Adriaan Basson

#LGE2016: 10 reflections from Ground Zero

2016-08-08 07:40

Adriaan Basson

With South Africa's liberation party, the ANC, having suffered its biggest electoral defeat since 1994, the word "reflection" is on the lips of many comrades, including unlikely ones like the ANC Youth League.

While coalition mating-dances are taking place behind closed doors, I will take the opportunity to add to the reflection debate with 10 post-elections thoughts after witnessing history being made from our small office at the Tshwane results centre.

1. Zuma is the ANC's problem #1

It was only a matter of time before the electorate punished the ANC at the ballot box for keeping in office a deeply compromised and dishonourable president in Jacob Zuma. Polls have showed for months that the South African public just does not trust Zuma anymore.

Whatever the reasons were the ANC elected Zuma as party president in 2007 (a topic Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi have reflected on a lot), they no longer exist. Zuma's name is now synonymous with systemic corruption, poor governance and state capture.

It's as simple as this: Zuma has become a major liability for the ANC and the party now faces the real possibility of being voted out of power nationally if Zuma is still head of state in 2019.

The ANC received 53.9% of the national vote in this election. That is four percentage points away from losing the Union Buildings. If a DA/EFF-led coalition succeeds in governing Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg over the next three years, the ANC will struggle to win in 2019.

A lot has been written about low voter turnout in townships and high voter turnout in the suburbs. Why did traditional ANC voters decide not to vote on August 3? Before the election, a number of analysts called it a referendum on Zuma's leadership.

I would argue this was exactly what had happened. A substantial number of unhappy ANC voters decided to vote against Zuma by not voting. Others voted for the DA, EFF or IFP (in KwaZulu-Natal).

In Soweto – traditionally the ANC's Gauteng heartland – the EFF received up to 30% of the vote in certain wards and the DA polled between 12% and 15%.

2. The DA has become acceptable to black voters

The numbers are not yet out, but I suspect that DA had increased its votes from black voters substantially since 2011. It had to pull serious numbers of votes from black people in Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and even Johannesburg to achieve the results it did.

In Cape Town, coloured voters have all but given up on the ANC. In Khayelitsha, where the turnout was low, the ANC shed 15% of its support to the EFF and DA (from 92% in 2011 to 77%).

The DA's charismatic leader Mmusi Maimane deserves credit for transforming the party's image to that of one that represents black success. Black, young businesspeople speak openly about their support for the DA. The challenge will now be for Maimane and his mayors to walk the talk.

It's one thing to have a black leader, black spokesperson, Harley Davidsons being driven by black bikers and sing ANC struggle songs at your rallies, but quite another to improve the lives of the impoverished people of Helenvale, Alexandra and Soshanguve.

Black entrepreneurs may be anxious that the DA's often contradictory views on BEE, specifically Johannesburg mayor-to-be Herman Mashaba's flip-flopping on the issue, will not benefit them.

3. The ANC urgently needs to modernise

When it comes to elections, the ANC got stuck on methods that worked 10 years ago. The party's elections machinery needs a serious overhaul.

It's no longer good enough to have a Twitter account, pay Arthur Mafokate for a new song and hope for the best.

At the IEC results centre it was clear that the DA had a far more superior elections machine on the ground in terms of tracking voters and predicting turnout and voting patterns. It is well-known that the DA employs top statisticians to assist their election campaigning from start to end.

This helps the party to determine where to direct its leaders, money and energy in the weeks leading up to voting.

The ANC seems clueless in this department. The highlight (or lowlight) of this was when top ANC leaders, including deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and Nomvula Mokonyane, kept on repeating that 15 million people had voted for the ANC, when in fact that number was closer to eight million.

The ANC's communications department put out a statement on Friday, claiming "an unprecedented 14 million South Africans have cast their ballots in favour of the ANC in this election". The party made an elementary mistake by adding up PR, ward and district votes and interpreting that total as the number of voters.

This meant the party double, even triple counted its voters. This is an embarrassing mistake to make for the ruling party, who should really invest in a polling and statistics department.

4. A system of patronage has been broken

The government tender system had been corrupted over 20 years at all levels of government. Numerous ANC leaders were caught with their fingers in the cookie jar and systems of patronage were established in municipalities, provinces and at national level.

