Tshwane election battle heats up

Pretoria - Will there be a change in the government that runs the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality come the end of May?

It is a question that is frequently asked in the municipality that houses Pretoria, the country's legislative capital.

Controlled by the African National Congress for the past 17 years, the Democratic Alliance believes it has a real chance to make Tshwane the second metro in Gauteng it controls following the May 18 local government elections.

It is not a view that the incumbent mayor Kgosientso "Sputla" Ramokgopa shares. In fact he says the ANC is not bothered with any of the opposition parties.

"We are less concerned about the opposition because that's not the aim. The ANC was not formed to fight some organisations who keep presenting themselves in various fashions. The ANC was formed to fight poverty, underdevelopment, joblessness, exclusion and racial discrimination, gender discrimination, patriarchy."

ANC confident of win

Ramokgopa, who is likely to be the ANC's mayoral candidate following the May 18 elections, believes the party will win the country's administrative capital decisively.

"What we (will) record in the local government elections is a decisive victory. So victory is a given. We know that our people are going to express confidence in the leadership of the ANC."

However, the DA's mayoral candidate Brandon Topham reckons that a mere swing of seven percent of the votes from the 2006 election is all it will take to oust the ruling ANC.

That might be the seven percent of Tshwane's 780 000 households that Ramakgoba says do not have proper access to sanitation.

"So those people are quite right to be aggrieved," Topham said.

Issues DA will focus on

The DA sees it as an opportunity to increase its share of the vote from the 31% it garnered in the 2006 election. The ANC took 56% of the vote in that election.

"Never before was the chance for a new municipal government so good. Voters who never thought they would ever vote for the DA are now considering it," Topham told enthusiastic supporters at the launch of his mayoral campaign earlier this month.

Safety, or the lack of it, together with corruption, poor billing and potholes have all made headlines on a regular basis in the local newspapers. Those are the issues Topham says his party will address if elected.

In the run-up to appointing candidates for various wards, protests erupted from ANC members who claimed candidates were being foisted upon them by the incumbent mayor - a claim denied by the Ramakgoba camp.

But Ramakgoba conceded that the dissatisfaction could have an impact.

"Inevitably, it will have a negative impact... to the extent that some (ANC ward hopefuls) chose to be independent candidates."

WikiLeaks report

In Mamelodi, one of Pretoria's largest townships, 13 of the 16 wards are being contested by independent candidates who were formerly ANC members.

In Ward 51 in the Atteridgeville township, the ward from which Ramakgoba apparently hails, an independent candidate is also standing. Shimane Mashaba was originally an ANC member.

And if that was not enough to boost the DA's belief that it can take the capital city, a recent report in Beeld newspaper cited revelations from whistleblower website WikiLeaks that provincial ANC spokesperson Dumisa Ntuli had confided in a US diplomat that the party was worried the DA's "day dreaming about Tshwane is going to change into a nightmare".

It's an allegation that Ntuli has hotly denied and one that Ramakgoba laughed at.

"I won't base any reliance on those wires," Ramakgoba said.

Topham has touted the municipalities of Cape Town and Midvaal (the Gauteng metro governed by the DA) as examples of what good governance could bring to Tshwane.

"It is a story that the DA has been running with. The true story is to go to the black townships. What the DA and opposition parties want is a clean audit report, our people don't live off clean audit reports," said Ramakgoba.

Spoilers or kingmakers

Another new variable in this year's local government elections is the incorporation of two ANC controlled municipalities - Noken Tsa Taemane (Cullinan) and Kungwini (Bronkhorstspruit) - which have become financially unviable.

While both the DA and ANC have downplayed the impact, outsiders are uncertain as to what impact these new voters could have on Tshwane election results.

Patrick Hlahla, a journalist with the Pretoria News, believes the independent candidates and the minority parties will do well. They could be the spoilers or makers of any new municipal government.

University of Pretoria political analyst Roland Henwood said: "Automatic dominance of the ANC cannot be taken for granted. More people have become unhappy."

What the experts foresee

But he warned opposition hopefuls that the unhappiness might not translate into votes for them as the ANC had effectively instilled a culture of "loyalty, history and a sense of belonging" (to the party).

He said two other unknown factors in the election in Tshwane would be those ANC members who did not vote in protest and the youth vote, which in previous elections had not had a major impact.

Both Hlahla and Henwood do not see the DA winning in Tshwane this election, but the ANC may not win as confidently as it has done previously.

"The fact that there are a lot of independent candidates shows that people are not happy," said Hlahla.

The ANC, he believes, will still be the largest party, but not necessarily with the outright majority it currently has.
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