South Africa

ROAD TO 2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS

KwaZulu-Natal: It can be cold outside of the ruling party fold as an independent councillor

Voters line up to cast their ballots at Durban City Hall voting station in KwaZulu-Natal on 8 May 2019. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim)

What is it like to go it alone and stand as an independent in the local elections? Daily Maverick takes a look at the challenges and experiences from KwaZulu-Natal, a province characterised by fraught battles within the ANC alliance.

Among the councillors who stood as independents after leaving the ANC and winning their wards in KwaZulu-Natal in the 2016 local elections, Mthethelezi Sibisi is one of the few known to be standing again as an independent — in eThekwini’s Ward 103. 

“The community urged me to stand as an independent again and I obliged,” he told Daily Maverick.

In the 2016 local elections in the eThekwini municipality alone, 58 candidates — mostly disgruntled former ANC councillors — stood as independents, of which only five won — including Sibisi.

But independent councillors quickly found that it is cold outside the party. These councillors found themselves in the crossfire between ANC-dominated councils on the one hand and the opposition parties on the other.

They also believed that they were starved of projects in order to be made to look like failures in their communities.

Sibisi said that his ward has many rural and peri-urban areas that still need developments such as water and sanitation. 

The “starving” of his ward included the KwaSondela Water Project in KwaNyuswa, which was working towards completion when he was elected but was then abruptly discontinued.

Another is the Cliffdale Sanitation and Ablution Project, which was estimated to cost R20-million, was on the pipeline of the eThekwini Municipality projects but was never started.

The R8-million budget for the Don McKenzie sports field in KwaNyuswa, was allocated to the Covid-19 initiative “without consulting us as councillors or the community”.

Although he remains close to his comrades in the ANC and SACP, Sibisi  will stand again as an independent, saying the ANC and the SACP have failed to resolve disputes in his branch — the cause of his departure from the ANC five years ago.

Mthetheleli Sibisi Photo:Supplied
Mthetheleli Sibisi’s face on T-Shirts, designed by Wandile Msomi

Rise in number of independent candidates

Analysts and political pundits expect the number of independent candidates and new political parties’ candidates to rise in these local elections. 

Political parties and independent candidates had until Tuesday 21 September to pay registration fees and finalise their candidates list to stand in line to be confirmed as candidates for the 1 November local government elections. The full list of candidates names will only be certified and published on Wednesday, 29 September 2021. 

Already back in 2016, hundreds of candidates stood as independent councillor candidates in the local government poll. These independents were mostly in KZN and most took a factional line.

These candidates were mostly staunch former ANC leaders who felt they were being “purged” in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) councillor candidates selection processes in their branches. So, they heeded their communities’ call to stand as independent candidates.

ANC infighting in 2016

In KZN, the lead up to the 2016 municipal elections was characterized by tension and infighting between the supporters of the former KZN Premier and former ANC provincial chairperson, Senzo Mchunu, and current KZN Premier and provincial chairperson, Sihle Zikalala. ANC councillors and candidates who had supported Mchunu (ahead of the November 2015 ANC KZN provincial elective conference won by Zikalala) said they were being “purged” to make way for Zikalala’s supporters.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Tebogo Letsie)
KZN provincial government Premier Sihle Zikalala. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Most of these candidates lost out when they stood against ANC nominated candidates. But some, like Sibisi and four other independents in eThekwini, won their wards, hammering ANC nominated candidates in the process. 

In the KwaDukuza Municipality, one of two former ANC councillors who stood as independents won their wards, while in the uMkhanyakude district municipality five stood as independent candidates and only one won.

Back in the fold: Njabulo Mabanga (left) with volunteers taken on the 18th of September 2021, at Sifunimfundo Voting District of ward 107. This was a mobilisation for voter registration. (Photo: Supplied)

One councillor, Njabulo Mabanga, trounced his ANC rival and won the eThekwini ward 107, which includes Ntuzuma and Inanda north of Durban. 

But Mabanga said they found themselves between a rock and hard place. “It was very difficult at first because we were bonafide ANC members and now in council meetings, we had to choose between voting for motions brought in or supported by the ANC, which was starving our areas of development or vote with the opposition parties,” said Mabanga.

Nominee Njabulo Ntuli, Nominee Thobile Mthembu and current Councillor Njabulo Mabanga. (Photo: Supplied)

He added that he and the four independent eThekwini councillors — which would have included Sibisi — had to caucus alone, but eventually chose to vote with ANC in many motions.

No beef with the ANC

“Remember, we had no beef with the ANC, it was the factional battles and purges that had made us stand as independents. Once we were elected as councillors, we had several meetings with the ANC and it was agreed that we vote with the ANC and the process of re-accommodating in the ANC was established,” he said.

Mabanga said the majority of those who had stood as independent are back in the ANC fold. “I am not standing this time around and I have urged community members who voted for me in 2016 to vote for our ANC candidate this time around,” he said.

The eThekwini Municipality’s ward 4, in Inchanga near Hammersdale, was the most contested ahead of 2016 local government elections. Due to the infighting and tension within the ANC and the South African Communist Party in the ward, the lives of more than eight people were lost. 

The tensions centred on the selection of the ANC councillor candidate for the ward. In January 2016, two supporters of the SACP were shot and killed at a political rally in the area. After that six people were killed in the area in tit-for-tat attacks between ANC and SACP members.

