks will be more complex, and may require the assistance of the erratic and volatile Economic Freedom Fighters. The results could also provide an opportunity for the ANC to put together a coalition to obtain 50%, which will lead to a hung council. 

Ward 10 is the Mtubatuba ward in question and is being contested due to the death last year of IFP councillor Robert Bukhosini. 

As of 2016 there were only 4,588 registered voters in the ward. In the 2016 local government election, 61.7% voted. The IFP won 44% of the vote, as opposed to the ANC’s 43%. The ward was won by a mere 67 votes. 

Wednesday’s victor will need high levels of enthusiasm to win the seat, particularly from the youth in the area. 

This weekend the ANC flew big shots Pule Mabe and Jackson Mthembu down to knock on doors. The party handed over two generators and water tanks to a farming co-op and told Daily Maverick it would also be handing over at least two RDP houses. Last Thursday, IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa also campaigned in the area. 

The victor will be, in many ways, irrelevant to what happens – or doesn’t happen – on the ground, because this particular northern KwaZulu-Natal region has three clear issues that cut across South Africa, and which have not changed for residents: high unemployment, low levels of trust in political parties and severe service delivery failures. 

Even the electricity we have was installed during apartheid. The only thing the municipality has done was install taps a long time ago; that only worked for a month or two. They have not worked ever since.

Daily Maverick visited Ward 10 over the weekend to gauge the mood among voters, with the responses to several simple questions not being surprising.  

A staunch ANC supporter known in the area as Ma’m Ntshangase told Daily Maverick that ever since she cast her first vote, “we have never seen any improvement”.  

“Even the electricity we have was installed during apartheid. The only thing the municipality has done was install taps a long time ago; that only worked for a month or two. They have not worked ever since.

“We do not even have water to wash our hands. We wake up in the mornings and go to the fields. The cows go to the river to drink and get stuck and die there. That’s the water we have to use at home.”

She likened the ANC to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, who were rulers apparently divinely chosen by the gods, enabling them to make laws, wage war, collect taxes, and claim all land as their property. 

“We will vote until we have found the one who will help us because it’s like we’re in Egypt, we are in pharaoh’s hands. Greed is the problem. There is no one better, no matter which party leads the Mtubatuba municipality.  They don’t do anything, be it ANC, IFP… even when they lead together in coalition there is still no difference,” said  Ntshangase.

The last 20 years in Mtubatuba – with its population of 202,176, of which 90,793 are registered voters – have been anything but successful.

Rampant corruption has seen the municipality being placed under provincial government administration twice in the last decade. Statistics from StatsSA’s most recent Community Survey show that only 13.3% of residents receive refuse services, with 70% having to dispose of their own waste. Only about 50% receive potable water. An updated  survey is set to be released on November 26. 

The uMkhanyakude District Municipality, which is the water authority, has over the last two decades been in a continual state of decline and is known to be riddled with corruption and incompetence. It was  placed under provincial administration in 2015. 

The crisis in water has led to the proliferation of private bulk water sellers, who fill water tanks for R250. The locals who spoke to Daily Maverick on condition that they not be named were adamant that it is the municipality that is supplying water to the private sellers. 

Eighty percent of Mtubatuba falls under traditional authorities, and like thousands of towns across the country, is riddled with potholes, filth, damaged infrastructure, and corruption. It received a qualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General in 2019, the same year it was placed under administration for the second time.

This was done after a forensic report declared that R136-million had been misappropriated through illegally inflated salaries and the payment of contractors for work not done. 

The youth vote will probably be critical for a victory in the by-election in a ward that has a median age of 18. StatsSA has reported youth unemployment in the municipality to be 46.9%. 

We do not have water. We have to fetch it from Nyalazi River, which is very dangerous for the community.  Even the RDP houses and toilets are reserved for certain people.

According to 27-year-old Siyanda Khumalo, an unemployed Ward 10 resident, the young people are neglected, and even if they were to vote, nothing would change. 

“What we need as a community is to focus more on the youth, but we don’t see anything happening. People will make all the promises when they need your vote but when you vote for them, they do not do anything to improve lives. Even the clinics are too far away. It is all very hard.  I won’t lie, it’s hard. People in power will only help their friends. We do not see the need to vote because there is no change,” he told Daily Maverick.

“We do not have water. We have to fetch it from Nyalazi River, which is very dangerous for the community.  Even the RDP houses and toilets are reserved for certain people.” 

By all accounts the municipality has more geographic advantages than most and should, at least theoretically, be reasonably successful.

It has a small but established rates base with reasonably sized commercial and tourism sectors. It is based on the N2 and is only a 50-minute drive north of the Richards Bay harbour and a day’s trip from Maputo. 

The municipality incorporates the international coastal holiday resort town of St Lucia, which is also the primary gateway to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site. The globally recognised park has a unique ownership structure that pays royalties to neighbouring communities, although this is not without issue.

To the west of Mtubatuba is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, renowned for saving South Africa’s rhino population.

Controversial, large coal deposits have been found in an area called Somkhele, bordering on the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The coal reserves are currently being mined, with operations likely to expand in coming years. 

Mtubatuba is also home to one of the world’s top HIV/AIDS research centres, the Africa Health Research Institute (formerly the Africa Centre).     

On Mtubatuba’s southern border is the Umfolozi River, which feeds the St Lucia Estuary. This has led to the flatlands around the town of Mtubatuba being some of the most fertile sugar farming lands in the province. The town has its own sugar mill. Agriculture is also the largest employer in the region.

But for 23-year-old Ayanda Sangweni, another unemployed resident of Ward 10, this brings little comfort. 

Instead, it reinforces the failure of municipal leadership, which over the last 20 years has failed to effectively manage the region’s natural capital. 

“All the parties have had their chance here. The ANC had their chance, the IFP had their chance. They all failed. There is nothing that motivates us to vote. People are tired, especially people who have been lied to for many years,” Sangweni told Daily Maverick.  

“[Politicians say] they will do this and that, but nothing changes. People win elections and forget about the people who got them there. They only fix things that are in the eyes of people like the road and passages, but they don’t attend to the community’s grievances. People do not get any help.

“What we need the most is water. We were promised water and even had a high-ranking official coming here to make promises that they will supply water to the area, but to this day we haven’t seen anything. We are still required to fetch water from the river.” DM

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