Best elec­tion sce­nario for ANC sup­port­ers

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - with WIL­LIAM SAUNDERSON-MEYER

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.

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