Best election scenario for ANC supporters
THE best conceivable result for African National Congress supporters in next week’s local government elections is not a landslide win for their party. Paradoxically, in delivery terms the best result would be a vastly improved showing by the opposition parties.
Local government is in collapse. Corruption and incompetence are not only costing billions, but they have eroded the nexus between the government and its citizens at the municipal level — the level at which people have their greatest interaction with the state because of the delivery of basic services.
According to a Beeld report that has been denied by the government, the situation is so bad that this week the Cabinet rejected a damning Treasury report on municipal administration, said to have caused a stir among the ministers. The Treasury was supposedly told to “repackage” the report to make it politically less explosive.
While there are obvious historical reasons for the challenges that face municipalities, undoubtedly it is greed, corruption, nepotism and poor leadership by deployed ANC cadres that are the proximate causes of the dysfunction of most local-government structures.
To modify this disastrous equation, voters need to convince the ANC — filled with true believers confident of ruling “until Jesus returns”, in President Jacob Zuma’s words — that Judgment Day is imminent and that some repentance and hasty, arse-covering good behaviour is called for.
Since voters have until now delivered the ANC massive majorities as a matter of course, there has been no motivation for good governance. It is only the spectre of losing control of increasing swathes of the country that will force accountability and efficient administration.
What is key in this election, perhaps the most important since 1994 despite its third-tier nature, is whether large numbers of ANC supporters will turn their backs on the party credited with achieving liberation and instead vote for opposition parties, or at least abstain from voting.
Many natural ANC voters are alienated. Angry township protests, reminiscent of those that shook the apartheid government, are increasingly commonplace.
Since ANC losses at council level will in no way endanger its hold on power at a national level, an anti-vote, or at least an ANC voter stayaway, is conceivable in a way that a swing against the ANC in national elections is not.
The prospect has opposition parties salivating with their customary but exaggerated optimism. The Democratic Alliance, especially, is licking its chops.
The DA’s efficient administration of Cape Town paved the way for its win of the Western Cape in the past election. Now the DA is starry eyed, hinting that its Cape success stories might in turn deliver victories in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria.
This is unlikely, since the ANC has always proved to be skilled at its last-minute herding of the voting cattle. But even the prospect of an opposition coalition taking power in the major city of the Eastern Cape — the birthplace of the struggle — or in the nation’s capital, must be giving both the DA and the ANC sweaty palms and palpitations, albeit for different reasons.
These elections are also a test of the calibre of what DA leader Helen Zille refers to as their “home-grown timber”, the black African leadership cadre it is trying to develop.
How the party’s generally young and inexperienced black candidates perform, especially in a Johannesburg metro that is ripe for the picking, will signal whether the DA is growing hardwoods or pulping fodder.
On the other hand, if the DA does thrive in black African areas, as opposed to coloured and Indian areas, it will be the first sign of South Africa overcoming its racially defined voting patterns.
That’s a habit that would be really good to break.