News / Africa

Tough Election Test Ahead for South African Government

South Africa’s upcoming municipal elections expected to be a big test for ANC government

Darren Taylor

This is Part 1 of a 5-part series: Municipal Elections in South Africa-
Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

One of South Africa’s leading analysts on local government issues described the forthcoming polls as “very significant,” calling them the “first real political test” of President Jacob Zuma’s government since the African National Congress [ANC] leader came to power in 2009.

South Africa’s ruling ANC party will rely heavily on the personality of President Jacob Zuma during the country’s upcoming local government, or municipal, elections
South Africa’s ruling ANC party will rely heavily on the personality of President Jacob Zuma during the country’s upcoming local government, or municipal, elections


“I think from that perspective it is quite important for the ANC, and especially for President Zuma, that the ANC delivers very good results in this election,” said Dirk Kotze, a professor of politics at the University of South Africa in Pretoria.

South Africa’s previous municipal vote, in 2006, saw the ANC win control of five of the country’s six metropolitan councils. But some political commentators feel the party, which has dominated national and local government since it won the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994, is in danger of losing several cities to main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance [DA], in elections scheduled for May 18.

The DA has managed the Cape Town council since 2006 and boasts a largely impressive record of delivering services to the city’s inhabitants, while surveys show that dissatisfaction with the ANC’s provision of basic services is at an all-time high.

In the run-up to the municipal elections, there have been unprecedented and violent protests against city and town councils led by the ANC across South Africa. Residents, demonstrating against non-delivery of essential services such as housing, water and electricity, have rampaged through the streets, destroying government property. The police have sometimes opened fire on protestors, and there’ve been many injuries and some fatalities.

In the run-up to the municipal polls, the South African police have crushed several violent demonstrations against mostly ANC-managed town and city councils
In the run-up to the municipal polls, the South African police have crushed several violent demonstrations against mostly ANC-managed town and city councils


Even top ANC members, such as Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, have vehemently criticized the party for its poor service delivery record.

The leader of the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, said the party is riddled with “rot and malaise” and corruption.
He warned that the upcoming polls could see the ruling party usurped by the DA in what were previously ANC strongholds. “If we allow people to take our movement in the direction they are taking it, very soon we will have to call someone ‘President Zille,’” Vavi has said, in reference to DA leader Helen Zille.

ANC achievements

Yet the ANC insists it has “significantly” improved the lives of the vast majority of South Africans through “successful, democratic local government.” In a statement sent to VOA, the party listed some of its “major achievements” in providing municipal services, especially to the country’s millions of poor people in recent years.

Leading ANC officials, such as Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, have broken ranks to criticize the party ahead of the elections
Leading ANC officials, such as Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, have broken ranks to criticize the party ahead of the elections


In 1994, it maintained, only 62 percent of South African households had access to “adequate” water supplies. In 2010, said the ANC, “93 percent of the population had access to an improved drinking water supply.”

Opposition parties dispute the ANC’s statistics, saying the figure is far lower.

In 1994, said the ANC, about 610,000 South African households did not have toilets, using buckets to dispose of human waste. In 2009, it said, just over 9,000 households were using the “bucket system” and it expects this figure to have fallen “much further” last year.

As a result of improvements such as this, said the ANC, 73 percent of South Africans now have access to basic sanitation services and it expects to deliver “proper” toilets to all South Africans by 2014.

In 1996, said the ANC, just over 30 percent of South African households had electricity. Now, it maintains, thanks to its efforts, more than 80 percent have power. Again, opposition parties say this figure is inflated.

History on ANC’s side


Despite apparent successes, protests against certain municipalities managed by the ANC are continuing in South Africa. And social movements, unhappy with what they say is the government’s failure to provide most poor citizens with land and houses, as the ANC promised to do in 1994, are springing up all over the country.

The ANC government says it has provided water, electricity and housing to many millions of South Africans in recent years … Yet many citizens still live in dire poverty in shacks
The ANC government says it has provided water, electricity and housing to many millions of South Africans in recent years … Yet many citizens still live in dire poverty in shacks


Kotze said while these organizations are “very successful in mobilizing people” against certain state policies, they are “not yet a direct challenge” to the ANC government.

“For them the DA is just as much unacceptable as the ANC. So it is more of an anti-politics sentiment that’s developing, instead of anti-ANC sentiment specifically,” Kotze said.

He pointed out that despite the many demonstrations against the ANC, and the obvious lack of service delivery in many impoverished parts of South Africa, citizens have largely voted for ANC candidates ever since the first municipal polls in 1995.

With a few possible exceptions, said Kotze, this trend is set to continue on May 18. “Voters in South Africa are not ‘rational choice’ type of voters; (they don’t give) allegiance to political parties based on, for example, very attractive election manifestos or based on poor service delivery by the incumbent government.”

