Mandela mojo wins back Tlokwe

A new Tlokwe local municipal mayor will be appointed in January. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

A new Tlokwe local municipal mayor will be appointed in January. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

As the ANC in North West threw all its resources into the Tlokwe by-elections this week, its "do it for Mandela" campaign seems to have won the party a lot of sympathy and, in the process, criticism that it had abused the late icon's name to win back the municipality.

A new Tlokwe local municipal mayor will be appointed in January. For now, the ANC is keeping mum about the name of the acting mayor who will be appointed on Friday.

The ANC regained control of the Potchefstroom-based region after losing it to the Democratic Alliance (DA) for a good part of this year. 

The party's Dr Kenneth Kaunda regional leadership has recommended three names for the mayoral position: regional chairperson Itumeleng Mosala, a senior manager at the Tlokwe municipality; Ntombi Koloti, an ANC provincial executive committee member who works as a councillor in the Kaunda district municipality; and Khotso Khumalo, an employee in Premier Thandi Modise's office.

This means the DA's Annette Combrink will vacate the office she and her party went to court to occupy after former mayor Maphetle Maphetle was ousted by a no-confidence vote.

Among the first measures the ANC will embark on is to "look at all illegal decisions taken by the Combrink leadership", provincial chairperson Supra Mahumapelo said.

'Fruitless and wasteful expenditure'
The ANC lists the appointment of forensic auditors who investigated Maphetle as among the decisions they will be revisiting, which the party says resulted in "fruitless and wasteful expenditure".

The appointment of the municipal manager is also likely to be reversed. Mahumapelo said the municipal manager was appointed "against instructions by the MEC for local government, against the wishes of the council and prescripts of municipal law".

Mahumapelo denied that dedicating the by-election to Mandela played a major role in convincing people to vote ANC.

"We can't say thanks to Mandela because the reality is that if we had not done our work we wouldn't have performed the way we did," he said.

But, he said, using the peace icon's name to urge people to vote ANC was justified.

"Mandela is a leader of the ANC.
We can't say when there is a coincidence that there are by-elections in Tlokwe at the time that he's passed on we'll then detach Mandela from the ANC. It'll be very wrong, un-ANC and against the values and traditions of ANC.

"We're in a period of mourning; we can't pause that because of by-elections. How do we go into people's houses and not talk about Mandela?"

'We must try'
The ANC shuttled voters, mainly the elderly and disabled people, to and from polling stations. But when rain threatened to discourage people from walking to voting stations, they included all. Outside polling stations voters received an A4-sized black-and-white photocopied photograph of Mandela from the ANC's information table after casting their vote. The handouts were produced at the ANC's parliamentary constituency office.

Mahumapelo said the party had been handing out pictures of Mandela throughout the province since his death.

"We decided that we must try and give the people every bit of Mandela that we have. We've encouraged our offices to also distribute Mandela pictures."

The ANC's triumph brings to an end a bitter battle between the two parties for control of the municipality. Although the ANC had won Tlokwe in all the previous local government elections, it was the party's own internal divisions that handed the municipality to a DA-led coalition of opposition parties in June.

At the time, the ANC appeared crushed while the DA rode the wave of being the new boss in town. Councillors who were expelled by the ANC but later reinstated left the party and contested as independents in the same wards they have been leading on behalf of the ruling party. The DA backed the independents.

Some in the ANC believe there will be a positive spin-off from Mandela's death for the party's performance at next year's general election.

"This is definitely going to change the balance of forces in the ANC's favour by attracting a lot of sympathy vote. And the reality is that we want those votes; we are a political party," said an ANC official who did not want to be named. 

'Our fight is over'
"We're African and, even if I had fought with you and didn't speak to you for some time, should your family member pass away, I'll come to you and pay my condolences. That way our fight is over. This is exactly how voters who have been angry with the ANC feel right now."

Mahumapelo said it was unfair for people to expect the ANC not to talk about Mandela during election campaigns.

"Avoiding to speak about Mandela is like wanting to extract sugar from tea after stirring it in. I personally say no one is going to blackmail me on that question."

He said Mandela's name would be part of the party's campaign for next year's general elections because voters had already expressed their determination to vote for the party in honour of Madiba.

"We've been doing door-to-door [campaigning] and people are saying that. It's mostly the older generation, undecided voters and some who have been angry with the ANC but are now saying ‘we're willing to work with you'," Mahumapelo said.

Manketse Tlhape, an ANC provincial executive committee member and MEC for local government, said that her province "cannot shy away" from acknowledging Mandela as an ANC leader.

"We're not going to be apologetic about that," she said.

'Obviously disappointed'
The DA's Lee-Ann Robinson, who was deployed in ward 13 for this week's by-elections, said the ANC was "playing on people's emotions".

The DA's provincial leader, Chris Hattingh, told the SABC that his party was "obviously disappointed" about the loss.

"But, I think, let's just look at what happened: the ANC unashamedly used the legacy of Madiba in these days that the country is still mourning, and unashamedly used the legacy of Madiba to win these by elections, completely forgetting why did we arrive at these by-elections," he said. 

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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