South Africa


Local is lekker? Mixed bag of minnow parties gear up to ward off political big fish

Local is lekker? Mixed bag of minnow parties gear up to ward off political big fish
It is one thing winning a by-election as an independent; it is a completely different challenge to form a new local party and take the candidates through a fierce municipal-wide election. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Local elections are about local issues — basic services — and the dominant national parties are not necessarily in touch with the challenges in communities they claim to represent. This is why local parties have some room to punch above their weight.

The 2016-2021 local government term ended with local parties holding the second-largest majorities in five municipalities across South Africa. In Kannaland, a local party triumphed as the largest party in the municipality.

It is very hard to take on the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). These parties tend to dominate the airwaves and the street poles. They are much better resourced and can outmuscle local or regional parties in the last stretch of the campaign. 

However, something a local party can offer, which the bigger parties will always struggle with, is local awareness and local solutions to challenges facing that specific municipality. These parties often claim that Luthuli House or the DA’s national office are out of touch with far-flung areas and that these parties’ bigger brooms don’t extend to the outlying areas. 

This article looks at local parties that will struggle to replicate their historic showings, local parties that made a splash in 2016 and are well poised for the upcoming local government elections, and local parties that are the new kids on the block and have already made an impact on their municipalities.

There is a strong focus on the Northern Cape. Due to the sparse population and small council size, it can be easier for a local party to make an electoral impact on the municipality and the council. 

  1.   Going, going?

Better Residents Association (Bushbuckridge, Ehlanzeni District, Mpumalanga)

The Bushbuckridge Residents Association (BRA) achieved something no other local party had done before by winning a seat in the provincial legislature. In 2014, BRA finished fourth in the Mpumalanga provincial elections, picking up a good share of the vote in Bushbuckridge. The official opposition in Bushbuckridge was then able to raise its concerns in the Bushbuckridge council chamber and, importantly, broach the issues of Bushbuckridge at the provincial legislature in Mbombela. In 2016, BRA doubled its seats in the Bushbuckridge council, winning 14 out of 76. This included winning five wards — an increase from the single ward the party won in 2011. 

Former BRA leader Delta Mokoena was jailed in 2017, while another former leader defected to the ANC in the same year, sending the party into a tailspin. BRA subsequently tried to broaden its appeal and changed its name from Bushbuckridge Residents Association to Better Residents Association — a

move that backfired. The party lost its seat in the legislature in 2019 and also lost four consecutive seats in the Bushbuckridge by-elections by failing to nominate candidates to defend the seats BRA had won in 2016.

BRA is contesting again but its prospects are grim. Recent by-election data suggest that the ANC should be the main beneficiary of BRA’s continued implosion.

Kgatelopele Community Forum (Danielskuil, ZF Mgcawu District, Northern Cape)

National leaders of the ANC and the DA set their sights on lime mining country after a new local party, the Kgatelopele Community Forum (KCF) won two out of seven seats, thereby holding the balance of power in this tiny Northern Cape municipality. KCF first aligned with the DA and then switched to the ANC. KCF was constantly divided on which party it should work with, which led to constant infighting and the rival camp accusing the party leader in council of being a stooge of the ANC. 

The party will not be on the ballot this time. Local dreams are shattered. The ANC, DA and Patriotic Alliance will all be hoping to feast on the KCF carcass.

  1.   Platform is created — ready for lift-off?

Land Party (Overstrand, Overberg District, Western Cape)

The Land party did not run in Overstrand in 2016, but it did run in the 2019 national and provincial elections. Land later won a safe seat from the ANC in the Zwelihle township near Hermanus in a by-election in 2020. The party will now set its sights on becoming the official opposition in Overstrand. Land aims to “develop basic infrastructure for housing on state-owned land and transfer full title to the poor”. While the party has a manifesto dealing with national and provincial matters, its core sphere of influence is Overstrand in general and Zwelihle in particular. In late 2020, it won a ward from the ANC, in which the ruling party had enjoyed 89% support in 2016. Land won 56% of the vote in the by-election as the ANC’s vote share plummeted to 36%.

