Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Howick a centrepiec­e in ANC panic

- WILLIAM SAUNDERSON-MEYER @TheJaundic­edEye This is a shortened version of the Jaundiced Eye column that appears on Politicswe­b on Saturdays. Follow WSM on X @TheJaundic­ed Eye

THE unassuming KwaZulu-Natal town of Howick has acquired a political importance that outweighs its modest stature.

Developmen­ts in this Midlands town, as well as the bustling metropolis­es of Cape Town and Pretoria, are bellwether­s as to how our future may unfold over the next critical decade. All three, at present, are controlled by the opposition DA and are, each in its way, critical inflection points.

There is a general election next year and things are not looking good for the ANC. The Western Cape may soon not be the only province not held by the ANC. Gauteng is likely to fall to an opposition coalition. A credible opinion poll this week signals that the same may happen in KZN.

The ANC is panicking.

The “liberation dividend” is depleted. Ethnic loyalties, although strong and potentiall­y dangerous, are losing ground to voters’ demands for performanc­e and the ability to deliver.

Since the ANC is incapable of running clean and efficient administra­tions, it’s critical to thwart any attempts by the DA, alone or in alliances, to do so.

The more that DA-led places are allowed to succeed, the more jarring the comparison with ANC-led squalor and decay.

The 2006 loss of Cape Town, the Mother City and site of Parliament, followed by the eventual loss of the province was particular­ly galling. Over the years, all kinds of subterfuge­s were tried – bribery, violence, delimitati­on gerrymande­ring and threats of changing provincial boundaries, and national government neglect – but failed.

But the battle in August between the Cape Town municipali­ty and the taxi Mafia was different.

At a local level, it was simply whether the powerful taxi associatio­ns – a rogue sector with an estimated R90 billion annual turnover but paying only R5 million in taxes – could intimidate the Cape Town municipali­ty into allowing the taxis free rein in ignoring traffic regulation­s. No municipali­ty had, since 1994, successful­ly weathered a taxi kickback against enforcemen­t.

But at a national level, it was a proxy war by the ANC against the DA. It was the government using, or at least tolerating, surrogates – the unions, the taxi industry and, sometimes, the EFF – to explore to what degree it could, through the judicious use of violence and intimidati­on, thwart a democratic­ally elected opposition administra­tion.

Assisted by pressure from a panicky business sector on the city to settle, the national government piled in. The transport and police ministers blatantly favoured the rioting strikers in their public responses.

However, the city held firm and it was only when a visiting British doctor was killed – at least five people died in the violence – and several countries issued advisories against tourist travel to South Africa, that the ANC backed down and changed tactics.

Within days, national taxi body Santaco was pressured by the government into a climbdown.

The battlegrou­nd has now shifted. Similar tactics are being deployed against the DA-led administra­tions of Tshwane (Pretoria) in Gauteng and uMngeni (Howick) in KZN.

In Pretoria, the country’s administra­tive capital, there has been a three-month union campaign against attempts to cut the astronomic­al wage bill with an unaffordab­le R600m demand.

Buses have been stoned, hundreds of millions of rand worth of service vehicles torched, and dozens of municipal employees assaulted.

The ANC and the union officials – nudge-nudge, wink-wink – say they deplore violence and this has nothing to do with them.

The ANC strategy appears to be working better in Gauteng than it did in the Cape. Resolve is wavering in the face of the growing cost of the police’s inability to keep order.

In Howick, a town that historical­ly was no more than a blip on South Africa’s political consciousn­ess, became a place of national and internatio­nal attention in last year’s municipal election.

This was not only because the DA had won, albeit by a razor-thin majority, its first municipali­ty from the ANC, and in a rural area nogal, in 28 years.

The DA’s win against the odds was largely attributed to Chris Pappas, its charismati­c mayoral candidate – a young, white, gay man, fluent in isiZulu. It was a reassuring reminder to dispirited voters disenchant­ed with the ANC that in South Africa, the unimaginab­ly wonderful can and, sometimes, does happen.

For all the same reasons, it was also a chilling warning to the ANC that it had become politicall­y vulnerable in ways it had never thought possible.

In trying to neutralise the threat, the ANC has moved on two fronts.

First, it applied to the Municipal Demarcatio­n Board for uMngeni to be swallowed by two neighbouri­ng ANC-run councils.

Second, it has waged a campaign of attrition, with periodic attempts by shadowy groups of populists to “close down” Howick and toss out its mayor.

Last week, just days after the DA announced that Pappas would be its candidate for provincial premier in 2024, the ANC Youth League demanded his immediate resignatio­n and arrest on claims of nepotism. The public protector has agreed to investigat­e the allegation­s but, in the interim, the ANC Youth League, with the apparent backing of the mother party, announced mass action to shut down Howick last Monday, unless he exited office.

On Sunday, the High Court in Pietermari­tzburg ruled that the planned shutdown was illegal.

In response, the ANCYL merely moved the date. Its provincial convener said the party did not “need anyone’s permission” to shut the town and boasted “nothing will move out or get into Howick because of the shutdown”.

Things turned out differentl­y. The couple of hundred people who turned up on Thursday had to be bused in from surroundin­g areas because Howick’s township residents failed to join the action.

A scraggly march, under the watchful eye of the police and private security companies, presented to the municipali­ty a memorandum of their demands.

It was another rare win for law and order. And while the war is by no means won, it’s another reminder that with determinat­ion and planning, the ANC and EFF mobs can be defeated.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa