2021 Local Elections

ROAD TO 2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS

The Kingmakers (Part One): The key parties in power plays

In the lead-up to the local elections on 1 November, this two-part series looks at the 20 municipalities that are, at best, held together, or, at worst, held to ransom by kingmakers – the parties and the individuals without whom the dominant party in the coalition would have been unable to govern. In many instances, these parties have a single seat but have been able to dictate the destiny of their coalition partners in governing the municipality for the past five years. Many may not have a manifesto or a political philosophy but they still hold sway in small-town governance, which can be messy.

Here in Part One is a look at the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT

Bitou: Active United Front

Bitou’s seat of power and major population centre is Plettenberg Bay and includes Nature’s Valley, Kranshoek and Harkerville.

The Active United Front (AUF), Peter Lobese’s local party, won a seat on the Bitou council in the 2016 local government elections. He held the balance of power because the DA and the ANC each won six seats. He became mayor after forming a coalition with the ANC. Lobese and the AUF have since vacillated between the ANC and the DA.

Peter Lobese. (Photo: Bitou Municipality)

In April this year, Lobese was ousted through a vote of no confidence and, in June, was suspended as a councillor over allegations of maladministration. He was suspended with immediate effect following a high court order on 10 September. Bitou now has no permanent mayor, but it still has an ANC Speaker, elected with the support of the AUF when the two parties made a deal. 

Despite Lobese’s tumultuous time in council, he said the opportunity to serve the people of Bitou had been “a wonderful experience”. 

The AUF will be contesting the November elections in Knysna and George municipalities, as well as in Bitou, where they have a mayoral candidate.

Verdict – The suspension of Lobese suggests this arrangement has not worked for Bitou residents. 

Oudtshoorn: Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) and the SA Religious Civic Organisation (Sarco)

Oudtshoorn council includes De Rust and Dysseldorp. In 2016, the DA won a majority of 14 of the 25 seats, so were not beholden to small parties. However, the relationship between the party and its number one citizen in Oudtshoorn, mayor Colan Sylvester soured, with Sylvester resigning. Chris McPherson replaced him. Three ward councillors aligned to the former mayor quit the DA, which lost its majority, while those vacancies remained unfilled. McPherson and the DA crafted a coalition with Icosa and Sarco. The DA lost two seats in the by-election and had to maintain this coalition. The DA mayor was booted out of office by his coalition partners in the past few days. Vlancio Donson of Icosa is now mayor. Icosa was supported by the ANC, Sarco and the EFF. The Speaker position was also filled by Icosa. Donson’s father is Icosa leader and Kannaland strongman Jeffrey Donson.  

Icosa won two seats in 2016, coming a distant third. 

Verdict Icosa brought stability at a time of strife in the DA caucus. Oudtshoorn residents will see in the coming weeks whether Vlancio Donson as mayor makes a bigger contribution with the ANC and its coalition partners than he did with the DA as a mayoral committee member. 

Knysna: Congress of the People

The DA was the largest party in Knysna after the 2016 elections and had the luxury of choosing to work with the Congress of the People (Cope) or the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) to form a government. 

Two DA councillors, including Mark Willemse, upended the DA mayor and formed a new government with the ANC, Cope and a local party, the Knysna Unity Congress (KUC). The DA was expected to regain control of Knysna when by-elections were held in the two seats represented by the two errant DA councillors. 

The DA failed to take control after another ward councillor failed to support it in its motion to oust the Cope mayor. A by-election was held after a councillor defected to the ANC but retained the seat. That made Cope the kingmaker. It got 30% and 35% in the two predominantly coloured Hornlee wards (Wards 6 and 11). 

Mayor Ricky van Aswegen is not only the sole Cope mayor in South Africa but he is also the only Cope ward councillor in the country. His working with the ANC rather than the DA is a violation of the agreement reached between the DA and Cope in 2016. 

Verdict – Van Aswegen has held his coalition together and will see out his mayoral term. He has brought relative stability. 

CENTRAL KAROO 

The three municipalities here have low population bases – and outsized political egos. 