Despite numerous rebukes by the Auditor-General (AG), the financial affairs of municipalities remain in disarray. This is an opportunity for new coalitions to clean-up the mess left by ANC governments and show the electorate that they will not repeat the same mistakes.

Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg received qualified audits from Kimi Makwetu, the AG, in his last audit of municipalities. In the last financial year, the three together misspent over R5bn in unauthorised or fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

This is an opportunity for new local governments to clean-up through forensic audits, recover lost money and make sure its fiscal systems are fixed to prevent similar losses and looting.

5. Parks Tau is Zuma's biggest casualty

There seems to be widespread consensus (even within the DA and EFF) that outgoing Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau did a great job of managing "Africa's world-class city".

It is highly likely that the DA, EFF and other smaller parties will form a governing coalition in the economic capital and that Tau will lose his job.

The ANC's poor performance in Johannesburg is closely linked to the party's anger over Zuma. The ANC in Gauteng has been vocal in its opposition to Zuma, even asking the president to "do the right thing" (meaning step down) after the Constitutional Court's ruling on Nkandla.

It is very plausible that traditional ANC voters in Johannesburg voted against the party or stayed away to punish Zuma. In the process, the country lost one of its best mayors.

Zuma and his supporters may use the moment to get rid of Paul Mashatile and the Gauteng ANC leadership, using the poor municipal polls as a stick.

6. DA/EFF coalitions will be ugly (and clean)

At this stage, it seems highly likely that the DA and EFF will form governing coalitions in at least Johannesburg and Tshwane. The parties don't agree on much, but the following: their loathing of Zuma; their anti-corruption mantra and a focus on delivering better services than the ANC.

Both Maimane and Malema have said in public on numerous occasions they won't form coalitions with the ANC. Their voters will punish them if they do.

Maimane and Malema will probably thrash out a coalition agreement over the next few days that will be more pragmatic than ideological.

Malema has already warned that his party won't support the DA's "white arrogance". It will be a difficult marriage, if it happens. It should be expected that the parties will not agree on all priorities or government programmes and should have a mechanism in place on how to deal with conflict.

There is also a view that a coalition between the two will be good for clean governance. Both parties would want to make sure that the other doesn't steal money or appoint cronies and will be extra vigilant in how these municipalities are run. It is probably an idealistic view, but nevertheless an interesting prospect.

7. 100 days of hell for Mashaba, Msimanga and Trollip

The incoming mayors of Tshwane (Solly Msimanga), Johannesburg (Herman Mashaba) and Nelson Mandela Bay (Athol Trollip) are walking into administrations filled with scared people.

These bureaucrats fear a purging by a DA/EFF-led coalition of civil servants. Msimanga has said that he will not purge any Tshwane employees who are not crooked.

Naturally there are people waiting in the wings to take over key portfolios like finance and the metro police departments. There are also those who will undermine that new mayors at every turn and keep information from them.

It will not be an easy ride for the new mayors, particularly as they try to establish a trust relationship with their new coalition partners.

8. The future of politics is yellow, blue and red

The ANC, DA and EFF will dominate the South African political landscape for the next few years. None of the other smaller parties, bar the IFP in Zululand (where the NFP couldn’t participate), managed to make a major impact in these elections.

The United Front of the Eastern Cape – a Numsa spin-off – managed to win only one seat in Nelson Mandela Bay. The UDM has confirmed it will be a coalition partner of the DA in Nelson Mandela Bay with its two seats and in Johannesburg the DA/EFF will need to cooperate with at least three small parties.

But none of them will have a major impact on the political environment before or after the 2019 national and provincial elections.

9. The IEC is world-class

Despite much valid criticism over its handling of the Tlokwe by-elections mess, the IEC has redeemed itself in  #LGE2016. The commission is professionally run and consists of hundreds of hard-working, honest individuals who ensure that every vote is counted and processed correctly.

IEC officials who occupy the centre spot at the results centre are hard-working, friendly people who understand the significance of their jobs. The commission is tech-savvy and very cool in the way they promote elections to a young, connected generation.

10. Democracy won the day

If there was one lesson from #LGE2016 it is this: no party is entitled to South Africans' votes. Twenty-two years after coming into power, the ANC has been punished by the electorate for poor governance and leadership. It is up to the party to redeem itself.

Other parties, including the DA in Cape Town where it won 66.6% of votes, should heed the lesson. Just because you are the biggest today doesn’t mean you will remain in power

- Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson


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