/ 25 September 2021

DA says ANC’s implosion has thrown local government elections wide open

Born for politics: John Steenhuisen was the Democratic Alliance’s chief whip when the party’s leader, Mmusi Maimane, resigned, opening the door he always dreamed of stepping through. Delwyn Verasamy/M&G
DA leader John Steenhuisen. Photo: (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen says that the ANC’s implosion has thrown the upcoming 1 November local government elections wide open. 

In his speech at the party’s manifesto launch on Saturday 25 September, he said that all the elements had come together to make it possible to “finally step out of the shadow of a failed post-liberation government and into a new era of delivery, accountability, honesty and professionalism”.

“Dozens of municipalities are already entirely dysfunctional, and many more are heading in the same direction,” he said. “And while all our global peers have started their post-Covid recovery, our economy is stuck in first gear and our own recovery looks a very long way off. Never before has the need for change been more urgent. But the good news is that the stars are aligned for us to make history as a country.” 

The DA launched its 37-page manifesto on a virtual platform under the banner “The DA gets things done”. Steenhuisen, who made no mention of possible coalitions in his address, said the manifesto was easy to understand and “applied to whatever the situation in your town or city may be”. 

DA-led coalitions unseated the ANC during the 2016 local government elections in three major metros including Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. But the party’s coalitions also led to its downfall in the three metros when relations with the Economic Freedom Fighters soured. 

Its coalition arrangement with the EFF had been considered as a catalyst for the resignations of former DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba

‘Smart choices’

“Our country now stands before a historic crossroads,” Steenhuisen said. “We need to make smart choices now — informed choices that will protect and preserve this country for our children and their children. This means knowing what the main contenders on the ballot paper offer. Take their manifestos and read them critically.” 

The DA promised to release unused state-owned land in municipalities where it governs to build housing, saying that state land should not lie unused while people were not living in decent settlements.

The party would focus on enabling the densification of existing, well-located, and low density neighbourhoods through appropriate zoning and investment in infrastructure.

“Where viable, we will ensure the in-situ upgrading of informal settlements and provide residents of previously informal settlements with tenure security. We will manage lists for housing opportunities, including serviced sites, which are credible, free from manipulation and ensure the development of a standard, transparent, and fair process for selecting beneficiaries,” Steenhuisen said. 

The DA has been heavily criticised in the past for its intention to amend by-laws in Cape Town relating to streets, public places and the prevention of noise nuisances. Its proposal to amend the city’s by-laws have been seen as criminalising homelessness. 

Recently, GOOD party leader and former DA mayor Patricia De Lille said her proposal to release public land in the Cape Town inner city was the genesis of her fallout with the DA, “whose conservative inner-cabal and their funders were heavily opposed to”, according to an IOL report. 

Local law enforcement

The DA has also promised to modernise policing at the municipal level by investing in localised law enforcement. 

In his speech, Steenhuisen said that the party’s goal was to devolve much of the policing functions from the national government to competent metros and municipalities, adding that the party would fight the state’s attempts to bring all metro police departments and municipal law enforcement into one centralised police service.

“DA governments will invest in crime information services and smart policing that is information-driven, intelligence-driven, and data-driven. This includes CCTV cameras, gunfire detection, crime data analysis, integrated and computer-aided call taking, dispatching and mobile in-vehicle enablement systems that make the police more responsible, accountable and produce crime and business information that allows for effective management. 

“We will implement watching briefs for poorly prosecuted crimes. Members of the watching briefs unit attend courts to observe the procedures in court to detect inefficiencies of the police and courts,” the manifesto states. 

Strategic investment

The party has also promised to make its municipalities more attractive to investment to create jobs. Steenhuisen said municipalities should invest early in research exploring the competitive advantages of the local economy and lean towards those sectors that exhibited the most potential for growth.

“We will formalise relationships with strategic business partners in locally significant sectors. Municipal procurement will not enrich the politically connected but will reduce inequality by using competent, value-for-money service providers who enable us to deliver reliable basic services and public infrastructure for all. Post-pandemic informal trade and economic activity, if proactively and effectively regulated with an enabling approach, will become even more important to local prosperity.” 

The party has proposed a more conducive environment for informal traders saying the impounding of their goods would be the last resort as a sanction for serious offences.

Steenhuisen said the party would ensure that official trading areas are well located in areas with high foot traffic and would provide appropriate infrastructure for informal trading, depending on the type of activity, he said.

The DA leader said that employing only fit-for-purpose individuals in government, and then demanding accountability from them, would be one of its priorities, adding that the DA had zero tolerance for corruption. 

“We have an obsession to reduce any unauthorised or irregular expenditure as low as we possibly can. In other words, to spend every cent of public money in the most efficient manner and where it makes the most impact,” he said. 

Steenhuisen said that the DA will eliminate corruption, adopt best practices in good governance, and ensure the resilience of communities through effective disaster risk management.

Service-level agreements

“DA governments will clearly communicate service-level agreements (SLAs) and turnaround times on refuse collection, burst pipes, electrical faults, potholes, and other queries lodged. We will also link each SLA and turnaround time to the responsible political individual to ensure accountability. 

“Where we govern, we have a track record of reducing fruitless and wasteful expenditure and keeping staff costs down. We are committed to paying bulk suppliers timeously to avoid any service interruptions, and to pay all suppliers within 30 days,” he said. 

Steenhuisen set out an ambitious plan to integrate public transport systems in metros by using single “smart” ticket systems to allow commuters to use all forms of public transport. 

He said that DA-run municipalities will partner with the private sector, such as taxi associations, to make sure public transport is efficient, sustainable, and integrated.

“This can be done by including minibus taxi drivers and owners in the municipal integrated transport plan.” 

He added that the party will investigate the feasibility of providing free transport within metros for work seekers, potentially within designated days and hours.