While the Free State ANC has expressed its gratitude to voters who helped it stay in charge of the troubled Maluti-a-Phofung municipality, it says it understands that its severely reduced majority is a sign that people are growing impatient with it.
The Maluti-a-Phofung municipality is part of the Thabo Mofutsanyana District of the Free State.
"The African National Congress is well aware that these problems seriously tested our people's trust in the ANC and compromised our role as the leader of society," spokesperson Thabo Meeko said in a statement on Thursday.
Meeko said the ANC was "especially grateful" to those who voted for the party in this week's by-elections, despite "internal strife" and service delivery "difficulties".
Fifteen former ANC councillors went head to head with the party, contesting the by-elections as independent candidates, including the former mayor of the municipality, Gilbert Mokotso.
The 15 independent candidates were expelled by the party and accused of working with the opposition to unseat Mokotso's predecessor, Vusi Tshabalala, a well-known ally of secretary general Ace Magashule, who was once the province's premier.
Magashule losing influence
Tshabalala is now the party's chief whip in the provincial legislature.
Some in the province have celebrated the ANC's loss of 10 wards as a substantial sign that Magashule, who was once dubbed "lifetime chair" due to his long run as provincial chairperson, was slowly losing his tight grip and influence in the province.
"He was here himself and it didn't help them much. People are slowly turning their backs on his proxies and allies. This is really something to celebrate," one Free State party member told News24.
A tired Paratlane Motloung, spokesperson for the 15 independent candidates, said it felt "tremendous" to win 10 of the 15 wards.
"This means the people of Maluti have finally decided to change their loyalty from the governing party and to try new people who can make a difference in their lives," he said.
"The people have had it with their arrogance, which was beyond measure," he added.
'Anything is possible'
While he admitted that the coalition that they were hoping for was off the table as the ANC retained its majority, the independent candidates will work with opposition parties to keep an eye on the ANC.
"Their majority has been significantly reduced and now they know anything is possible and have no choice but to pull up their socks," Motloung said.
Motloung added that the independent candidates also believed it was the start of a downward spiral for the ANC and said they would continue to fight to get the party completely out of power.
The ANC now has 37 seats, while opposition councillors occupy 32 seats. Meeko said Wednesday's by-election results sent a strong message to the party.
"It is very clear to us that although we retained overall control of the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality, our people have castigated us with their vote yesterday and they delivered a strong message that the ANC has to self-correct, bring an end to infighting and divisions within our ranks and work tirelessly for unity in order to deliver services," he said.
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