Despite ongoing protests against service delivery in certain ANC-controlled municipalities, analysts say the party retains strong support in South Africa
Despite ongoing protests against service delivery in certain ANC-controlled municipalities, analysts say the party retains strong support in South Africa


He explained that South Africans often vote for ANC candidates – “no matter how good or bad their service delivery records” – simply because the candidates represent the party that liberated their country from apartheid, and they associate the candidates with iconic former president Nelson Mandela.

“We are still stuck in that framework when making political choices. That is why it is so very difficult for any of the opposition parties to exploit a shifting vote – because this really doesn’t exist, to a large extent,” said Kotze.

Culture of not paying rates and taxes


Like other analysts, the politics professor is convinced that only “very low voter participation” could hurt the ANC. He said such a “stay-away” by people who traditionally vote for ruling party candidates could happen because of the poor performance of some municipalities led by the ANC.

One leading political analyst says many South Africans continue to back the ANC simply because of the party’s former leader and liberation legend, Nelson Mandela
One leading political analyst says many South Africans continue to back the ANC simply because of the party’s former leader and liberation legend, Nelson Mandela


“There’s a feeling of arrogance on the side of councilors and the feeling that they are untouchable because they basically represent the ANC. And that (allows) them to work with impunity and not be responsive and accountable to the communities where they come from,” Kotze explained.

A “good example” of this, he continued, is the case of Nkosinathi Shabalala, who has been nominated by the ANC to stand in the election as a councilor in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg. In a recent report in The Times newspaper, Shabalala acknowledged that he himself owed the local municipality 27,000 rands [almost US$ 4,000] for water and electricity. He added that he would refuse to pay because “nobody is paying their bills.” Shabalala asked, “So why should I pay?”

Kotze said a “culture of non-delivery and non-payment” represented by the prospective city councilor’s attitude is “one of the key problems” with local government in South Africa.

The leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, during the soccer World Cup in South Africa in 2010
The leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, during the soccer World Cup in South Africa in 2010

He added that the country has “sophisticated legislation” that should ensure good municipal services, but “doesn’t have the local officials who are skilled enough to implement it.”

Many councilors, Kotze said, are simply poor managers. “In many cases there are local authorities that don’t spend their budgets (for) the year because they don’t have the capacity to do it.… So ratepayers end up paying for services they do not receive” and so eventually stop paying their bills.

Race politics

But Kotze said he expects a “stay away” from the polls by people upset at the ANC’s alleged lack of delivery to benefit the DA only in “limited” regions of South Africa, because the main opposition party doesn’t yet have “national presence.”

One of the main problems facing the DA, he said, “is that it is concentrated only in two of the nine provinces. That means they are not able to really challenge the ANC at a national level. ”

Sixty-five percent of the DA’s votes in the 2009 general elections came from the Gauteng and Western Cape provinces. “One of the opposition’s key challenges is to develop a national presence. If they can’t do this, they won’t be a true alternative to the ANC,” Kotze said.

The DA has aggressively sought black South Africans’ votes ahead of the 2011 local government polls
The DA has aggressively sought black South Africans’ votes ahead of the 2011 local government polls

Another factor counting against the DA, he said, is the perception that it represents the interests of South Africa’s privileged whites – personified by its leader, Helen Zille.

Kotze agrees that while the ANC benefits from its history as the party that successfully battled white supremacy, the DA is to a degree hamstrung by its past – even though many DA leaders, including Zille, have impressive records of opposing apartheid.

“The DA’s history is one that comes from the more liberal, white tradition, and it’s quite difficult for them to change their identity or their public profile,” he said.

The problem for the DA, said Kotze, is that almost two decades after apartheid ended most South Africans still vote along racial lines. So while the DA has a good record of service delivery in areas where it’s in power, it’s still seen as a “white party,” so most black South Africans consistently vote against it.

Young, black DA leaders such as Lindiwe Mazibuko represent a much-changed opposition party – one that is now South Africa’s most racially diverse political organization
Young, black DA leaders such as Lindiwe Mazibuko represent a much-changed opposition party – one that is now South Africa’s most racially diverse political organization

But he does see this scenario changing in the future as a result of the DA’s “aggressive” attempts to transform itself into a political movement representing all races in South Africa. With the ANC leaders being almost exclusively black, the DA has in recent years become the country’s most racially diverse political party.

“So the whole identity of the DA in terms of its positioning in politics is changing, and I think that has some (positive) impact already on their results,” Kotze explained.

Analysts are united in their belief that dire implications will follow for South Africa if delivery of services to most people continues to be poor after the May local government elections. Some have described the country’s legions of poor people as “a powder keg.”

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs