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The 2021 local government elections are almost upon us, and it’s already turning out to be a campaign like no other. Between the logistical challenges of keeping the electorate safe during the Covid-19 pandemic and the dissatisfaction with politicians in general, there could be significant disruption to the balance of power in all of South Africa’s provinces.
To help you decide where to cast your vote, we’ve put together this visual guide outlining the current make-up of local councils and the issues that people will be voting on in your area, including the latest Auditor General’s ranking.
Latest election stories
Fight for the big cities
The province will undoubtedly prove a litmus test for the three biggest parties — the ANC, EFF and the DA. The country’s economic hub was once thought to be lost to the ANC when the DA — then under the leadership of Mmusi Maimane — stole the City of Johannesburg and Tshwane from under the noses of an arrogant ANC, which believed it would run the country “until Jesus comes”.
Left clutching at straws, the ANC and its provincial government have, in the past five years, struggled in their new role as the opposition. In Tshwane the ANC, under the guise of “liberating the people from the DA-led coalition” made a fatal blunder when the MEC of the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Lebogang Maile, placed the city under administration — a move cosigned by Premier David Makhura which court after court found unlawful.
The DA has also imploded, its popularity waning, and even its core constituents are looking for greener pastures in another home . The one good story the DA can tell in Gauteng is its well oiled machine of governance in Midvaal.
Meanwhile the EFF, which touts itself as having the best interests of the poor at heart, as illustrated in motions during council meetings will have its work cut out for it. Whether in Hammanskraal, Soweto, Mamelodi or even Tembisa, political parties hear one common theme from the people: We want clean water, electricity, employment and better roads. Who gets to deliver and under which coalitions is bound to be interesting.
Still a DA stonghold?
The province is seeing an all-out drive by the Democratic Alliance to retain its flagship project, as its prospects dim elsewhere. Cape Town mayoral candidate Geordin Hill-Lewis is promising to make everything work in the city that does not elsewhere, from electricity supply to public transport.
The DA is also pushing for greater devolution, demanding regional control of the railways to fix what Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, aka Mr Fixit, has not been able to restore — the Central Line that should serve a million people on the Cape Flats.
The DA’s opponents have made social housing a rallying cry, saying the party governs for the white middle classes while 12,000 or more people live on the streets of the inner city.
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The “looters” sang too soon
At the height of the July unrest, when more than 300 people died and thousands of businesses and livelihoods were destroyed, the Eastern Cape released a witty video about there being “no looting aph’ePhondweni [here in the province]”.
But, no sooner had the music from the celebratory video stopped, than the Eastern Cape’s notorious corruption (read its real looting) began to resurface.
A R15-million “stadium” adorned with rickety grandstands near Qonce and Premier Oscar Mabuyane and his provincial government being implicated in egregious corruption will again test the province’s residents’ resolve in re-electing the failing ANC.
Eyes on the IFP?
There are several big questions regarding KwaZulu-Natal. Will the July riots, triggered by the hailing of former president Jacob Zuma, have an impact on voter turnout — and the governing party — particularly in the eThekwini metro council, the only metro to remain under ANC control after the 2016 local government poll? Can the ANC retain the slim majority it holds in the metro, or will the comeback the IFP started in 2019, when it dislodged the DA as the official opposition, gain more traction?
LISTEN: M&G’s exclusive elections podcast series, Chapter 2.19
Where sanitation is the pits
The ANC has a particularly tough brief in the former fiefdom of its suspended secretary general, Ace Magashule, where money for infrastructure was flushed Into corruption wholesale. The relatively small Setsotso municipality, which has only 17 wards, has the country’s highest concentration of bucket toilets, around 7 000.
Water supply interruption and sanitation is a dire problem throughout the province. The state of the Kroonstad wastewater treatment plant has seen communities contend for years with sewage spills that polluted the Vaal River system. The plant has been out of operation for a year and will cost R60-million to fix. Last month Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu told local government managers the time to act is now.
If the ANC is asking voters to trust it to fix what fell apart on its watch, the EFF has promised voters clean water for every household, without saying how it will recapitalise bankrupt municipalities to restore services.
Only way is up
This is possibly one of the worst run provinces in the country, if not the worst. In the past five year, the provincial government and its municipalities have been placed under administration. The ANC has been on a downward spiral as factional battles took over the delivery of services.
Municipalities in the North West could be easy pickings for any party. The EFF, should it play its cards right, must be salivating at the thought. Communities live without water and electricity for days, even weeks, the roads are dilapidated, there is very little economic development, and it seems like it won’t take much to convince communities to shift their loyalties to either the two big opposition parties or even the smaller and newly formed parties.
There is much to be capitalised on in the province, as clearly evidenced in the Electoral Commission of South Africa having a record number of parties and independent candidates who will contest in 403 wards across the province.
DD’s big test
For as long as most voters can remember, Mpumalanga has been Mabuza country — a province dominated by both the ANC and its current deputy president, David Debede Mabuza, who served two terms as premier of the province. Mabuza’s move to national politics means his grip on Mpumalanga has weakened, opening up space for change within the province and the ANC. Will the EFF, the DA and the IFP be able to take advantage of this, or will the ANC dominate Mpumalanga again?
Bling, bling; R349-million wasted ain’t a thing
In the 2018-19 financial year, when only one of Limpopo’s 27 municipalities had a clean audit, Collins Chabane’s municipal manager “illegally” deposited R120-million into the notorious VBS Mutual Bank in exchange, allegedly, for luxury holidays and a Tag Heuer wristwatch.
In the same financial year, Limpopo’s municipalities blew R249-million on consultants, as the late auditor general Kimi Makwethu, in his last report in July 2020, revealed the extent of the lack of skills in the province’s local governments.
It remains to be seen whether the province’s voters will back the same candidates from, mainly the ANC, whose provincial leaders (allegedly) saw nothing wrong with pillaging R2.3-billion worth of people’s life savings in the implosion of the controversial Limpopo-based mutual bank.
The safest seats?
The governing party has very little to worry about in the Northern Cape. The sparsely populated province is partially left to fend for itself while corruption runs rampant. One of the most widely known challenges that face some of the municipalities of the province is decaying infrastructure which has never been attended to by the ANC-led government.
Just two weeks ago while campaigning in the Sol Plaatje local municipality (better known as Kimberley) President Cyril Ramaphosa recognised that the government had failed to improve infrastructure in the diamond city. “We will be able to improve the streets. The streets are not so good,” Ramaphosa said.
While no one expects the ANC to lose control of the Northern Cape municipalities, the EFF, DA and Patricia de Lille’s newly formed GOOD party are looking to make inroads in the province, which could see a drastic change in the balance of forces.