 

The SACP decided to field Malombo Nxumalo, the brother of former eThekwini Municipality mayor James Nxumalo, to stand against ANC’s Khanyi Gumede. Nxumalo took the ward with a comfortable lead.

After his election, tensions flared up again in the area. Two weeks after Nxumalo’s victory parade, SACP Inchanga secretary Nontsikelelo Blose, was gunned down while walking on the road. The following day ANC member Xolani Ngcobo was shot and stoned to death. Ngcobo was killed in what is believed to have been retaliation for Blose’s murder.

ANC and SACP smoke a peace pipe

The ANC and the SACP have since made peace in the area and calm returned. Nxumalo played a pivotal role when he helped untangle and resolve the intractable dispute when the controversial Delangokubona Business Forum — which had shaken construction companies by going onto site and forcefully demanding a slice in their projects —  had then targeted the R276.45-million Hammarsdale Interchange on the busy N3 highway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. After his and other leaders’ intervention, an agreement was reached and the construction went ahead. The interchange is now operational.

Due to the talks between the ruling party and the independents, Nxumalo has since come back to the ANC fold. He has been selected as the ANC candidate ahead of the November 1 poll.

He said: “The ANC and the SACP in the branch were able to sit down and resolve all the disputes, including the branch nomination processes. We were all participating and our aim was to deal with all contentious issues and tensions. After all of that was done I emerged as the leading ANC councillor candidate in the ward 4 branch. I’m looking forward to serving the ANC and helping to deal with the challenges facing the ward 4 communities.”  

Another peculiar case is that of Bongumusa Dludla, the councillor of eThekwini Municipality’s ward 110 that comprises areas such as Sunningdale, Glen Anil, Mount Moriah, Corovoca and Mount Royal. Ahead of the 2016 local government poll Dludla was “purged” from the ANC list process and stood as an independent candidate. This split the ANC votes in the ward that was eventually won by a DA candidate. Last November the victorious DA councillor resigned and this prompted by-elections. Back in the ANC fold, Dludla stood as the ANC candidate and won the ward with 54.2% of the votes. 

He is an ANC candidate for the ward in the November poll. “I am looking forward to getting a full five-year term and working hard for this community, building roads and creating job opportunities.

A burnt out car stands on a road in Phoenix, Saturday 17 July 2021 following looting and unrest in the aftermath of the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The area where Dludla is a councillor is not far from Phoenix, where the racial tensions and violence took place during the July riots and looting. “We have communities like Avoca and Mount Moriah where Indian and African families were living side by side for many years but tension rose sharply during the looting. We had to sit down with these communities and find local solutions and ease tension. So far it has worked.”

Nhlakanipho Ntombela, ANC KZN provincial spokesperson, said his organisation’s effort to woo independent councillors and candidates has borne fruit.

“It took a lot of effort but they are now back within the ANC. [Our view is that] there can be no reason for anyone to justify standing as an independent based on unfair ANC [candidate selection] processes,” he said.

He added that the party was trying to harmonise the process by including communities in selecting their candidates independently of the ANC branch selection processes and these were later mixed and the most popular candidates emerged.

“We have had no indication of our members who would have to opt to stand as independent since the process this time was more thorough and included communities,” Ntombela said.

When asked to respond to allegations by independent councillors that they were starved of projects and other developments by the ANC led municipalities he said: “I’m not a councillor, I wouldn’t know that. Rather ask the relevant municipality about that.”

 

Themba Mthembu, KZN SACP provincial secretary, said his party worked very hard to heal the rifts between the ANC and SACP supporters in branches. He said in Inchanga, for example, the SACP deployed its provincial chairperson and former mayor James Nxumalo to mediate between the warring ANC and SACP members.

Threat of violent conflict

“It has always been our resolve (as the SACP) that the ANC needed to sit down and listen to the grievances of these communities, including the comrades who stood as independents after communities felt being let down or had unpopular councillor candidates imposed on them.

“It was difficult to deal with the issues of conflict. We felt that these comrades and the communities cannot be punished by factional manoeuvres of certain leaders. We have always been engaging the ANC especially on these matters,” he said.

Mthembu said factional battles are still ongoing in the ANC and he cannot rule out tensions, and even violence, in the future. “We have to look at what causes these tensions. Firstly, the high unemployment [in this country] makes being a councillor a very lucrative occupation. Secondly, as long as there are factions in the ANC there will always be tensions which can be violent and fatal. As long as the factions are not ended in the ANC, we will always have a repeat of these incidents,” Mthembu said. DM

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  • One has to wonder if the councillors who left the ANC and operate as independents are merely peeved at not being able to get close enough to the trough! Even R2 trillion is not enough to go around it seems. I also wonder when the weary taxpayer will say “enough is enough”. “Claim back our stolen contributions first and then we will consider paying tax again!”

    • Jane I believe that you are 100% correct. Unfortunately our electoral system is not working. Wherever there is an independant on council and no clear majority they become the king makers and flip flop their allegiance to either side depending on who will give them greater access to the trough. Look at Knysana, Plett and Port Elizabeth as cases in point. If there are going to be more of these guys standing alone then I fear more paralysis for councils if that is even possible.