It will be a case of the ANC versus the South African Communist Party (SACP) at the polls next month as the latter party finally makes good on its threat to go it alone.A total of 21 wards will be contested in Metsimaholo Local Municipality – an administrative area in the Fezile Dabi District of the Free State – on November 29. This after the municipality’s former coalition government was dissolved in July. The move could also see the SACP voting alongside the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in an unofficial coalition, as part of a realignment of the left.This is seen as a litmus test ahead of the contentious 2019 national elections, on which the ANC’s lifeline hangs – given increasing indications that the party’s grip on power is sliding.This week’s Cabinet reshuffle by President Jacob Zuma, which included the axing of SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, has hardened attitudes and placed the already deeply divided alliance in a precarious position.The SACP has been doing the groundwork in Metsimaholo, assessing which of the 21 wards it would target. For instance, where there are complaints by communities about councillors being imposed, the party will put forward its own candidates. In what is regarded as a dress rehearsal for 2019, the SACP will also assess whether there is appetite for a broad patriotic front. City Press heard that some of the candidates who could be fielded hold various positions in the ANC.City Press also understands that the SACP’s first deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, met with local structures of the Fezile Dabi District last Wednesday to discuss the issue, and was given the go-ahead. An ANC member, who was present at the meeting, told City Press that an argument that the decision was too hasty was quickly shot down, with most people being in favour of contesting the by-elections.“The big issues were the processes of the ANC, which were fraudulent and not credible. Another issue was the workers who were fired by the ANC from the municipality, following a strike in 2014. Those comrades made it clear that if Solly [Mapaila] had said anything other than that they were allowed to contest, there would have been a revolt,” the member said.“There is also the likelihood that the SACP will vote with the EFF in council on a number of issues, such as on those workers who were fired. The two groups work well together in this area. The relationship is there and, generally, they stand for the same things. It won’t be a coalition in the formal sense, but we will work with them.”This decision, also supported by the affiliate leaders in the area, is set to divide the ANC vote. Results could swing in favour of the DA, which has a base in four wards in Metsimaholo.SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo confirmed that a decision had been taken “to contest, in principle, pending an assessment”.“The politburo, which met on October 6 and 7, received a report from the Free State branch, making a special request for approval to contest elections in Metsimaholo. The purpose of the request was to give practical expression to a standing SACP resolution not to support candidates from irregular processes or impose candidates, as their candidature undermines the letter and spirit of our alliance and its ANC-led electoral process,” Mashilo said.“The politburo considered the request in the context of the 14th Party Congress’ mandate to its central committee to develop a road map for the SACP to actively contest elections, either within the umbrella of a reconfigured alliance or on its own – or through broad popular fronts if the alliance is not reconfigured.“It was decided that a detailed examination of the realities in Metsimaholo and extensive consultation with local communities – including mass democratic movement formations – must be conducted, case by case, to inform the final decision to contest. The process is in motion to contest elections in Metsimaholo, in that order.”Metsimasholo has been a battleground for fierce contestation between the ANC and EFF. The council was dissolved when a coalition between the EFF, the DA, the Freedom Front Plus and the Metsimaholo Civic Association (MCA) collapsed after the mayor, Sello Hlasa – appointed by the MCA – crossed over to the ANC.