SPECIAL REPORT: 2016 South African local general elections

By – Nontokozo Mhlongo

“We will rule till Jesus comes back”. That has always been South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress’s, ANC, utterance. Nothing wrong about being confident, but please back that up with good governance.

This year’s local general elections showed just how wrong the ANC has been. With South African’s cry for change and better governance falling on deaf ears, the elections were all about humbling the ANC to repentance.

Although these were local government elections, they bare national significance. The ANC has always thought that since black people are in the majority the party will always win and dominate South Africa’s politics.

A number of things have taken place to influence the outcome of these elections, most of them controversial. Excluding President Jacob Zuma’s legal battles, the major ones that come to mind are, the Marikana Massacre, the Fees must fall movement as well as the plummeting of the Rand when Zuma removed the Minister of Finance.

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Four years ago on August 16 South Africans were in shock as they watched on television the gunning down of miners by the police at platinum mine, Lonmin. The miners were protesting for better wages and housing. The protest ended tragically, with 44 people killed in a week.

No one has yet been arrested except the miners, and the State refuses to take responsibility. This is despite the fact that after a two-year inquiry both the Government and the mine were found to have been in the wrong.

The compensation that the victims’ families, as well as hundreds of mineworkers who were injured and arrested want from the state has not materialized. Former Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, a number of other ministers as well as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, were accused of having blood on their hands. The lack of leadership and responsibility exposed the fact that the ANC is now detached from reality or even how to solve major issues.

Then, last year it was the students turn to take their fight and frustrations to the streets. Using the hashtag #FeesMustFall the student’s mobilised throughout the country for peaceful demonstrations, but when there was no acknowledgment from the government, the protest landed up at Parliaments doorstep where students were doused with teargas and some arrested.

Again the Government did not know how to diffuse or control the situation, therefore highlighting its lack of leadership.

Not forgetting the hundreds of millions squandered at the President’s homestead, Nkandla. In the end the courts had to rule that the President pay back the money.

These incidents and the constant defence of the President had a lot of people asking what it will take for the ANC to listen.

The ANC did what has seemed to work for them; ignore, ignore and ignore. The party thought it would all go away before the time for the elections, and banked on making the same old promises, believing that its loyalists would vote for the ANC notwithstanding.

Surprise, surprise…the ruling party was not prepared for this huge awakening.

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The 2016 results saw the ANC win the elections with only 54.5% of the votes across the country, meaning the ANC fell from 62% in 2014. A bitter-sweet victory indeed! To worsen its matter, the ANC also lost out in the metros.

What had happened was that the turnout was low in the township areas (black neighborhoods). Many people decided they were not going to vote and those who did would try another party. Meanwhile the white folks came out in their numbers because for once they truly believed that their vote would make a difference.

The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, DA, was hoping to collect all of the ANC’s fallen votes. The few percentage votes the DA did gain were hugely important; this put it above the ANC in Tshwane, and gave it enough to possibly control Johannesburg with the EFF and Nelson Mandela Bay with other parties.

What changed the game in these elections was the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema picked up the majority of votes that the ANC lost. This placed the fairly new party in a position of kingmakers, giving them power to decide whether the ANC would get to rule Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.

Now, going back to before the elections, it was interesting to watch the campaigns from the various parties. I knew that the ANC had a steep hill to climb and suspected the party would think outside the box to woe voters, but it did not. President Zuma pulled out the only draw card left to use, racism. No new solutions, no apologies for mistakes made, just a warning; that if you know what’s good for you, you better vote for the party that liberated the country.

Meanwhile the DA went for the opposite; they took ownership of Nelson Mandela and said let’s all fight for what the former President stood for. The opposition party also used the Western Cape as an example of how well they can govern if given a chance.

Then there was the young EFF who stood by their radical stance of nationalisation, land expropriation without compensation and most importantly dethroning the ANC by getting rid of President Zuma.

Billions and millions of rands were spent for the parties to put their point across but not much focus was put on policy. At one time the major focus was on which party could fill stadiums during their manifesto launch.

No one can forget how the ANC struggled to get the support they wanted at the official manifesto launch at the Nelson Mandela Bay. They tried to hold face, meanwhile scrambling to recover from the embarrassment.

They failed to strategise on how to get the “clever blacks” to vote for them. This was a term coined by Zuma regarding any black person who questioned the ruling party. Many believe that the “clever blacks” are the same people who were in support of former President Thabo Mbeki and they were critical votes to get.

