The ANC is having a rough time ahead of the local government elections, but it still has a fighting chance, writes Makgwathane Mothapo.
The 103-year-old ANC, which may appear to be desperately clutching at straws in the windy city of Port Elizabeth, faces a threat of being thrown out of office next year in the local government elections in this Eastern Cape metropolitan.
And this certainly isn’t the only metropolitan, which the ruling party appears be a risk of losing.
That’s a tantalising carrot for smaller parties ganging up for the spoils as the monolith’s gradual decline in support is now on the cusp of 50 percent in most cities.
To use a boxing analogy, the ruling party is on the ropes on all four sides of the ring: in Nelson Mandela Bay, the City of Tshwane, City of Joburg and Ekurhuleni.
It is unlikely we’ll see a myopic coalition of grievance between the two biggest opposition parties in the DA and EFF.
However, fading parties, some of which have been reduced to parish- pump status over time could be used as short-term kindling by the two big opposition parties after 2016, going into 2019 and beyond – a stratagem which won the DA control of the City of Cape Town and ultimately the Western Cape.
This gradual loss of power may also see the ANC itself holding on to power with the help of the gossamer thread of a coalition.
In due course psephologists and polling firms will start publishing surveys, and may probably jinx the graph. Meaning the ANC may, after all, retain the hyped “highly contested” four municipalities that are up for grab, including the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, which they’ve been publicly fretting about.
Local government elections are not the general elections dry run that they are drummed up to be, but a poisoned chalice, particularly for new parties.
The fledgling EFF could suffer an ignominious drubbing in the municipal elections which could stop its momentum, and damage the party’s spirit, and that of their voters, come the next general election.
So the salutary advice for the reds is to skip next year’s rather complex elections.
It is an incontrovertible fact that the DA, in its different guises, has been the only party to show consistent growth election after election since 1994, thanks largely to their cannibalistic diet.
And it is also true that on paper the youthful-upstart (the EFF), unlike the DA that is approaching its comfort zone, has no ceiling when it comes to the black vote, and has better prospects of real long-term growth.
But so have many other breakaways and new parties since 1994.
This is because the gradual decline in support for the ANC predates the EFF, breakaway of the Congress of the People (Cope) and several others before them, and is mutually exclusive of any other new party that may pop-up at election time in future. If the ANC is to lose votes at the ballot next year, it’ll still do so irrespective of whether EFF contests or not. Its decline does not equate to the growth of a whole lot of parties in opposition ranks.
However, the EFF’s vaulting arrogance is emboldened by the fall of long-ruling parties in India, Greece and Nigeria as well as a rise of radical and or renascent socialist parties elsewhere in the world, such as Jobbik in Hungary and Podemos in Spain.
South Africa has also seen a proliferation of parties whose centre of gravity is to the left, which augur well for future coalitions.
But should the EFF take the bait? It is unlikely it will paint the municipal wards’ map red.
If the EFF are to contest the municipal election, they’d be trounced to the point of despondency. And the voters may find them a Quixotic option to back in the future.
There are many imponderables to the local vote that the inaccurate statistical and sociological studies of elections would advance but never predict.
For example, Nhlanhla Nene, the Minister of Finance, and his junior counterparts at provincial and local level will have three attempts to play pork-barrel politics at all three tiers of government in their last budgets before the municipal elections.
And these “perks” of incumbency will also be exploited by departments such as Social Development, Water and Sanitation and so forth, leaving the opposition crying foul.
As such the ANC is not that spooked by a DA leader born and bred in a revolutionary Soweto or the prospect of the contentious Gauteng e-tolls being used as proxy referendum in the elections.
These imponderabilia, coupled with Nkandla, now a byword for corruption, and the Marikana massacre, and notwithstanding indefatigable opposition, will but remain odious transitory irritations that have been through elections before for the arrogant ruling party, and glop-brained electorate.
Another complexity is in the drawing of borders, between Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) and Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), where the right hand doesn’t know what left hand is doing.
The MDB’s byzantine gerrymandering has over the years stealthily expanded the City of Tshwane’s waistline, incorporating neighbouring municipalities to the west and east. The same boardroom machination is brewing in the City of Joburg around the sparse farmland that is Midvaal local municipality, the only municipality under the control of DA in Gauteng. These metros are all but secure, at least for the next poll.
While the EFF humoured the ANC with some semblance of dignity in a suspected case of vote rigging in Alexandra and other parts of Gauteng at last year’s general elections, the DA aware of its potential is equally complicit.
Some of the gerrymander and boundaries are drawn off wall maps in boardrooms, without any in loco inspection, and unwittingly lands other parties the wards, meaning their clamour in opposition is muted and can’t be vociferous.
The most frustrating drawing of boundaries or “administrative bungle” surely has to be Ward 42 in the east of City of Tshwane.
The ward boundaries, which are determined by the MDB and have political and constituency significance overlap with voting stations/ district boundaries, which are determined by the IEC and are, as they claim, purely administrative (with the objective of allocating voters for the purpose of maintaining the voters roll). Yet, this has created difficulties for the voting district and huge problems for the residents.
This meaning residents are unable to register to vote at convenient voting stations within the rather expansive and odious ward of impassable labyrinth of ridges.
Despite the litany of complaints and suggestions going back four elections, the IEC has shirked responsibility. According to Stuart Murphy, an official responsible for electoral matters at the IEC, it undertakes a review of their network of voting districts and voting stations once the MDB provides them with the wards for the (2016) local government elections.
“We expect the wards from MDB by the end of 2015,” he says.
The ANC is not interested in this three-party ward, which they have no hope of winning. Similarly, the DA is not interested in changing something that “works for them”. And this “mutually” beneficial gerrymander for the DA and ANC is pervasively countrywide.
As such an election hiatus may become an opportunity in disguise for the EFF to calm down organisational malaise and figure out the complicities of local elections.
But can a party that relies so much on funds from the IEC and Parliament afford to skip an election? And what about a cadre of foot soldiers due a reward in ward and councillor elections after grinding the political coalface?
*Mothapo is a marketing and communications practitioner. Follow him on @SocietyNews on twitter.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent