ANC targets corruption to rescue polls

The ANC hopes to persuade more township residents to pay for services such as water and electricity. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ANC hopes to persuade more township residents to pay for services such as water and electricity. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ANC’s desperation to hold on to the country’s major municipalities in next year’s local government elections has seen the party proposing yet another raft of measures in an attempt to persuade South Africans that it has their interests at heart.

Fearing a possible loss of some of the key metropolitan municipalities in the polls, the ANC intends to confront corrupt and incompetent councillors, haul them before what it calls a corruption tribunal and stop its politicians from meddling in municipal affairs.

In an internal discussion document titled Critical Focus Areas in Local Government: Back to Basics – Impactful Implementation, the ruling party – which is worried about losing the Tshwane, Nelson Mandela and Johannesburg metros because of their poor performance in last year’s election – is also considering forcing some of its constituencies to pay for services, a contentious issue that could alienate supporters.

Even though the proposals seem tougher and force the party to reflect on its performance and the conduct of its deployees, it is not clear how its proposed corruption tribunal will be different from its integrity committees that have so far proven ineffective in rooting rotten apples out of its ranks.

Unlike in China, where the Communist Party tribunals have the power to arrest and prosecute party officials, the ANC is likely to face criticism that it has failed to use and stabilise state organs and task teams set up to deal with corruption over the years.

Political battles
The National Prosecuting Authority, the police, the Hawks, intelligence units and the revenue service are currently fraught with factional and other political battles.

The office of the public protector, the only effective organ currently dealing with corruption, has been the subject of the party’s insults and threats.

Factional infighting – acknowledged several times in the document – is also responsible for tearing state institutions apart, with the result that those individuals with strong political connections escape prosecution.

In the internal document, leaked to the Mail & Guardian, the ANC rings alarm bells over what could make or break the party at the polls.

The deputy minister of co-operative governance, Andries Nel, who presented the document to this week’s ANC national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla, bemoaned the “lack of decisiveness in dealing with corruption, factionalism and patronage” in local government.

Tribunal proposal
The party is proposing – among other measures – the establishment of a tribunal to halt corrupt activities in municipalities, curtailing the micromanagement of municipalities by local political leaders and persuading residents to pay for municipal services so as to boost the finances of municipalities. The party has acknowledged the danger of blurring the lines between party and state, which results in the micromanaging of municipalities by the party’s branch and regional leaders. To remedy this, the ANC plans to introduce a “protocol or code of conduct” to manage relations between party and state.

Three NEC members could not explain to the M&G how the planned corruption tribunal would work.
Although there are suggestions that it should be a government-based body to stop corruption in municipalities, some in the ANC want it to be a party organ that polices deployees in local government.

“That thing is not properly theorised,” said one NEC member.

“People are just throwing around ideas because of the frustrations with sentiments that the ANC is not fighting corruption effectively.” 

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution has argued that setting up yet another corruption-fighting structure would not solve the problem. The organisation’s secretary Lawson Naidoo said the proposed tribunal would have very little impact. 

“The issue is that for corruption fighting to be effective it must be independent,” he said. 

Co-ordination issues
Countless structures had been set up to fight corruption with little co-ordination between them. “A few years ago there were about 36 to 38 institutions in place,” he said.

Despite some of the proposals being a rehash of what the party has offered before, they again form part of desperate measures the ANC is embarking on in an attempt to polish its image before the 2016 local government elections.  

Tinyiko Maluleke, a political analyst from the University of Pretoria, said the ANC was clutching at straws in an attempt to appear to be doing something to boost its performance at the polls.

“The ANC must find a way of selling the future to the people because the present cannot sell,” he said.

“The present is e-tolls, load-shedding and corruption. They’ve got to find the future and they are looking, that’s why they are going back to the Freedom Charter.”

Culture of nonpayment
While the party tries to gloss over its myriad problems, it is also battling to get residents to play their part in contributing to the success of municipalities.

The culture of nonpayment for services and dependence on government grants are hot potatoes for the ANC, with revelations that Soweto townships alone owe Eskom more than R3-billion. The ANC wants municipalities to “implement programmes aimed at encouraging communities to pay for services”.

Although it appears the party wants to act decisively on this matter, it is this section of society that bolsters election numbers for the ANC and it would not want to alienate them on the eve of elections.

Asking township residents to pay for water and electricity could alienate ANC supporters in the 2016 local government elections. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Maluleke said the nonpayment of services was “a symptom of corruption in the ANC”.

“If you go to townships you’ll find that some officials actually know what’s going on. Someone is paying someone.

“The question is: Can the ANC be serious about fighting corruption without burning its own fingers, without risking its own bread? What will happen is that lower-level officials will be disciplined but the big guys won’t be touched.”

‘Shared services’
To support smaller, struggling, municipalities the ANC has called on all district municipalities to introduce “shared services to support weak local municipalities”.

By the ANC’s own admission, there are huge institutional weaknesses in the municipalities the party runs such as the appointment of unsuitable and unqualified personnel, a lack of intensive training and orientation programmes for councillors, the weak capacity for planning and implementation and the high vacancy rate.

Nel said in his NEC presentation that the process of selecting councillors was not rigorous enough to find appropriately skilled people.

He also focused on the “politicised and disruptive” labour ­movement, which includes co-management of municipalities as well as the problems related to illegal strikes. On this, the ANC will be relying on its alliance partner, union federation Cosatu, to get its affiliates to play a “constructive role”.

The ANC has accepted there was an “inability to confront complex problems of ethnicity, federalism, xenophobia and racism”. The party has encouraged its leaders to speak out against these challenges.

Far cry
This is a far cry from the party’s insistence that there was no xenophobia in the recent looting of spaza shops owned by foreigners in townships across the country.

The failure by ANC officials to communicate with communities they represent or with regional leadership has once again made it on to the party’s list of concerns for local government.

It is not the first time the party has read a riot act to those it deployed in municipalities, but it has in the past insisted it was addressing the situation.

This week’s lekgotla agreed that there has to be oversight of, and accountability from, ANC officials in municipalities.

Another problem it identified was the “high turnover of councillors”. It has now decided to implement a “criteria for retention of a certain number of councillors based on proper assessment of performance during their tenure”.

‘Impactful implementation’
The ANC has dubbed 2015 the year of “impactful implementation” and plans to increase the visibility of government and the party in communities.

As it starts campaigning, it has warned all leaders to avoid internal conflict and to “make sure we speak with one voice” as it rolls out the “know your councillor” campaign. The ANC wants more mass community programmes and regular imbizos conducted by its leaders.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told journalists this week that the lekgotla emphasised that there was a need to strengthen accountability and political management in local government.

“The government is called upon to conduct a skills audit and remove those people who occupy positions they do not qualify for,” he said.

“We must serve our people with distinction not as merely an electoral act but as a matter of course.”

Contrary to what the ANC is saying, the party failed to fully implement a report into allegations of irregularities in the list processes for councillors leading up to 2011 local government elections.

Lack of action
A task team led by NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had recommended in 2012 that some councillors be removed and by-elections held, but some provinces did not act on the recommendations.

The fear of risking a loss of support going into the 2012 fractious party national congress was partly behind the lack of action by some provinces, or the selective implementation of recommendations in others.

Among the challenges that the ANC seeks to address before the municipal elections is political instability, poor service delivery and demarcations that have caused disgruntlement in some municipalities. The recommendations in the ANC document are due to be tabled at the Cabinet lekgotla next week.

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.
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