The EFF knew that these voters are important and pulled out an ace from their sleeve. Julius Malema and other EFF leaders went to visit the former statesman at his home, a deft political move. Malema, a guy who was instrumental in the recalling of Mbeki was having tea with his former enemy. This had people talking for days, on what it meant, or if it was a matter of their hatred for Zuma being enough to bring them to drink tea together.

Once the visit hit headlines, only then did the ANC try to get Thabo Mbeki back into the campaign fold and endorse the ANC mayoral candidates. It was a little too late as everything seemed so unauthentic.

So with these publicity tricks and colorful campaigning many were left wondering what the outcome of these elections would do to the ruling party. The outcome was that no party won an outright majority in metros such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay, as well as other councils around the country.


What this mean?

The ANC, needing 50 percent to be in charge, had to humble itself and negotiate with other parties in the hope of forming a government. The EFF on the other hand, garnered enough votes to make an impact nationally and be in the position to put the DA or the ANC into power. They were left to choose between the two parties but made it clear that they would punish the ANC because it’s what the voters had demonstrated at the polls.

The EFF Commander in Chief had said that there were three options in those councils where his party was concerned. The EFF could agree to a coalition, the second option being that the elections could be re-run and thirdly, the party could abstain from voting for a council’s leadership. The EFF was expected to abstain after no potential partner met its demands.

During the coalition negotiations the EFF had put the removal of President Zuma as head of the Republic as one of its requests amongst eight other issues. It wanted the ANC to pass legislation for the expropriation of land without compensation; to nationalise mines, banks and strategic sectors of the economy; to implement free education immediately; to remove Die Stem from the national anthem; to eradicate e-tolls; to agree on no nuclear deal with Russian energy producers going ahead; and to institute a judicial inquiry into allegations of state capture against the Gupta family.

Of course these were difficult issues for the ANC to agree to. The DA was able to reach a few of the Freedom Fighter’s demands as the focus and negotiations with the party were more on service delivery.

After two weeks of negotiations the EFF announced that it would vote for the opposition in hung councils by voting for the Inkatha Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal and backing DA candidates in Nelson Mandela Bay, the Gauteng metros and the Forum for Service delivery in Rustenburg.

Johannesburg was a problem as the EFF did not support the DA’s mayoral candidate, businessman Herman Mashaba. Malema believes Mashaba hates his blackness and disrespects the poor people.

The new opposition arrangement has put the ANC out of power and an added dilemma in the works ahead of the 2019 national elections. What this really means is that losing the big metros is losing places with the biggest budget and the biggest source of votes.

The EFF did not ask for any positions, and will continue to act as an opposition party throughout the term of local governance. It did reiterate that it would support but not form formal coalitions. A smart move as the EFF has a long term vision in mind, that of doing well in the 2019 national elections.

Aligning itself too much to one party would seem disingenuous as EFF has said that both the ANC and DA protect white minority capital and the ANC is corrupt and arrogant.

The ANC ate its humble pie and is now refocusing to ensure that 2019 has favourable results. After a four-day meeting of its national executive committee, the ANC announced that it was disappointed by the loss of key municipalities and its failure to retain an outright majority in certain metros. In its own assessment of the local government election results, the ANC has now conceded that there is a perception that it is arrogant and not dealing with corruption.

The party’s Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said the party met for a robust introspection and focus on strategies to garner supporters and voters. The NEC came out with a 14 measure turnaround strategy that did not include getting rid of the party leader.

So in conclusion the agreement to form governments has left the ANC out in the cold. Mantashe remained confident that the ANC could win back support, but his party has suffered a decisive blow. For now the ANC will work on its weaknesses and focus on the 2017 leadership battle.

Although opposition parties are not facing leadership issues and are benefitting from the ANC’s weaknesses, they still need to do a lot of work to grow their parties. The DA represents the rainbow nation that Nelson Mandela spoke about but many black people still see it as a home for some of the country’s racists and that the party does not have the black people’s interests at heart.

Then there is the EFF, its leader Malema turned his hate and anger against the ANC into a recognised party. Led by young leaders the EFF seems to resonate with the young voters. The party is making fast progress but at times seems to be obsessed with Zuma instead of clearly outlining what it really wants. To rule one day? Maybe? Or just always remain the loudest opposition.

One thing is clear though, South Africans have been given choices other than the ANC, a big change for South African politics. MA