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

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid