Emerging from the Covid-19-related lockdown during which the ANC brand was tainted by corruption, the governing party is now eyeing 96 wards that will be up for grabs in by-elections taking place across the country this week.
A total of 444 candidates from 40 political parties, including 19 independent candidates, have been confirmed by the Electoral Commission of SA as contestants for the by-elections on Wednesday.
The by-elections were postponed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic and will now be held under strict new protocols aimed at ensuring the safety of voters, election staff, party agents, observers and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, the DA, fresh from electing its new party leadership, will be closely watched to see whether it can claw back some of the losses it incurred in last year’s national elections.
The governing party knows that it can make a big statement leading up to next year’s local government elections should it retain or win back key municipalities. The cash-strapped party is not sparing any money or resources in its drive to achieve this.
As an example, the ANC will today host a Siyanqoba Rally in the uMzinyathi district in KwaZulu-Natal with the province’s ANC chairperson and premier, Sihle Zikalala, expected to be the keynote speaker.
The party has also lined up entertainers DJ Tira and the Qwabe Twins, a huge expense and a strong indication of intent for a party that has recently been called out for late salary payments to its staff across the country.
There are two by-elections in the uMzinyathi district headlined by a fascinating contest in uMvoti.
In Ward 7 in Enhlalakahle, Greytown, uMvoti was once an ANC stronghold. However, in last year’s by-elections, the National Freedom Party managed to unseat the ANC by winning 57% of the vote, while the ANC won 40%, the Inkatha Freedom Party (2%) and the EFF (1%).
While ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile was not available for comment on how the governing party was managing to foot its election bill, in another demonstration of intent, he was one of the senior party leaders sent to Greytown last month as part of the party’s campaign strategy.
The ANC has also earmarked another strong showing in Mangaung, Free State, despite having experienced controversy with Olly Mlamleli, the former high-profile Mangaung mayor who was ousted when opposition parties collaborated with some ANC councillors and passed a motion of no confidence in her.
Her subsequent arrest in relation to the asbestos housing corruption scandal has also left the ANC leadership uncertain on which way the two by-elections in the region will go.
Astonishingly, the ANC still announced secretary-general Ace Magashule as the man to lead its Free State by-elections campaign trail, despite the controversy surrounding his alleged corrupt dealings in the province.
Last week, Magashule led officials and volunteers to Botshabelo, were the two by-elections will take place.
Only the ANC and the EFF have registered contests in the two Mangaung by-elections where the ANC retains strong support, having won both wards 28 and 33 with comfortable votes of 79% and 67%, respectively, in 2016.
The EFF received 10% in Ward 28 and 11% in Ward 33 in the 2016 elections.
Also in the spotlight will be the DA’s showing as this will be a good yardstick by which to measure the public’s approval or lack thereof of both the resolutions of the official opposition’s policy conference and its elective conference.
The Western Cape, with 11 wards on offer, will be a much-anticipated battleground for the DA, with municipalities including George and Knysna as places where there could be a big difference.
The party lost three wards to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) last year, and the majority of its efforts have been exhausted in winning back the electorate it lost.
While the DA correctly keeps an eye on the FF+, it also needs to be cautious of its former Western Cape leader Patricia de Lille’s party, Good, which is contesting in four wards currently controlled by the DA.
The DA has 28 out of the 53 seats in the council and will lose its outright majority if it loses two seats.
However, the blue brigade remains confident that this will not happen and, through its newly elected leader John Steenhuisen, has said it was not consumed by thinking about possible coalitions because it was targeting outright wins.
However, Good gained a number of votes in George in last year’s general elections, and could establish itself in council for the first time following the by-election.
The EFF, which has branded the upcoming by-elections as a “training” ground for next year’s local government elections, has indicated that it seeks to gain ground in traditional ANC strongholds.
The red berets are pinning their hopes on EFF secretary-general Marshall Dlamini, who was hailed as the brains behind the EFF’s gains in rural KwaZulu-Natal in last year’s polls.
Dlamini told City Press’ sister publication News24 that the party had invested its resources in the by-elections, and was treating the run-offs as a “training session for 2021”.