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Local government elections: Parties prioritise self-int...

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Opinionista

Local government elections: Parties prioritise self-interest over the defence of democracy

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Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This weekend will probably be the busiest on our political calendar this year, with three of the main parties launching their local government manifestos in days to come.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

The DA has chosen Saturday, 25 September, to launch its manifesto in a virtual event, and the EFF will follow up on Sunday with a physical event in Johannesburg. The ANC will make its electoral promises on Monday, 27 September in Tshwane.

The upcoming local government elections are being held under challenging circumstances for the parties and the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC). Not only do they have to meet strict deadlines but they also have limited time to fully prepare for the 1 November polls.

It will also be the first election of its magnitude to take place since the outbreak of Covid-19 at the beginning of 2020.

Already, the parties have complained about being constrained in carrying out political campaigning effectively.

South Africans will have also noticed that unlike in previous elections – when every lamp post was dotted by political party posters competing for prominence – we have seen less of that this time around. Some will also have forgotten that, in the past, political parties went to the extent of laying criminal charges against each other for the vandalism of posters. Oh, the pettiness. Then again, during the election season anything goes.

Others will wonder why we have not seen such silliness in the run-up to the local government elections. No, political maturity is not the reason and neither is Covid-19.

But this subdued election campaign is, in part, a result of the fact that our political parties are working with much-reduced budgets.

The Political Party Funding Act, the progressive piece of legislation that came into effect on 1 April, is already bearing fruit. Every political party, especially the major ones, is feeling its effects. Don’t be surprised if they join forces to push for its amendment in Parliament.

I will come back to this point later.

Although political parties will fight each other out in public and even drag each other to court, in the majority of the cases this is not done “in defence of democracy” but rather out of self-interest.

Take the recent application in the Constitutional Court, where the DA challenged the IEC’s decision to reopen the candidate nomination process –  arguing that the decision was intended to benefit the ANC.

The DA application was supported by the EFF and the IFP. It turned out that the three parties, like the ANC, had also missed deadlines to submit candidates in some areas. But not to the extent of the ANC, which was unable to submit party lists and ward candidate nominations in 20 municipalities and 598 wards.

But, for them, as the Constitutional Court put it, “one may infer that the non-compliance by these three parties was not on a scale which swung their political calculus in favour of supporting the extension of the candidate cut-off date”.

Thus the motivation for the DA application – supported by the EFF, the IFP and the ATM – was, according to the Constitutional Court, aimed at ensuring that “the ANC would be removed as a potentially successful political rival”. But the court made it clear that, in its judgment, it placed the needs of the voters ahead of the parties.

These three parties failed in the Constitutional Court, but what they did not tell their supporters is that they also benefited from the reopening of the candidate-nomination process. In fact they went on to register candidates by the 21 September deadline in the wards where they had failed to do so. Such is politics.

Politicians are duplicitous by nature – they say one thing, then do the opposite.

I make this point to demonstrate, also, that ideological rivals such as the DA and the EFF can be bedfellows, depending on their interests.

We saw it in three of the metros after the 2016 elections, when the DA governed in Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Joburg, with the support of the EFF.

We also saw the EFF and the ANC fervently support the parliamentary process for the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution to clarify the issue of expropriation of land without compensation.

Coming back to the issue of the Political Party Funding Act, the ANC has already blamed its financial woes on the implications of the Act, saying that its donors are coy about being identified.

That is already a red flag. But the ANC is not alone.

The DA’s opposition to the Act is well recorded, having previously argued that its donors would face harassment if they were identified. The IFP was vociferous on the prohibition of funds coming from foreign sources – hence the compromise to allow foreign funding for training purposes.

The ANC may have initially supported the Act, but it is now feeling the pinch. Any donation above R100,000 has to be declared and no political party member can receive a donation except for political purposes or on behalf of a party.

It is understood that some within the governing party are already mulling the idea of raising the limits as prescribed by the Act. This process to amend the Act can only start after the November elections.

This must be resisted at all costs.

It must be remembered that, unlike the Constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to amend,  it will take a simple majority in the National Assembly to amend the Act.

There would be no justification for the amendment of the Act other than to avoid scrutiny. Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of a democracy.

For far too long we have allowed political parties to be a law unto themselves.

The media and civil society should keep their eyes peeled and shine a light on any attempt to amend the Act ahead of the 2024 elections. DM168

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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  • Please. Of course the DA – and all political parties – want to win. Don’t hold the fact that the ANC is useless against them.

    Likewise, of course they are going to register where missed should it be re-opened. Do you expect them not to?

    Getting rid of a useless party and at the same time winning is very much in defense of any sort of democracy I want to live in.

  • As long as parties parachute in people from a list of The Anointed Ones, elections will be about the Party instead of the Voter. I had to go to national regulator NERSA after my local council simply refused PAIA applications for information that the Energy Regulation Act clearly compels the council to give. The head of engineering services is a parachuted lawyer.

    This election I am voting candidate not party

    • An individual will take way too long to change this country …ask Cyril Ramaphosa.

      This country needs a strong opposition party to force change and force it fast.

  • The DA speaks with forked tongue: lodge a court application with a big noise and lots of faux indignation but quietly slip in their own updated party lists. Anyone looking to President Ramaphosa or the DA as a messiah is not looking hard enough. No doubt DA supporters will excuse this as “just politicking” but in truth it is duplicity. Did they tell their incensed supporters that they were doing the exact same thing as what they were so noisily virtue signalling about – no; so not even transparent. In other words given the right incentive and circumstances they will behave exactly like the ANC. Small comfort.

    • The DA has its faults, but it is 10,000% better than the ANC and can actually show examples of proper governance, unlike the cANCer currently in charge.

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