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The 'double agents' of the local government elections

2016-07-29 09:02
(iStock)

Cape Town - Muzonjani Zulu is so determined to free South Africa from what he describes as a government of non-intellectuals incapable of running the country, that he decided to contest the local government elections.

Zulu is one of thousands of “double-agents” - candidates running for multiple wards and/or multiple parties - who stand to get more seats on the council by getting more votes, according to the Code for South Africa Data Journalism Academy.

But what sets Zulu apart from the other "double agents" is that he is running for 108 of 110 wards in the eThekwini local municipality - more wards than any other candidate in the country,

Another “double agent” is Kempen Nel, a farmer from Jacobsdal, Free State, who appears to be caught up in intra-party politics.

He is standing in two different wards for the Congress of the People (Cope) and is on the DA’s party list, but he says this is an error.

But Zulu and Nel are just two out of over 5 000 “double agents”, with the majority of parties fielding candidates standing in more than one ward.

More votes, more seats

Zulu was a senior figure in the National Freedom Party (NFP). He resigned from the party on May 25 and set up a new one, the Academic Congress Union (ACU), three days later.

With five days before the cut-off date to register a party for the local government elections and to submit a candidate list to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC), Zulu decided to contest all but two of the wards in his municipality. He is also on the party’s proportional representation (PR) list.

The “double agent” strategy is being used by nearly 15% of party-affiliated candidates. Parties are allocated PR seats according to a formula based on the percentage of the vote they get.

A predetermined process is followed to allocate seats. So, when it comes to getting a seat, the underlying principle is simple: the more votes you get, the more seats you get.

Although this is completely in line with election legislation and regulations, the strategy is an opportunistic one, with some of these candidates running for dozens of wards within their municipalities.

If a candidate wins in more than one ward they can only take up one - and by-elections must be held in the other wards they took.

For example, if Zulu wins every ward he runs in - which is unlikely due to the small size and newness of the party - then 107 by-elections would have to take place.

This strategy, however, will add to an already existing problem, “with the mounting number of candidates being killed”, according to Ebrahim Fakir of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

With the candidate list already finalised, even deceased candidates cannot be removed from it. This means that in some cases, dead candidates will be elected and by-elections will have to take place.

Exploiting the system?

So, is allowing candidates to run in as many wards as they like enabling parties to take advantage of the entire system, at a cost to the IEC and to the public?

On the surface it appears unethical, but is merely an incentive to use every available opportunity, no matter the cost, says Fakir.

When voters arrive to cast their votes on August 3, there are two aspects they will have to consider: a list of possible ward councillors and a list of parties, which is the PR list. Together, the results of these will be used to determine who will be the ward councillors for the next five years and how many seats a party gets on a local council.

“The purpose, for me, is to get PR votes,” says Zulu.

“Our intention is to contest as a party in the 2019 elections. But first, people need to know who the ACU actually are, and what better way than to run in as many wards as possible?"

Zulu’s purpose, therefore, is twofold: he wants to increase his party’s chances of getting a seat on a local council and to advertise the party in three provinces – the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal – where the NFP has always had support. But what about the costs that will be incurred if he wins in more than one ward?

“You can’t equate democracy to how much money it’s going to cost,” says Western Cape IEC spokesperson, Trevor Davids.

KwaZulu-Natal IEC officer Mowethu Mosery agrees.

“It’s all part of the democratic process,” he says. The IEC's job is to facilitate the will and choice of the voters.

Besides, Mosery is confident Zulu won’t win in that many wards.

“I just don’t think it will happen,” he insists, laughing at the party's strategy. Regardless, if he does land up winning in more than one ward, by-elections will have to take place.

Intellectuals needed

For Zulu, beyond hoping to increase support for his new party, it is about countrywide intellectual growth. South Africa, he says, is “running short of intellectuals who are politicians”.

“Zuma does not have enough skills to lead the country because of his level of education.”

Zulu provides a detailed history of his education, from a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate degree at the University of South Africa, to having just submitted his PhD.

He is not worried about the possibility of – hypothetically – 107 by-elections taking place. “We need to grow, grow, grow,” he says.

Nel has an irrigation farm in Letsemeng, in the Xhariep municipality. Since before 2000, Nel has sat on and headed up various community committees and has remained heavily involved in these. The municipality is small, consisting of only six wards and covers a vast rural area.  This, he says, is why he is running for more than one ward.

On June 20 this year, Nel wrote a letter to the DA, resigning from the party. He received no response and was surprised to see his name on the party list when it was released.

According to DA MP Patricia Kopane, when the party received the candidate list, a day after Nel had begun the resignation process, they realised he was running for Cope and fired him. She also says he was also fired for “being a racist”.

Multiple wards

Although Nel is one of the only DA candidates running for multiple parties, more than half (54.9%) of those on the party’s ward candidate list are running for multiple wards.

They are not the only ones, with hundreds of candidates from the ANC and EFF in the same situation.

He explains he felt “pushed out” by provincial DA leaders due to nepotism, inequality, and an unwillingness to engage the long-time rural councillors and bring in new, inexperienced ones instead.  So in May, when Cope approached him to run as a representative in two wards, he quickly agreed.

Nel says that he is not running because of politics, but for his community, who “are all behind me in these elections”.

Kopane does not believe that Nel will be voted in at all: “Cope doesn’t exist in the Free State, and the people are not supporting him,” she says.

“Cope is dead, they are immaterial, I don’t even consider them competition.”

Fakir, who is manager of the EISA’s political parties and parliamentary programme, says although there are cases like Zulu and Nel, it is the system the country chose.

“The reason we have this system is because we don’t want peoples’ votes to go to waste,” he says.

INFOGRAPHIC: Candidates can only take up one seat or ward councillor position, even if they win multiple wards. There are 5 572 of these “double agents” in the upcoming elections.

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- Produced by the Code for South Africa Data Journalism Academy

Read more on: local government  |  local elections 2016  |  politics

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