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Steenhuisen names DA’s mayoral candidates and challenges ANC to do the same

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen has announced the list of the main opposition party’s mayoral candidates for upcoming local government elections — with legislator Geordin Hill-Lewis  selected as the candidate to take over the reins from Cape Town mayor Dan Plato, as expected — and challenged the national ruling ANC to do the same.

Steenhuisen’s announcement during an elaborate event in Port Elizabeth on Monday 23 August came shortly before the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) extended the deadline for parties to submit their candidates list to 9pm on that date from the earlier 5pm.

The DA chose its former spokesperson and deputy federal chairperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe as its candidate for mayor of the City of Ekurhuleni, while retaining its mayor in the City of Tshwane, Randall Williams, as well as Nqaba Bhanga in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Dr Mpho Phalatse, who was a member of the mayoral committee in Herman Mashaba’s DA-led government in the City of Johannesburg before the ANC grabbed back the mayorship, has been chosen as the DA candidate in the country’s economic hub.

Steenhuisen said the party had a duty to let voters know, well ahead of the elections, who would be tasked with running their cities and towns should it win in those municipalities or secure the majority share in a coalition government. He said this would ensure that candidates were interrogated, allowing voters to make an informed choice. 

“If they’re an incumbent and you feel they have done a poor job so far, they must be given an opportunity to answer for this. And if they’re a new candidate and perhaps unknown to voters, there has to be a way — and enough time — to get to know them. Ideally you want to see your two or three frontrunner candidates testing their offers against each other,” he said. 

The selection of DA mayoral candidates has been clouded by controversy, with its selection process being put into question, leading to a delay in the selection in Cape Town. 

The DA leader in the Western Cape, Bonginkosi Madikizela, who was also vying to be its mayoral candidate in Cape Town, resigned in April as provincial party leader over allegations that he lied about his qualifications. He was suspended as Western Cape head of transport and party leader on 15 April after a report by the Daily Maverick pointed to inaccuracies in his qualifications. 

Madikizela has called the report on his qualification part of a political plot to discredit him and sabotage his campaign to become Cape Town mayor. The Mail & Guardian previously reported how Madikizela had lost favour with the dominant faction in the DA. 

Several DA leaders told the M&G that Madikizela had been promised the position of Cape Town mayor if he did not stand against Steenhuisen for the position of interim party leader. 

But Madikizela’s chances of becoming the mayor were weakened when Hill-Lewis announced he would run for the post.

Several senior party leaders told the M&G that the party was placing its bets on retaining Cape Town while other metros were a gamble. 

“At the DA we’ve spent an entire year on our candidate-selection process. This has included extensive interviews, practical assignments and assessments by independent panels to get to the point where [we] can confidently say: These are the people we trust to bring the DA’s vision to life in local government,” Steenhuisen said at the reveal.

“Now please ask them everything you’d like to know. Each of them will have an opportunity to tell you a little more about themselves.”

The party is not fielding a candidate for the eThekwini metro as many in the KwaZulu-Natal leadership feel the DA is unlikely to produce a win there at the local government elections currently set for later this year. 

The IEC approached the Constitutional Court after it announced in July that it had adopted a report by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to postpone the elections to early next year on the basis that they would not be free and fair if held on 27 October as scheduled, because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The IEC had commissioned Moseneke to investigate the issue in light of the limitations posed by the pandemic, including on election campaigns. He recommended that the vote be pushed back to February 2022.

Moseneke’s report cited expert opinion from the country’s leading scientists, including those specialising in epidemiology, who said the actual number of infections was probably three times higher than the official record. They said October would be a period of lower infections but holding the elections then would result in a resurgence that the country would be unable to manage.

The DA has opposed the application. In arguments before the Constitutional Court on Friday, advocate Ismail Jamie who is representing the Western Cape local government member of the executive council Anton Bredell, argued that members of the apex court have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution and the law. “If this court were to grant the relief sought by the commission, it would set a precedent that will stand for as long as this country stands with this constitution,” he said.

“Whether the elections go ahead at the end of October, as they’ve been proclaimed, or whether the courts decide that they need to be moved to early next year, this will give voters more than enough opportunity to do their election homework,” Steenhuisen said on Monday.

