Makana citizens score in local government elections

The Makana Citizens Front made history in the 1 November local government elections by winning more votes than the Democratic Alliance (DA) and five proportional representation (PR) seats, the same number as the DA. 

The ANC was reduced to a bare majority of just more than 50% of the vote and 14 out of 27 council seats. The Makana Citizens Front did better than other high-fancied contenders such as Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, who failed to out-poll the DA. To my knowledge no other purely local civic group managed to do nearly as well as we did.

We are still not entirely sure how it happened – it was a mix of many factors and fertile ground for erroneous PhDs in political science. 

The Makana local council is a very different place than it was before 1 November 2021 and nothing underlines this more than the first post-election special council meeting of 7 December. 

This should have been a routine meeting in which councillors were introduced to their roles and nominations for committees were invited.

The day before, councillors were invited to a workshop on standing rules and orders. One of the provisions is that a  special council meeting requires 48 hours notice, unless a matter is urgent. During this workshop, we were ambushed with a bizarre “supplementary item” for the meeting that proposed withdrawing the representatives to the Sarah Baartman Regional Council, that the Makana council had voted on during our inaugural council meeting. The proposal was to rerun this election.

In a local council that falls under a region, voters directly elect regional councillors at the same time as they vote for their local council, on a strictly proportional basis. The local council also votes — as we did — for its own representatives and district.

In the inaugural council meeting, in a bizarre turn of events, though the ANC has 14 seats and there is an ANC-aligned independent, the ANC slate of candidates only scored eight votes and seven blank ballots were submitted. This resulted in the ANC winning one district representative, and the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also winning one each.

On 30 November, the recently-elected ANC district mayor, Mzimkhulu “Scara” Njadayi died. He was elected by turning at least one EFF councillor, contrary to EFF policy, so there is no assurance that the ANC will win the district mayoral election again.

Withdrawing the local council’s regional representatives could adjust the balance of power at the district. It is hard to see what other motivation there could be for doing this.

So what motivation was given for the special item? The Makana municipal manager motivated it by saying that the elections run by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) on 14 November 2021, during the inaugural council meeting “weakened the representation of Makana in the district”. This is clearly drivel.

The item was backed by a “legal opinion” provided by the South African Local Government Association that did not address the specifics and it appeared from missing paragraphs to lack every second page.

The municipal manager’s document goes on to say that “The Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998, Section 27(e), as amended, makes provision for such an act (withdrawal).” I read the act and the latest amendment of 1 June 2021, and it clearly does not. The quoted section reads as follows, with the amendment highlighted: “is a representative of a local council in a district council and ceases to be a member of the local council which appointed that councillor to the district council or is replaced in terms of Item 23 of Schedule 2 to this Act by the local council as its representative in the district council”.

If you go to Schedule 2, it clearly means that anyone who for whatever reason ceases to be a district representative of a local council is replaced from the original PR list from which they were elected, not by a fresh election.

Further, Section 26 (1) (b) of the Act provides that “A person … is appointed as a representative of a local council to a district council for a period ending when the next local council is declared elected.”

This clearly means that once elected, a representative cannot be arbitrarily withdrawn – and if they are removed for any legally defensible reason, they are replaced by the party that elected them, not by a fresh election.

In the special council meeting, the Makana Citizens Front and the DA, supported by the EFF, strongly objected to this item being put to the meeting and made it clear that in any litigation arising from it, any councillor who voted for an unlawful measure stood to have costs against them in their personal capacity. Even so, the ANC and independent councillors supported it.

During the debate, it emerged that the ANC had originated the item, rather than the municipal manager, an unacceptable subterfuge in our view. Various reasons for it emerged: the three local representatives “lacked capacity”. Really? Are we reverting to the colonial concept of a qualified franchise? They also lacked “gender balance” as only one of the three was female. An EFF councillor pointed out that the ANC caucus was even more unbalanced in that respect. Another claim by an ANC councillor was that the IEC caused “confusion” in the way they conducted the ballot during the inaugural council meeting. Strangely, those of us totally new to the council were not confused.

All of this is spurious and irrelevant if the council lacks capacity, as is clearly the case, to overturn the election. If the ANC truly believes the election was flawed, their remedy is with the IEC, not a council motion.

Since the meeting, the Makana Citizens Front has taken legal advice that backs our analysis of the law. Where that will go remains to be seen.

I was interested to see the difference in dynamic between ourselves and the opposition parties that form part of national movements. We conferred with each other to work out how to respond, whereas they had to confer with their provincial leadership. The legal issues were not complicated; since we were speaking in council, we were protected by privilege and could make assertive statements without taking legal advice. That the legal advice now backs our position means we can move ahead with confidence.

We do not expect this dodgy manoeuvre by the ANC to go anywhere but if it does, we are prepared. Watch this space.

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Philip Machanick
Philip Machanick is an associate professor of computer science at Rhodes University

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