In the 2019 elections, Land came third in Overstrand, winning 11% of the vote. While the ANC won 21% of the vote, Land will believe the by-election result in 2020 gives it a shot at making big inroads here in the local government election. 

Save Tsantsabane Coalition (Tsantsabane, ZF Mgcawu District, Northern Cape)

This local community forum established a party and won three of 13 seats to become the official opposition in Tsantsabane in 2016. The ANC won seven seats and carried a slim majority of one seat. 

In its first election, the Save Tsantsabane Coalition (STC) not only beat out the DA and EFF, but also gave the dominant party a major fright in this mining-rich area.

The STC advocates for preferential employment and preferential supply opportunities for Tsantsabane residents and businesses, including the mines. STC wants the residents of Tsantsabane to share the spoils of iron ore mining in the area. 

The ANC had great success in many parts of South Africa during a raft of by-elections in November 2020, but almost lost Ward 4 — previously regarded as a safe ward — which encompasses Boichoko township near Postmasburg. The ANC’s percentage vote share fell from 73% to 45%, while STC grew from 19% to 42%.  This by-election result suggests that the STC should play a significant role in this election and stands a chance of bringing the ANC under 50%, thereby holding the balance of power and deciding who rules Tsantsabane for the next five years. 

  1.   Newcomers

Map16 Civic Movement (Maluti-a-Phofung, Thabo Mofutsanyana District, Free State)

The biggest chink in the ANC’s resolute by-election armour between 2016 and 2021 occurred on 28 August 2019, when 16 former ANC councillors ran against their old party as independent candidates and won 10 of 16 seats off the once unshakeable ruling party.

These 10 independent councillors caucused together and remained close through to the end of the council’s term. In May 2021, the MAP16 Civic Movement (MAP16) contested its first by-election. It ran the ANC very close, with the ANC winning 40% of the vote in the by-election, while MAP16 won 35% of the vote. The ward was one where the EFF enjoyed reliable support which arguably split the opposition vote and enabled the ANC to hold on narrowly. 

The 10 independent councillors have now formally joined MAP16, with nine standing for their old wards and the remaining former ward councillor securing first position on the party’s PR list. All indications are that the party will, at worst, finish second in the elections. 

Can it bring the ANC vote to less than 50% in this traditional ANC stronghold, and can it reach out to other parties elected after 1 November to form a new government in Phuthaditjhaba?

Dikgatlong Independent Forum (Dikgatlong, Frances Baard District, Northern Cape)

Mently Bezuidenhout was the favoured choice of many in his local ANC branch for the 2017 by-election in this Barkly West ward, near the provincial capital of Kimberley. Bezuidenhout was passed over in a provincial factional battle for the ward candidate nomination. The young ANC activist then decided to go it alone and run against his own party and the DA in a three-way tussle. Bezuidenhout comfortably beat the DA and the ANC in the by-election to become an independent councillor. Bezuidenhout has now formed his own local party, the Dikgatlong Independent Forum (DIF) and will want his by-election charm to spread to every nook and cranny of a municipality that has been riddled with service delivery challenges. 

It is one thing winning a by-election as an independent; it is a completely different challenge to form a new local party and take the candidates through a fierce municipal-wide election. Dikgatlong is a small municipality and if Bezuidenhout’s constituents have been satisfied with his service as councillor, he might well reap the rewards on election day. DM

Sussman is Daily Maverick’s elections analyst.

The Kathu Gazette assisted with background information for this article. 

What is an independent and a local party?

Independent — A person who runs with no connection to any political party. You can vote for them only on the ward ballot as they will not appear on the proportional representation (PR) ballot. 

Local party — Parties that tend to run in only one municipality. They generally have a candidates’ list for both the ward list and the PR list. They will try to contest all seats in the municipality to maximise their votes. Unlike an independent, the councillors elected will be beholden to the party and its rules.

Regional party — Parties that tend to run only in specific districts or parts of a province. They generally have a candidates’ list for both the ward list and the PR list. They will try to contest all seats in the local municipalities and district municipality to maximise their votes. The councillors elected will be beholden to the party and its rules. DM


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