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South Africa’s municipalities are in ruins as we head to the voting booth


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

With two weeks left before the crucial November local government elections, it is to be expected that political parties will pull out all the stops to try to win votes.

We in the media are relishing the availability of the usually media-shy or rather slippery politicians. It is now a case of “tell me who you want and I’ll get them for you” as party hacks roll out their leaders for interviews. It would be foolish for anyone to think that any­thing has changed. Of course the voters are equally aware that the unprecedented visibility of political leaders in their communities is merely intended to win their votes.

Regular programming will resume as soon as the Electoral Commission announces the results. The elusive ones will soon recoil into their political shells and hide behind their expensive desks in their air-conditioned offices.

This election proves – as others have done before – that it’s still a case of more promises and very little or no delivery. But what is also glaring is the true extent of the ANC’s misrule of our country. The majority of the municipalities have been run into the ground. Nothing works and there are no exceptions. Apart from a few “successes” – really nothing more than a case of ordinary service delivery packaged as groundbreaking development – everything else is in ruins.

No wonder President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech at the ANC manifesto launch sounded like an apology for the ANC’s misrule rather than promises of a better future.

Put simply, the ANC’s manifesto comes across like an ex-lover begging for a “love back” although they haven’t demonstrated any signs of having changed their toxic behaviour.

This week, social media was abuzz with pictures of the swimming-pool-size pothole in Evaton, where fed-up residents put on swimming costumes and dipped their feet in the dirty pool just to draw attention to their deprivation. Sticking to the political script, the authorities were on site on Thursday to fix the road.

That poor communities have to go to such lengths just to get the basic services they deserve is sad.

The power of social media has also exposed the clearly overpriced R15-million stadium in Komani (formerly Queenstown) and other failures of the governing party.

It is easy to blame Jacob Zuma, as the current ANC leadership is wont to do. But Zuma was just the glaring manifestation of the deeper problem. The ANC is a corrupt party – at all levels.

In this regard, commentators tend to point out the obvious: that the voters should choose other parties, as though they have better offerings.

But all of them lack consistency and change their tune depending on their audience. To their credit, though, opposition parties – especially those who have not been given the mandate by the voters to run municipalities – cannot be held to the same standard as the ANC. Basically, their promises have not been put to the test.

The ANC, on the other hand, has been and is still in control of most of the municipalities in South Africa. Most of their electoral promises have not been delivered. Ageing infrastructure and corruption are a common thread running through the municipalities, regardless of the province.

Truly speaking, the ANC has not done anything to show that it deserves more political power. But the reality is that the governing party is likely to return to power in most of the councils – hopefully with a further reduced share of the votes.

To say the opposition is not doing a good job is to state the obvious. But South African voters are also rigid in their political views.

Besides his legendary flip-flopping on issues, EFF leader Julius Malema’s confrontational style, though popular with the youth, does not appeal to the majority of South Africa’s voters.

It has also not been a good two weeks for the DA’s John Steenhuisen – the party’s electoral strategy seems wobbly. He has had to eat humble pie after being called out by the party on the Phoenix race-baiting posters. But he has remained defiant, defending his views that the divisive posters were justified, thus exposing fissures within the upper echelons of the DA. It is a move that will probably work with the DA’s core constituency, but not with the rest of the electorate, which is largely poor and black.

It takes a while for voters to warm up to new entrants, so players like Herman Mashaba’s Action SA – notwithstanding his populist, xenophobic views – will probably have some impact but not enough to dislodge the ANC.

Although coalitions have proved to be a challenge, they are a better option than giving absolute power to the ANC. DM168

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

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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  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    As far as the greater majority of municipalities is concerned the incumbent ANC government definitely does not have a good story to tell. The overwhelming number of those that have sunk into filth, refuse strewn, waterless and mostly in despair, are ‘cadre – ‘ run and have very little, if any, regard for their residents, simply treating them as voter fodder when election time is near.So many once thriving little country towns are in a death spiral and it is so sad to see. Their only chance of a new start, would be to give their vote to other parties, independents, or civic run organizations. What a shameful situation!

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Coalitions are usually like some rugby games: just one scrum after another and no clear progress. Our towns need to be run efficiently with infrastructure that is diligently maintained by people who understand how to do this. This is 2021 not 1721. We don’t need a few more years of charlatans and crooks riding the gravy train and pretending to represent us and to care while everything they touch crumbles into ruin. Jacks in office should be answerable for their failures and crimes in the courts and at the polls. The parties should also swiftly remove and chastise non performers who bring them into disrepute. This is local politics grade 0 stuff. Really guys!

  • District Six says:

    The problems of decrepit rural towns is bigger than simply ANC incompetence. Towns are subject to urbanisation; rapid gentrification; the lack of resources – material and human; misapplication of resources; a tender system at the mercy of fronting, nepotism, and fraud; the inability to create local network economies; the tendency towards centralisation of resources; and the huge disparities involved in incorporating apartheid spatial economics. The issues are bigger than just the “deployed” mayor’s official Range Rover. Politicians have ruined it; but they cannot fix it – and this is now the biggest problem, especially in rural areas. We can’t fix it with the same mentality that created the mess. More political parties won’t save us; that’s how we got here. The party-system is a failure. The solution lies in decentralised infrastructure, more direct democracy, and stake-holder involvement.

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