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Local government elections: South African voters will refuse to tick the ballot box of stale political ideas


Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

With the polls just seven weeks away, the three major political parties are facing internal and external challenges, not least that voters are gatvol with lack of service delivery, corruption and party infighting.

The national local elections will not be a walk in the park for any political party. The three main parties – the ANC, DA and EFF – face serious challenges going into these polls. 

We will see a low voter turnout and we might also see hung municipalities in some metros, as we saw in the 2016 local government elections when no party won an outright majority in the City of Tshwane, City of Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Johannesburg and the City of Ekurhuleni.

The ANC has serious internal challenges. Missing the recent deadline to submit its candidate lists to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) is a clear sign that its challenges may be bigger than we think. We thought its problems were only about not paying staff salaries, owing the South African Revenue Service and also not paying the Unemployment Insurance Fund for staff.

The political problems within the ANC cannot all be resolved by President Cyril Ramaphosa alone, and since his accession to office, we have seen how the party has failed to come together. There are two factions in the party and these were not dismantled after the Nasrec conference. The RET faction is a new iteration of the NDZ faction, which really dates back to the 2007 Polokwane conference. In Mangaung in 2012, this group pushed for the “second radical phase of the transition” to democracy. It was also known as the second-term faction.

Problems began to emerge in the ANC in Durban 91, got worse in Polokwane and may continue to worsen in the near future. The ANC leadership focused disproportionately on building the state to the detriment of the party. Rather than building the party after apartheid, it deployed its best cadres in government in 1994 and forgot there was a party infrastructure to run.

To think that Ramaphosa will resolve the problems of the ANC is being too ambitious – the problems are much bigger than him.

Currently the ANC needs to finalise its mayoral candidates. If the CR faction gets the majority of mayoral candidates, this might be a problem for them since the RET also has its own supporters on the ground. Tshwane is a typical example where the No Sputla, No Vote campaign in 2016 cost the ANC the municipality. They also have to deal with the issues of Jacob Zuma’s arrest and its consequences with regard to his supporters or sympathisers who are not ANC members.

In the main, we might see a decline of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, and in Gauteng we will see a decline in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, as these were the areas affected by the riots in July. We have seen some ANC members from Tshwane marching to the IEC and rejecting the list submitted earlier in the month.

Looking at the opposition, the DA has an identity crisis and this will certainly affect the party, especially after the return of Helen Zille to its leadership. There have been allegations of racism which led to the resignations of former party leader Mmusi Maimane and former Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba in 2019. Some of their white supporters will vote for the Freedom Front Plus, as they will feel it represents them on farm murders and security issues.

Some DA supporters might also vote for Mashaba in Johannesburg, who has started his own party, Action SA. The DA has also lost the support of the black middle class over the years, a process that started with Lindiwe Mazibuko’s resignation as DA parliamentary leader and has only got worse as it shed its black leadership.  

There might be some disillusionment about how Bonginkosi Madikizela was treated after he announced that he was available for the DA’s mayoral candidate nomination in the City of Cape Town. He has occupied senior positions in the party and in government in the past as a DA member. However, the issue of Madikizela is not likely to affect the DA vote in Cape Town significantly. It is interesting that a party like the DA, which prides itself on efficiency, did not know for all these years that Madikizela does not have a BComm in human resource management.

If the DA wants the black middle-class vote, it will have to convince them that they are not a party that pushes black leaders out of the party. The township vote has not been the DA’s stronghold over the years. Although it has been able to get a few votes in the past, the identity crisis it is facing means it will be difficult to retain that township vote. In the Western Cape, it will continue to do well, as that is the party’s home ground and it has proven over the years that it has overwhelming support there. However, let’s not forget it is starting to lose votes in the townships there.

The EFF also has challenges going into these elections. It has failed to declare its party funding donors to the IEC, although leader Julius Malema said the party depends on levies paid by its public representatives as well as IEC funding.

Some people say Malema is the EFF and we have indeed seen signs of this over the years. For instance, in press conferences it is only Malema who addresses the media and hardly ever other party leaders. Malema has been seen as flip-flopping on key policy positions, with the most recent example being the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. In the past he expressed a desire to see Zuma in prison and gave him a tough time in Parliament; however, he has now changed his tune and has expressed his opposition to Zuma’s imprisonment, especially with allegations hanging over both of them that they dipped their fingers in the VBS till.

While the EFF has been growing its electoral base at every election since its formation, it is growing at a slow pace. It hasn’t managed to win any wards in the townships so far, as that remains the ANC’s chasse gardée. The most recent by-elections have shown that the EFF has a long way to go before it can win any wards in townships.

In 2014, the party won a large share of the middle-class vote which it had lost over the years because Malema is too violent in his rhetoric and inconsistent in his fight against corruption. Even on Twitter he no longer enjoys the support he had when the EFF was formed. Besides the race card, the EFF has nothing different to offer; it always uses the racial card to gain relevance in society. It speaks out against corruption, but there are allegations against it in the VBS saga.

South Africans are losing hope daily, and some no longer even seek employment because they have lost hope. The unemployment rate is too high and Covid-19 has made things worse. One of the other things that will lead to a low voter turnout is poor service delivery at local government level. The Auditor-General’s reports regularly reveal the huge amounts of wasteful and irregular expenditure in most municipalities.

We have seen how people continue to hold service delivery protests in different parts of the country, including protesting against the lack of water in places like Makana Municipality in the Eastern Cape. There are potholes everywhere in the country, even in the big metros, and we continue to see the ongoing problems of electricity. There are places that have been without electricity for months and this is not because of the notorious load shedding that affects the whole country every now and then.

We are now waiting to hear what’s new that the different political parties will be promising the people of South Africa as they launch their manifestos in the next few weeks. Will we see a cut-and-paste from their past manifestos or is someone going to give us something fresh – something different for once?

South Africans are tired of stale ideas; they want to see real change in their lives as things are getting tougher by the day. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Camille Augustus says:

    And on top of all of this, polling stations have very long queues which are not well managed. This time round it would literally be life threatening. People don’t wear their masks properly and don’t observe social distancing everywhere you look. Just going to the shops make people anxious. How motivated will disillusioned voters be to take the risk of exposure, given the political menu available to chose from? I think voter turnout is going to be a big problem.

    • District Six says:

      Anyone who cries about election queues and voting stations should step up and volunteer to run one voting station. There are many jobs on voting day. All voting stations are staffed by citizen volunteers. If you have something to complain about then do some citizen duty and do it better. I’ve done four democratic elections. I challenge you to do the thing you are complaining about.

  • District Six says:

    One thing voters have to make a big noise about is we hardly hear anything from or about political parties… until an election comes, and then they all want the mic. In the intervening years we don’t even know some of them are in Parliament. Come election time these slumbering “leaders” suddenly have something to say about termination of pregnancy, or the Indian community, or that the Constitutional Court is feeding secret documents to the ANC. The reason we don’t vote for the “opposition” is because voters don’t see or hear from them until elections.

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