The DA pulled off a coup in the district by forming coalitions with all three local kingmakers in all three municipalities, only to lose control in all three. 

Although it was still able to lure one party back in Laingsburg, the Laingsburg coalition is again unclear. 

Beaufort West: Karoo Democratic Force 

Beaufort West is the seat of power for the district and includes Murraysburg and Merweville. 

Local party Karoo Democratic Force (KDF) held the balance of power with its third-place finish in 2016 – just under 1,200 votes ahead of the EFF when combining the ward and proportional ballots, obtaining 5% of the vote. The DA and ANC both won six seats. The KDF won 11% of the vote in the Nieuveld-Essopville part of the town and 15% of the vote in Ward 7 (Merweville Beaufort West Farms). 

The KDF ditched the DA and made a deal with the ANC. KDF leader Noël Constable currently serves as Speaker. In 2019, the Good party garnered more votes on the provincial ballot to beat KDF for third place. KDF will want to ensure they finish third again. 

Beaufort West: Karoo Democratic Force

Beaufort West is the seat of power for the district and includes Murraysburg and Merweville. Local party, Karoo Democratic Force (KDF) held the balance of power with its third place finish in 2016 just under 1,200 votes ahead of the EFF when combining the ward and proportional ballots, obtaining 5% of the vote. The DA and ANC both won six seats. The KDF won 11% of the vote in the Nieuveld-Essopville part of the town of Beaufort West and won 15% of the vote in Ward 7 (Merweville Beaufort West Farms). 

The KDF ditched the DA and made a deal with the ANC. The KDF leader currently serves as Speaker. In 2019, GOOD garnered more votes on the provincial ballot here to beat KDF for third place. KDF will want to ensure they finish third again. 

Beaufort West’s Speaker and leader of the Karoo Democratic Force (KDF), Noël Constable was among four suspects arrested on 17 September, in connection with an irregularly awarded and illegal contract in 2019, for the upgrades of roads in the Merweville area, reported Weekend Argus.

After two ANC candidates, including the current ANC mayor of Beaufort West, were implicated in the wrongdoing stepped aside on Monday, Constable told Daily Maverick that he will not be stepping aside, and the KDF “will decide what is going to happen after the elections.”.

Beaufort West’s Speaker and leader of the Karoo Democratic Force, Noël Constable. (Photo: Supplied)

“The executive committee has made the decision that I will be part of the election, and that they will support me,” said Constable. “We are working on the basis of not guilty until proven otherwise,” he said. Despite Friday’s arrest, Constable told Daily Maverick that he is feeling “very optimistic” about his party’s prospects in the local elections. 

The KDF will be contesting in the Breede River Municipality as well as the whole of the Central Karoo including in Laingsburg, Prince Albert and Beaufort West municipalities, he said.

Constable said the KDF “started out in a very difficult space” when it entered into coalition with the DA after the 2016 elections. “We inherited a municipality that was already bankrupt when we came into council, so we needed to stabilise and sustain whatever we had,” he said. 

Constable said “stability” was achieved when the KDF broke away from the DA, and entered into a coalition with the ANC in 2018. 

Verdict The court appearances will not inspire confidence. However, Constable believes voters will see him return to the council and be kingmaker again. 

Kannaland: Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) 

Kannaland includes Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Vanwyksdorp. This is the only municipality in the country where the kingmaker also happens to be the largest party in the municipality, with three seats and the DA and ANC two seats each. Jeffrey Donson and Icosa have been the largest party in Kannaland in the past two local government elections but have never won an outright majority. Icosa won two wards here in 2016, winning in the Nissenville part of Ladismith and the Calitzdorp ward. It won 48% of the vote in 2016 and came close to winning four out of the seven seats on the council, but ended up on three seats. The ANC and DA defied their national bosses and worked together to keep Icosa out. Luthuli House eventually forbade the ANC from working with the DA and the ANC went back to Icosa. Icosa currently occupies the Speaker’s chair. 

