ANC elections campaign head Fikile Mbalula appeared confident that the party has once again won the hearts of the majority of South Africa’s voters following a strong last-minute campaign push.
“The ANC went door to door talking to people,” he told a handful of journalists in Luthuli House for the hybrid launch of the ANC’s local government barometer on Wednesday. “They communicated the message, ‘we will vote ANC but please do better’,” he said.
Mbalula also said the ANC’s majority wasn’t a given, but he also said the criticism of ANC leaders, and in particular President Cyril Ramaphosa, by people on the ground, was not a rejection of the party.
“People have told us what they think of the ANC in the past five years,” he said, “starting with our president on the campaign trail. The media have misinterpreted that as an opposition to the ANC. It’s fine. We don’t mind for things to be characterised as such. They have spoken and we listen.”
One of the most prominent messages on the ANC’s campaign trail was that the party was renewing itself, with an implication that it would do better than in the past five or more years. The big question is whether voters will believe such promises again.
ANC deputy general Jessie Duarte said the barometer the party was launching was “a tool for us to measure the capacity of a councillor at local government level to do the job”.
This goes back to the talk about renewal within the ANC which, she said, referred to renewing a system and “the understanding of the people who will lead that system”. She described this as “quite a courageous and bold thing to have to do, because you are dealing with people who are used to a particular system and you come along and you say, ‘no no no, it’s no longer going to be like that’.”
She says the ANC will not be interfering with “the business of local government administration” but rather “we are going to make sure that our policies are implemented by that administration in a correct and effective way”.
Part of this is also about the enhancement of leadership capacity and “making sure that people understand what they are going to do”.
The involvement of communities in the selection of councillor candidates was part of this renewal, Duarte said, while the appointment of mayors following an interview process in ANC municipalities was the other.
These interviews should be done around 13 to 15 November, she said.
Councillors will also have to sign contracts in line with the barometer to guarantee performance and ethics. “Our plan is clear and we will follow it to the letter,” Duarte said. “Where a councillor doesn’t sign the contract, they will have to come out of the council.”
She said the barometer was a measurement to “ensure that we ourselves will not fall asleep on the wheel”. It will also guide those who work in municipalities where there are coalitions.
The launch of the barometer was also used as an opportunity to highlight instances where the ANC has been successful, and the mayors of the Ekurhuleni Metro, Senqu Local Municipality and the Ehlanzeni District Municipality — all considered to be well-administered — spoke about their successes at the briefing.
Somewhat harsher criticism came from one of the academics participating in the briefing. Jaap de Visser from the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law at the University of the Western Cape said there had been a number of cases that showed how municipal councils had failed completely in the past few years.
He mentioned the example of the Phokwane municipality where the council had to go to court to determine which of the two Speakers elected was correctly appointed. In Metsimaholo last year a meeting collapsed and a group of councillors organised an alternative meeting and appointed officials in that meeting.
“These are not ordinary governance disputes, this is where governance indeed collapses,” he said.
Such failures are immediately felt, he said, because, for example, the trucks will not leave the municipal depot the next day.
He said he hoped the barometer would also hold ANC councillors accountable for the respect of law and constitutionalism. “I want to commend the ANC for starting this initiative to hold councillors accountable and to remind them of their duty towards the sacred institution of the state,” he said.
He said the barometer also spoke to the ANC in opposition and in coalition. In his institute, De Visser said, was a poster of former National Prosecuting Authority head Bulelani Ngcuka, who had said that the ANC’s constitutional committee designed the Constitution thinking of the ANC not only being in government but also to serve the ANC when in opposition.
He said although this wasn’t a popular topic to raise ahead of an election, the ANC should contemplate what it meant to be in a coalition, and what it had learnt from being in opposition for 15 years in Cape Town.
“The record of coalitions, in some of which the ANC was a partner, has not always been great, but of course there were a few notable exceptions,” he said. “There is no doubt that the political management of coalitions must improve, and I think this calls for a different style of leadership that is principled but also pragmatic but also inclusive.”
In the last local government elections in 2016, the ANC won an outright majority in 163 out of the 257 municipalities, whereas the DA had an outright majority in 19.
The first edition of the ANC’s local government barometer points out that those living in DA municipalities are far more affluent. “ANC municipalities have significantly higher levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment to deal with,” the document notes. On 2015 figures, it points out that the average GDP in ANC municipalities was R11.5-billion, whereas in the DA municipalities it was R28.4-billion. The average taxable income in ANC municipalities in 2018/19 was R3.7-billion and in DA municipalities R14-billion.
ANC municipalities had an average budget of R1.2-billion to work with in 2021 whereas DA municipalities had an average budget of R3.9-billion.
“These structural factors, coupled with the lack of skills capacity and political dynamics, explains why some municipalities are so dissimilar, resulting in dysfunctionality,” the document notes. DM