President Jacob Zuma has warned the ANC’s detractors to step aside and give the party space to govern in terms of its election mandate.
Zuma told the thousands attending the party’s 104th anniversary rally in Rustenburg in North West that opposition parties, the media, commentators and analysts were attempting to “divert legitimate democratic outcomes” and in so doing, undermine democracy.
In a veiled reference to the DA and the EFF, Zuma said the governing party should not be obstructed by disruptions of Parliament or “continuous court challenges”.
Calling on citizens to defend democracy, Zuma said there should be “no spurious attempts to circumvent the legitimate exercise of people’s power” by low-intensity “law-fare” and other means.
Zuma used the event, which traditionally sets out the ANC’s priorities for the year, to lay down the law on how the party should select candidates for the local government elections, scheduled for mid-2016. He said only the names of those popular among their communities should be put forward.
“We are not allowed to impose our own candidates, because we love them, on the community. The community must have a bigger say because, when we elect councillors, we are not electing them to lead the ANC branches, but to lead the community,” he said.
He told supporters who braved the sweltering heat at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium that the branches must let communities interrogate candidates in open meetings.
Despite Zuma’s pronouncement on Friday that winning the elections was going to be “a walk in the park for the ANC”, signs are that the gruelling municipal elections campaign that awaits the party will begin with internal battles.
Even before Zuma read his speech, the fight over who would get to become a councillor candidate was already brewing.
Ahead of the rally, the ANC’s allies, labour federation Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP), had stated that the ruling party should not allow ANC processes to be corrupted again, as happened in the 2011 local elections.
According to ANC insiders, there were early signs of procedures being manipulated to dispense patronage, resulting in potentially qualifying candidates being sidelined.
Factions were trying to put themselves at an advantage ahead of the 2017 electoral conference by hand-picking councillors who would, in turn, be expected to back certain leaders next year.
City Press has learnt that while the ANC halted its councillor selection process last year, some structures – particularly in Mpumalanga – had continued with the process formally or informally.
The growth of the opposition in the 2014 general elections and the weakening of the ANC in key metros such as Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay suggested that fewer seats would be available for aspirant councillors. This has intensified competition for places on the election list.
In Rustenburg, conflict between factions saw ANC members, who were supposed to drum up support for the rally, resort to violence this week.
But a boisterous Zuma said at the party’s gala dinner on Friday that the ANC had “no substitute”.
The SACP and Cosatu also weighed in on the councillor issue, with Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini warning the ANC not to force unpopular councillor candidates on communities, as it would be difficult for the alliance to campaign for them.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande took a similar tone.
Turning to racism, Zuma said “a tiny minority” still “harboured the desire for separate amenities and … apartheid-era leaders. They do not represent the true character of the new South Africa. They are living in the past.”
He reiterated government’s commitment to enabling access to tertiary education for poor students, pledging that, in addition to the R2.6 billion the government had committed after the #FeesMustFall uprising, R2 billion would be forthcoming in the 2016/17 financial year.