Kannaland councillor and Icosa leader Jeffrey Donson said the foundation of a successful coalition is mutual respect between partners. “If you and your superior coalition partner have respect for one another, then the partnership will work.” The coalition between Icosa and the ANC has worked because “the focus has remained on the interests of the community”. 

Donson confirmed that Icosa would contest for the Kannaland Municipality in the upcoming elections. 

Verdict Icosa’s Werner Meshoa was recently sentenced for fraud but is currently still the Speaker. This is not good for Kannaland. Having said that, Icosa is set to remain a fixture over the next five years and should be kingmakers again. 

Prince Albert: Karoo Gemeenskap Party

The Karoo Gemeenskap Party (KGP) has been a force in Prince Albert for the past two elections and was pipped by the DA for first place in the 2016. 

Prince Albert District includes the town it is named after, Prince Albert, Leeu-Gamka and Klaarstroom. The KGP won two out of four wards in 2016. Party leader Goliath Lottering is mayor of Prince Albert and the party’s Isaac Windvogel serves as the district mayor. 

In 2016, the KGP went to bed with the DA, giving it the majority in the Prince Albert and Central Karoo District municipalities. But their turbulent relationship ended in June 2020, when the KGP went into coalition governance with the ANC. 

The partnership ushered Lottering into the position as Prince Albert mayor, while the deputy mayor and Speaker seats were filled by Susanna Piedt and Elsabe Maans, both of the ANC. 

Since making inroads in 2011, the KGP has “done its best to always put the people first”, said Lottering, claiming a commitment to public participation. He said the KGP built its strategies on clean governance, and the Prince Albert Municipality had received clean audits in the past. “But as we strive to get clean audits, we don’t want to compromise basic service delivery.”

The party will contest in all municipalities within the Central Karoo, Lottering said. “In Prince Albert we believe we will get an outright majority, and in Laingsburg Municipality, Beaufort West Municipality and the Central Karoo District Municipality we believe that we will form a coalition government in those three municipalities.” If the party does not get the outright majority in Prince Albert, it will “most probably” continue working with the ANC. 

Verdict – This is no fly-by-night party. KGP seems set to remain a key player in Prince Albert over the next five years. 

Laingsburg: Karoo Ontwikkelings Party (KOP)

Two hundred and eighty-four votes: That’s what it took for the KOP to finish third in Laingsburg in 2016, emerging as kingmaker with the least number of registered voters in the country. The party did best in Ward 4 (eastern section of the town) where it received a combined total of 8% of the ward and proportional vote. The party has worked with both the ANC and the DA over the past five years, and is now back with the DA. Ricardo Louw from KOP currently serves as mayor of the town. 

Louw said the local party, formed in 2016, had tried its “utmost best” to give the community of Laingsburg adequate service delivery. In addition to this, Louw mentioned the creation of the Laingsburg Young Messengers brass band as a key development during his time in council. 

“When I came into council I saw the need for a brass band… our town needed something to help keep our children and young people busy and off the streets,” he said. 

The DA and KOP are in a coalition. However, “there were some differences” between the two parties, said Louw, and the coalition reached boiling point in July 2021. 

Louw was unwilling to comment on whether the council is currently being led by an ANC-KOP coalition or a DA-KOP coalition. It is believed the ANC and KOP has agreed to oust the DA Speaker, but they failed to follow correct procedures so the DA Speaker remains. KOP has served the DA with divorce papers and hopes to get the DA Speaker removed and the ANC candidate elected before this term ends. 

Despite the instability in the council, Louw said he expects the KOP to perform better in the upcoming elections than it did in the 2016 local government elections. The KOP will be contesting in Laingsburg, Prince Albert and the Central Karoo District municipalities, said Louw. 

Verdict KOP has probably caused too much instability for such a small municipality. It has already gone back to the DA twice in the past. 

CAPE WINELANDS

Witzenberg: Congress of the People (Cope)

Six parties were elected to the Witzenberg council in 2016. 

Cope was the last party to sneak in as it beat seventh-placed local party Land Claim Fighters by 51 votes when combining the ward and proportional ballots to give them a single seat. 

This allowed the DA to form a coalition with Cope, with Cope’s Theodore Godden as Speaker.

