The election campaign season has come early for the people of the Western Cape, with the ANC sending its top brass to drum up support in some of the most impoverished communities around Cape Town ahead of next year’s local government elections.
The ANC strategy was clearly to portray the province’s ruling Democratic Alliance as a party that espouses apartheid laws and cares less about improving the poor conditions experienced by most black people in the province.
The strategy was intended to counter the DA’s claim that the Western Cape is the best-run province in the country and should be used as a model of success across all provinces.
Although the Municipal IQ municipal productivity index showed most of the top-ranked municipalities are situated in the Western Cape, the DA-led government has often been accused of only looking after the rich middle-class suburbs clinging to the edges of Table Mountain in Cape Town while ignoring the townships of the poor majority that sprawl across the desolate fire-plagued and drought-ridden Cape Flats.
ANC leaders, led by party president Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, have been hard at work this week, visiting townships and lobbying for the people of the Western Cape to help to tip the scales in their favour so they can try to reclaim major municipalities in the 2016 local government elections.
The ANC turned 103 years old on Thursday and Zuma is expected to deliver the party’s annual January?8 statement on Saturday. He will no doubt have the local government elections at the back of his mind.
The party has experienced a significant decline in key metros across the country. In Ekurhuleni, the ANC dropped from 67.53% of the vote in 2009 to 56.41% last year. In Nelson Mandela Bay it recorded less than 50% support, and in Tshwane the party only managed 50.96%. In Johannesburg, the ANC’s share fell to 53.63%.
The DA, on the other hand, registered significant growth in all metros.
ANC communications head Lindiwe Zulu told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that the 2016 local government elections are the least of its worries. “We are not worried at all. We want to make sure the length and breadth of the country is under the ANC. That’s why we [are campaigning] in Cape Town townships this week.”
She said the party has a strategy in place to improve its electoral support in areas where it experienced a decline. “We do have strategies, but we can’t go out publicly about that. We always do an analysis of the reasons why we lost support. We don’t do reviews through thumb-sucking. We have scientific analysis.”
The ANC’s own internal surveys show the disgruntlement towards the party was partly because of the Nkandla saga, which saw the government spending more than R240?million of taxpayers’ money to upgrade Zuma’s private homestead.
Whereas public protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma and his family benefited unduly from the security upgrades and that he should pay back a portion of the money, the ANC has taken a defensive approach to the matter.
Another concern raised by those surveyed was the implementation of e-tolls in Gauteng, despite widespread public condemnation of the system. It came as no surprise when the ANC in Gauteng lost about 10% of its electoral support, prompting Premier David Makhura to establish a panel to assess the socioeconomic impact of e-tolls on the poor.
It is likely that the same concerns raised prior to the 2014 national elections will still be a factor during the 2016 local government polls, meaning the ANC will have to work doubly hard to retain control of its key metros in Gauteng – Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe this week said the ANC is working on different strategies to regain the Western Cape and retain other metros where support for the party had been waning.
“The strategy for the Western Cape would be a long-term one that speaks specifically to the people of the province. The most important aspect would be the tactics and the way we execute them. That is what we are working on.”
The past few years have seen a significant drop in support for the ruling party in metropolitan areas.
The ANC’s panic about next year’s local government elections became evident last month when the party disbanded its regional structure in the troubled Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. The region has been plagued by infighting in recent years as comrades jockeyed for positions of power, as well as tenders.
Mantashe said retaining areas such as Nelson Mandela Bay is something the party has to work on. “It is not like regaining control like we have to do in Cape Town. The reality is we don’t want to govern here and there. We want to govern every part of South Africa. That’s what we want.”
Mantashe said all the ANC wants was for the people of the Western Cape to free themselves. “We want them to taste freedom. That’s what we are offering them: liberation of the mind.”
The party this week claimed full ownership of the 60-year-old Freedom Charter, with Mantashe telling journalists that it would feature prominently in the January 8 statement.
The Economic Freedom Fighters and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, recently expelled from the ANC’s alliance partner Cosatu, have criticised the ANC for failing to implement the charter, particularly with regard to the nationalisation of mines and land expropriation.