The ANC looks likely to regain full control of the Tlokwe local municipality again after the by-election on Wednesday, September 18.
A combination of the muni-cipality's good performance record under the ANC and its campaign methods – including the distribution of food parcels – will play a role in ensuring local voters put the ANC back in power.
But the party will make a key concession to its critics by not returning th controversial mayor Maphetle Maphetle to office.
The ruling party's provincial and national leaders have been frequenting the municipality for more than two months since it became clear there was a need for by-elections in nine wards.
It is easy to sell the ANC in Tlokwe. The party points out that roads are tarred, pavements have been built for pedestrians and the municipality's drinking water is ranked among the best in the country, with a blue drop score of 98.45%. Last year, the municipality was ranked the third best performing municipality in South Africa, according to Ratings Afrika's municipal financial stability index, which evaluated the financial viability of 102 municipalities.
"We built houses, though there's room for improvement," said ANC provincial chairperson Supra Mahumapelo, pointing out that the continuous expansion of informal settlements created new service delivery challenges.
The ANC lost control of the municipality in July following a motion of no confidence in the party's mayor, Maphetle Maphetle, for the second time.
The Democratic Alliance's (DA's) Professor Annette Combrink was elected as a replacement mayor and, in the process, 14 ANC councillors were expelled for voting with the opposition to oust Maphetle. They were later reinstated, but some opted out anyway.
The ANC appears willing to sacrifice Maphetle if it means securing votes for Tlokwe. Maphetle is accused of financial maladministration. A DA forensic audit has found Maphetle guilty.
"Maphetle approached the ANC and asked to be put aside until the matter is resolved. Even at the time when we discuss the mayoral position, his name will not feature at all," said Mahumapelo.
He said Maphetle remained innocent until proven otherwise. The DA's forensic report had "no standing because it has not been tabled in council. It remains a report between the municipal manager and the mayor."
The MEC for local government and traditional affairs, Manketse Tlhape, on Thursday told journalists that the allegations against Maphetle were being investigated by the Klerksdorp branch of the Hawks. Tlhape said a team that her office had established to look into allegations found that the Tlokwe municipal council did not investigate allegations of misconduct as prescribed in the code of conduct in terms of the Municipal Structures Act.
"The department recommends that law-enforcement agencies be allowed to continue with their investigation and the department observe the process," Tlhape said.
The ANC has done everything in its power to ensure that it will not lose the by-elections. It lured six out of nine United Christian Democratic Party candidates into joining the ruling party last week, leaving the opposition party rushing to find last-minute replacements. This resulted in two wards being uncontested, with only the ANC fielding candidates.
Meanwhile, the DA-led municipality this week was busy painting traffic markings on the town's roads in an effort to improve road safety, while ANC leaders put back on the menu what matters most to poor people – food parcels.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini will be in Tlokwe on Friday for another session of dishing out food parcels under the poverty alleviation programme.
The DA has accused Dlamini of abusing public money to campaign for the ANC by donating food.
"State resources are [used] to contest by-elections," said the DA on its Twitter account. "Nearby wards with the same poverty and no election are ignored."
Food parcels were also handed out before last month's by-election in Tlokwe's ward nine, which the ANC won. Dlamini is the ANC national executive committee's deployee in the North West.
Mahumapelo, however, defended the distribution of free food.
"We've been giving out food parcels before as the provincial government and the municipality. The national department is just coming to reinforce that programme," he said.
Another boost for the ANC is the Independent Electoral Commission's (IEC) disqualification of six independent candidates who were former ANC councillors, leaving only two: David Kham and Stone Mahlabe. Kham, who speaks for the group of former councillors, said the action was part of the IEC's "tactic to connive with the ruling party".
The IEC in the North West said the candidates did not have the required 50 signatures from supporters in the wards they were contesting.
Several other events are being used by the ANC to entice voters.
On September 14, there will be a party featuring several DJs at Club Kilowatt and the next day the ANC will host a Siyanqoba (victory) rally, the final event in the campaign.
Mahumapelo said that, during door-to-door campaigns, Tlokwe residents had made several demands in exchange for returning the ANC to power, which he said the party was taking seriously.
"The people of Ikageng township are still paying rent. They want title deeds. They want the government to replace their asbestos roofs and they want the new councillors to be [more] in touch with the people," he said. "They want informal settlements that do not have ablution facilities and streets to get them and they want the ANC to strengthen its party discipline."
The ANC has 21 seats and is guaranteed two that are not contested by opposition parties. With 23 seats, it goes into this by-election as the strongest party, followed by the DA with 18.