Having started the conversation on “who to elect” in this year’s local government election (LGE21) last week, I want to start laying out the options; the parties that will contest the election; and why voters should or should not care or even vote for them. We can start at the top, so to speak, with the national governing party, the ANC, which dominates most local governments in the country.
It is necessary to (re)state at the outset that voters may cast their ballots for anyone or any party of their choice. It is important to bear in mind, though, that the LGE21 is where the rubber hits the road. It is about where and how you live. It is about whether you have running water or a reliable supply of electricity and a functioning sewerage system. It is about whether your streets are cleaned and whether rubbish is collected regularly. It is about the availability of libraries, functioning traffic lights, local healthcare facilities and, perhaps most importantly, it is about community safety.
To be sure, some of these public goods and services are heavily dependent on national departments, but it is at the local level where distribution happens.
The grid position
The governing ANC starts the electoral race in pole position, but its leadership is at the wheel of a rickety vehicle, and an untrustworthy craft. There are three things the ANC has in its favour. Two are objective, and one is subjective. First, the ANC has the power of incumbency. Part of that is that (second) the ANC office bearers, whether they are cadres directly employed, or persons who have gotten their positions for “purely professional” reasons, can be assumed to be experienced and hard working.
But, experience is no guarantee of anything. You can do 10 specific things a day for 10 years, and be profoundly experienced at just that. In so many instances robotics and artificial intelligence can replace you at the press of a button. Being hard-working is meaningless. You can work hard at being bad, mediocre while being unimaginative and blinded by revolutionary rhetoric. Which brings us to the subjective (third) issue. The ANC and its alliance partners are hanging on to their credibility as “the force that liberated South Africans” by their fingernails.
With the majority of South Africans under the age of 30, there is a generation who will either not vote or who know only of an ANC that has housed the worst of (alleged) criminals, and a sea of corruption. They also see the worthlessness of the ANC leader trying to restore the ANC to its glory days as the “family feud” continues. There is really nothing revelatory in saying that the disparate factions of the ANC, almost all of whom have been tainted or seduced by corruption, are fighting for access to further rent-seeking.
It’s not wildly unfair to say that the ANC’s liberation credentials, and the romanticism around that, are held dear by people over the age of 40. Very many of these people may well vote for the ANC again, but it is this demographic that will determine whether the ANC succeeds in LGE21.
Meglio il diavolo che conosci?
I apologise for the Italian subheading. I can only explain it because I have used evidence from the way that organised crime in southern Italy, especially Sicily, eroded and hollowed out the state, and how a culture emerged of “tutti colpevoli nessuno colpevole” (if everyone is guilty than no one is guilty). In other words, how can you arrest one person for something when everyone is doing the same thing.
I have written about it on several occasions – starting as early as 2015. I have also made reference to the way that criminal and unethical activities at the top are emulated by people at the bottom (in Business Day also in 2015), and how extortion has become permissible and pervasive under ANC rule. So, the sub-heading above asks the simple question. Can it be said about the ANC that they are lesser of all evils or “better the devil you know”.
Well, it depends if you want to hang on to the reveries of liberation – the good things we choose to remember about Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and a host of other revolutionaries – or if you want to look at the way that municipalities are actually run by the ANC. It is worth repeating, in some detail, an editorial in Business Day of 1 July this year:
“It’s a grim prospect, and underscores how SA’s municipalities are a wreck — both in their provision of services and in their finances, which have become even more shambolic than they were last year. It’s a decline that is grotesquely tabulated in the auditor-general’s latest report.
“The report reveals that only 27 of the 257 municipalities received clean audits. And, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke said, audits in 57 municipalities were not even completed.
“Or, put another way, in their present state of collapse, R5.5-billion could simply disappear from our municipalities without any paperwork to suggest its whereabouts, while R26bn is estimated to have been spent irregularly countrywide.”
Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten reported three weeks later that “just more than a quarter of South Africa’s municipalities, or 27%, themselves say they don’t know if they can continue — and almost one in four councils, or 57, failed to deliver any kind of financial statement by the statutory audit deadline”.
These observations span newspapers across the spectrum. The Star in Johannesburg echoed the above sentiments on 12 August:
“The rampant corruption and maladministration in municipalities across the country remain a major cause for concern, and something needs to be done to stop the rot. Every now and then, we witness shocking incidents and allegations levelled against those tasked with the management of these institutions. More shocking is the fact that municipalities are the sphere of government closest to the people on the ground.”
The key phrase in this editorial is that “municipalities are the sphere of government closest to the people on the ground” – it’s where the rubber hits the road.
Writing a newspaper column is a privilege. Most columnists tend to be senior persons – senior in terms of experience, exposure, insight and analytical skills. Columnists are allowed freedom to write what they like – within moral, ethical and legal limits, and with common decency. There should be no misunderstanding; columnists can get things wrong at times. Very rarely are columnists directly didactic. We can, nonetheless, ask the difficult questions that allow readers to make better decisions.
The question here, then, when faced with the evidence, given the objective and the subjective views expressed about the ANC over the past 15 years or so, does the public have a CSI moment? The electorate should follow the evidence and cast their vote for the party they trust the most. They should elect the party that will guarantee community safety, better housing, better sanitation, clean roads, rubbish collection and reliable sources of utilities (water and electricity).
What most columnists will not do is tell people who to vote for. All we do is lay out the evidence and present the ideas, conditions and circumstances that have led communities to where they are today. They have a right to ask whether the next local government will do better than the ones they have had over the past decade or so. DM