How Nel­son Man­dela Bay may be the ANC’s mini Water­loo

The ANC will have to win back the trust of its vot­ers if it wants to stay in power in this large and sym­bol­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Finweek English Edition - - THE WEEK IN THE NEWS -

one-party dom­i­nant sys­tems, global ex­pe­ri­ences have shown, even­tu­ally fall into a cri­sis of le­git­i­macy. This of­ten stems from a per­cep­tion of in­ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance and lack of de­liv­ery on prom­ises made to the elec­torate. Dom­i­nant par­ties, like South Africa’s gov­ern­ing ANC, rely on two fac­tors to main­tain dom­i­nance. First, they need a pro­tected core of vot­ers that op­po­si­tion par­ties find dif­fi­cult to pen­e­trate and win over. Sec­ond, they must main­tain a per­cep­tion of ef­fec­tive­ness within this pro­tected core of vot­ers. If not, sup­port de­clines and this may even re­sult in a change of govern­ment. Ex­am­ples in­clude the ex­pe­ri­ence of the PRI in Mex­ico.

Los­ing le­git­i­macy is usu­ally a slow process. It nor­mally starts at a lo­cal level and then pro­gresses to na­tional level.

On top of this, dom­i­nant par­ties even­tu­ally suc­cumb to the pres­sures of fac­tion­al­ism, pa­tron­age and cor­rup­tion that open the po­lit­i­cal space for op­po­si­tion par­ties to max­imise their gains and po­ten­tially take power.

Th­ese dy­nam­ics are, to a large de­gree, play­ing out in Nel­son Man­dela Bay in the East­ern Cape. For a num­ber of years gov­er­nance in the city could best be de­scribed as weak. Fac­tional bat­tles, pa­tron­age and al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion with lit­tle or no ac­tion taken have cul­mi­nated in the de­liv­ery of ba­sic ser­vices com­ing to a stand­still. And a dra­matic de­cline in voter sup­port.

Why Nel­son Man­dela Bay is sig­nif­i­cant

In­creas­ingly ques­tions are be­ing raised about whether the ANC is show­ing signs of los­ing its le­git­i­macy. The gov­ern­ing party’s re­cent launch of its man­i­festo in Nel­son Man­dela Bay ahead of lo­cal elec­tions in Au­gust has raised the tempo. This is be­cause it has in­creased spec­u­la­tion that the ANC will lose power in the city, mak­ing it only the sec­ond ma­jor metropoli­tan district – Cape Town be­ing the other – out­side the gov­ern­ing party’s con­trol.

The party has seen its elec­toral sup­port de­cline in the area. In the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions the ANC got only 49% of the lo­cal vote. Na­tion­ally it won 62%.

This rep­re­sents the sec­ond-low­est elec­toral sup­port for the ANC af­ter Cape Town, which is gov­erned by the DA. Nel­son Man­dela Bay also car­ries a great deal of sym­bol­ism. It has a rich his­tory of lib­er­a­tion heroes and leg­ends who were born in the East­ern Cape and worked in the city. Also, one has to ap­pre­ci­ate the use of Nel­son Man­dela’s legacy in re­nam­ing the city, pre­vi­ously Port El­iz­a­beth. Los­ing a large mu­nic­i­pal­ity with the name of one of the ANC’s iconic lead­ers would be a sym­bolic blow. This in turn could ce­ment per­cep­tions at a na­tional level that if the ANC can­not main­tain sup­port in its heart­land, it may in­deed be fall­ing.

Fac­tors driv­ing dis­af­fec­tion

The ANC’s key mes­sages have fo­cused on lib­er­a­tion, of bring­ing free­dom and democ­racy, of cre­at­ing a bet­ter life for all. But com­mu­ni­ties at lo­cal level seem to have more im­me­di­ate con­cerns. Many have in­creas­ingly be­gun re­spond­ing to the ANC’s fail­ure to de­liver ba­sic ser­vices through de­struc­tive protests, many of which have turned vi­o­lent.

It is at the lo­cal level that the ANC seems to be slip­ping. Lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are char­ac­terised by a lack of ac­count­abil­ity, un­der-spend­ing, mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion, pa­tron­age and anorexic de­liv­ery of wa­ter, hous­ing and elec­tric­ity. This may cre­ate the open­ing for the op­po­si­tion to be­come a chal­lenger to the party’s once-com­fort­able elec­toral ma­jor­ity.

The low at­ten­dance at the ANC’s man­i­festo launch demon­strates that the party no longer holds much weight with the elec­torate in Nel­son Man­dela Bay. It would seem that sup­port for the ANC is no longer that of un­con­di­tional trust. Rather, it is based on whether the dream of 1994 has ma­te­ri­alised.

The prom­ises of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, hous­ing and other ba­sic ser­vices re­main a lux­ury for the marginalised in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s town­ships. For the poor this has meant a lack of de­liv­ery in hous­ing and san­i­ta­tion, in­clud­ing the con­tin­ued use of what is known as the bucket sys­tem. In the ab­sence of toi­lets, peo­ple have to use buck­ets.

Or­di­nary peo­ple no longer feel they are a pri­or­ity for the ANC. They have taken to the streets, dra­mat­i­cally bring­ing the city to a stand­still dur­ing bit­ter fac­tional bat­tles. By 2012, the level of protests, par­tic­u­larly in Nel­son Man­dela Bay, had es­ca­lated to such a de­gree that the East­ern Cape

The low at­ten­dance at the ANC’s man­i­festo launch demon­strates that the party no longer holds much weight with the elec­torate in Nel­son Man­dela Bay.

The crowd lis­tens to speak­ers at the ANC man­i­festo launch at the Nel­son Man­dela Bay sta­dium on 16 April.

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