/ 8 March 2019

Ruling party faces loss in Gauteng

Activist: Gauteng premier David Makhura.
Activist: Gauteng premier David Makhura. (Masimba Sasa)

David Makhura is a man with many hats. ANC Gauteng chairperson, board member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Gauteng premier. But the role he relishes the most is that of activist.

He hopes this is the hallmark of his first five years at the helm of the country’s economic heartland.

A not-so-pleasant role inadvertently conferred on him now is to ensure the ANC retains control of Gauteng, a key battleground, which the governing party is at risk of losing in this year’s general election on May 8.

What is it going to take to retain control of the province?

The ANC’s support dropped by more than 10 percentage points in the 2014 elections and the party was dealt a devastating blow in 2016, losing Johannesburg and Tshwane, with its overall support in the province slipping below 50% for the first time since 1994.

About 80% of the electorate in Gauteng is in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni and now two of the three metros are governed by the opposition. It is going to be a close electoral fight and the outcome in Gauteng could very well unsettle the balance of power nationally.

According to Makhura, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian after MEC Barbara Creecy tabled the province’s R132-billion budget this week, getting ANC loyalists who stayed away from the polls in the past two elections is key to reversing the province’s slide away from the governing party.

Makhura says the township vote is critical and he believes that a combination of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s election to the helm of the ANC and his own five-year listening and rapid-response campaign will be enough to ensure that ANC loyalists turn up at the polls in droves.

Independent electoral analyst Dawie Scholtz sees two variables as critical to the ANC’s electoral fortunes in Gauteng. The first is voter turnout and the second is the township vote.

Scholtz says, in 2016, voter turnout in the suburbs was 71% and 52% in the townships and this had “amplified” Democratic Alliance support. The township voting pattern in the past three elections indicate that this is where the ANC bled support.

But Makhura believes he has a secret weapon in Ramaphosa. The ANC in Gauteng felt the effect of former president Jacob Zuma’s destructive near 10 years in office most acutely.

Scholtz says it remains unclear whether the Ramaphosa factor will be enough to swing Gauteng back to favour the ANC.

The Economic Freedom Fighters is now a critical player in the province, obtaining 10% of the 1.1-million votes it received nationally in 2014 from Gauteng. The EFF says it is too early to tell and too close to call which way voters will swing.

The DA’s polling places the ANC at 48% and it is confident that a coalition government will be required in Gauteng.

Makhura says he has learnt a lot since taking over as premier in 2014 but it has not changed his core values of service and working to improve the lives of the working class and the marginalised. This, he says, is what drove his policy on building the township economy, which has increased investment in these areas from R600-million in 2014 to R22-billion in 2019.

He has learnt that government can be a stubborn beast. “To get things done, you have to have a great deal of determination and you have to be uncompromising.”

Aside from Zuma, a flailing economy, unemployment, Eskom’s financial woes culminating in rolling blackouts, the Life Esidimeni scandal and the losing battle against electronic tolling are factors that weigh against Makhura’s attempts to retain control of the province. But he remains confident and determined.

He has learned that public servants are also a key problem in holding back the government from delivering on its promises.

“The calibre of public servants can be a real problem but this also links to the leadership at political level … sometimes policy is meant to be implemented but they are busy implementing something else,” he says. “You cannot bring the change toward social justice if people are only taking care of their friends.”

He has worked to change this in the past five years and hopes to increase these attempts should he return to the post after the election.

For Makhura’s parting shot he puts on his activist hat, dismissing divisions in the ANC that continue to fester after Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at Nasrec in December 2017.

It is key for Ramaphosa to be handed an “overwhelming mandate” by South Africans across party lines, he says. “There is no one in the opposition with the gravitas Ramaphosa has to move the country forward. No grouping can stop him if he has a mandate from all South Africans to fix South Africa. Ramaphosa is our only insurance.”

Makhura’s fate — and that of the ANC in the province — hangs in the balance. The key question is whether the election campaign with Ramaphosa at its centre, which will kick off in earnest when the provincial legislature rises later this month, will be enough to halt a very possible electoral loss.