He said each candidate would spend time in communities in their respective cities “taking our message to communities across the country”.

“So I’m calling on the ANC to meet us there — whether this is in a town hall debate, a televised debate or a debate on the radio. Name your candidates and let the voters interrogate them together with ours. That’s what a real democracy looks like,” he added. 

The ANC held an extended national executive committee this past weekend to finalise its candidate list. 

The governing party has been hard-pressed to produce mayoral candidates with skill and the appropriate academic qualifications following damning findings by auditor general Tsakani Maluleke of poor management and lack of political will in many ANC-led municipalities. 

In June the M&G quoted Maluleke as saying there was significant doubt that the municipalities would continue operating as going concerns. She said municipalities had  regressed, squandered money or not been able to account for or report on how billions of a budget of R719-billion in the 2019-20 financial year had been spent.

Maluleke said audit results had demonstrated little sign of improvement, and instead, her team had observed a deterioration in the state of local government. 

“When it took over, the administration inherited 33 clean audits. Unfortunately, it has now regressed to only 27 clean audits. We therefore call on leadership to embrace their responsibility to drive change if we are to make a difference,” she said.

Even though the office of the auditor general has highlighted the shortcomings for years, most municipalities have not yet even mastered the basics of financial reporting, with only 28% being able to submit quality financial statements for audit purposes.

In the 2019-20 financial year, the cost of financial reporting amounted to more than R5-billion, based only on the salary cost of finance units and the cost of financial reporting consultants, which accounts for 18% of the total cost. However, according to the June audit report, only 2% of municipalities used consultants to bridge the vacancy gap, while others paid consultants even though their finance units were well-capacitated.

The report said an analysis of the financial health of 199 municipalities based on their  statements showed increasing indicators of a collapse in local government finances. Eighteen of them had financial statements that were not reliable enough for analysis due to disclaimed or adverse opinions, while five did not submit financial statements at all for auditing.

The Eastern Cape was highlighted as one of the provinces with the most regressions over the four years of the current administration, closely followed by the Free State, then KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape. The auditor general urged the provincial leadership of these provinces to reverse this negative trajectory.

On Monday, Steenhuisen said placing distressed municipalities under administration and running them by remote control was simply not feasible because there were too many of them.

“We can no longer pretend that the total implosion of service delivery and infrastructure in these towns and cities is normal. We cannot pretend that it is normal for companies and their factories to have to relocate at great cost and with massive job losses because they cannot be guaranteed the very basics like water, electricity and usable roads,” he said.

He noted that while his party governed less than 10% of municipalities in South Africa, the top five in the country were DA-run. DA municipalities, he added, consistently outstripped ANC ones in terms of basic service delivery, clean audits, the maintenance of infrastructure, attracting investment and creating jobs.

“DA municipalities are at the forefront of protecting their residents from droughts and water shortages, as we saw in the world-class effort by the City of Cape Town to defeat Day Zero,” he said, referring to 2018 when the city almost ran out of potable water.

“Compare this to the current water situation in NMB [Nelson Mandela Bay] or in towns like Makhanda, where Day Zero has already arrived for many. DA municipalities are also leading the charge in shielding their residents to some degree from Eskom’s failures and load-shedding.”

In 2016, DA-led coalitions managed to strip the ANC of its power in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg. The coalition later lost control in Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay after the Economic Freedom Fighters broke away from the partnership but later regained Nelson Mandela Bay.

“Nowhere has the direct link between good, clean governance and service delivery been more clear than in Nelson Mandela Bay following the 2016 local government election. The impact of the DA-led coalition government was immediate. Roads were resurfaced, streetlights were fixed and water infrastructure repaired. The city’s integrated bus service was launched, along with the metro police. And, importantly the city’s finances were turned around and for the first time in years the deficit became a surplus,” Steenhuisen said.

“Fast-forward two years later, when the coalition of corruption ousted the DA-led coalition in a council coup, and every single gain made in those two years under the DA was reversed. Today NMB is back where it started before the DA took over and the city’s coffers have been stripped bare once more.”

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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