Witzenberg includes Ceres, Tulbagh and Wolseley as well as Prince Alfred Hamlet. 

Godden told DM168 that he does not consider himself a kingmaker. 

Negotiation, he said, was a crucial element to the party’s survival in the municipality, because coalition partners “can, at any time, go into partnership with any other political party… So we’re going to try our best to make sure that we are getting more members so that we can be the kingmakers, and have more say in the municipality”.

Cope will run with 12 candidates for all the wards, said Godden. “Most of our candidates are young, vibrant women,” he added. “We hope and will try to make sure that we get more councillors in and not only one, which is currently the situation.”

Verdict – Cope provided stability to Witzenberg. This was a stable coalition government. 

NELSON MANDELA BAY

United Democratic Movement

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) finished in fourth place in 2016 in the metro. Its two seats put it in the negotiation pound seats because, unlike in Tshwane and Johannesburg, the DA could do a deal with the UDM and a few smaller parties and bypass the EFF for a majority. 

But then the relationship between mayor Athol Trollip and his deputy mayor from the UDM, Mongameli Bobani, soured. Bobani served for a time as mayor as the DA’s coalition agreement with the UDM broke apart. Bobani died last year. The DA and the UDM have since patched up their differences, with the UDM’s Loxolo Namette now serving as the deputy mayor of the metro. 

The United Democratic Movement’s Loxolo Namette. (Photo: Supplied)

The party received 30% of the vote in Ward 30 (Kwamagxaki Veeplaas) in 2016. It also received 8% respectively of the ward vote in Ward 18 (KwaZakhele Struandale) and Ward 38 (Jacksonville Kleinskool). The UDM finished sixth on the provincial ballot in Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016, slipping behind the FF+ and the ACDP. 

Namette is the UDM’s mayoral candidate for the metro. “The UDM is going back to council stronger than it was,” he said. The UDM, along with the other political parties, is “gunning for total control”.

Between 2016 and 2020, Namette worked with Bobani as a political appointee. “Working with Bobani gave me extensive governance experience,” he said. 

Verdict – Nelson Mandela Bay’s coalition has had relative stability since Nqaba Bhanga became mayor. At the same time, the UDM’s new leader in council does not have the same gravitas as his predecessor. DM168 

DM168 made contact with a representative from all “kingmaker” parties, but not all had responded at the time of publication. Inkosi Langalibalele council in KwaZulu-Natal is on the graphic, but not elaborated on here.

Auditor-General’s 2019/20 Municipal Finance Management Audit report findings:

  • Laingsburg Municipality received a qualified audit with the AG noting that record-keeping was an issue. “The municipality did not have adequate systems of internal control to ensure adequate stock records are kept for purchases and issues made during the year,” read the report.
  • Beaufort West is the only municipality in the Western Cape to receive a disclaimer audit opinion from the Auditor-General’s office. It is also one of four municipalities in the province in arrears with Eskom. The municipality owes Eskom over R35-million. In September, News24 reported that the National Treasury had approved the implementation of a financial recovery plan for the embattled municipality. 
  • Kannaland Municipality received a qualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General’s office for the 2019/2020 financial year. The AG report flagged three municipalities Beaufort West, Kannaland and Laingsburg — as requiring “extra effort and intervention” as they had previously been “categorised as municipalities with control environments that are dysfunctional as their audit outcomes remained the same or regressed”. 
  • Prince Albert Municipality was one of 27 municipalities in the country that received clean audits for the 2019/2020 financial year. 
  • Witzenberg Municipality was one of 14 municipalities in the Western Cape that received clean audits — unqualified with no findings in audit-speak. 
  • Bitou Municipality received an unqualified audit, with findings, from the Auditor-General’s office.
  • Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in Gqeberha, received a qualified, with findings, audit opinion from the Auditor-General’s office. 
  • Oudtshoorn Municipality received an unqualified, with findings, audit opinion from the Auditor-General’s office.
  • Knysna Municipality received an unqualified, with findings, audit opinion from the Auditor-General’s office.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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