High noon in North West: Opposition parties work hard to bring ANC below 50%

AFTER THE WATER WARS Protesters overturned municipal bins in Market Street, in Vryburg’s CBD, on Wednesday and trashed the road. They demanded that government deal with corruption and service delivery backlogs, including the water shortage
AFTER THE WATER WARS Protesters overturned municipal bins in Market Street, in Vryburg’s CBD, on Wednesday and trashed the road. They demanded that government deal with corruption and service delivery backlogs, including the water shortage

With the ANC wracked by factionalism and infighting, opposition parties are working hard to bring it below 50%

On Tuesday, the election roadshow undertaken by the EFF and its leader, Julius Malema, was in the North West – specifically, at the Family of Love Destiny (Fold) church in Unit 9 township, situated in the capital city, Mahikeng.

He had been delayed for almost four hours from his previous rally in Ratlou municipality in Setlagole.

The party’s North West secretary, Papiki Babuile, told City Press that Malema was scheduled to visit at least five municipalities a day across all of the province’s four regions between Monday and Thursday.

The gathering at the Fold church was initially billed to be a public meeting, but it soon became a closed session between Malema and the 200 or so EFF activists based in the Mafikeng subregion, which consists of 35 wards.

Wary that the media might try to sneak into the closed meeting, City Press learnt, Malema tried to isolate any intruders, ordering that each of the attendants identify themselves according to their respective wards.

Later in the meeting, a source told City Press that Malema was unimpressed that the local election coordinator had come ill-prepared, without a report. He ordered the person to leave the meeting, said the source, adding: “Everybody else started panicking because not many people had their reports prepared.

“Malema told the guy that he was wasting his time and that people like him had no place in his meeting. He ordered that he be replaced with immediate effect.”

According to the source, Malema heard during the meeting that party volunteers needed at least two bakkies per ward in order to conduct election work. That amounts to a total of 70 vehicles for the Mafikeng subregion alone.

Malema said the EFF’s headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg would consider the matter, according to those who attended the closed session.

Malema also told the activists, particularly the men, that they needed to up their swag and start dressing with style to make the party more appealing to voters.

An hour later, the meeting was concluded and Malema was on the road to Ramotshere Moiloa municipality in Zeerust for another election campaign session.

At the end of the month, the party will host its provincial manifesto launch in Rustenburg – where Malema was scheduled to campaign on Wednesday, and then in Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp on Thursday.

Mangope nostalgia

Zeerust, about 60km from Mahikeng, was the hometown of the late Lucas Mangope, former Bophuthatswana homeland president and leader of the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP).

At Mangope’s birthplace in Motswedi, a further 50km deep into rural Zeerust, his massive house stands out as one of the local landmarks.

Down the road is Catherine’s Tavern, where young people socialise.

Among them is 35-year-old Tsholofelo Ntsimane, who is registered to vote and proudly declares herself to be an ANC comrade.

Ntsimane says Motswedi used to be “a disciplined community” during Mangope’s time and that the village used to be clean.

She says corporal punishment was the order of the day and residents would toe the line.

“During his time there was no man or woman not working,” she says, adding that Mangope would get unemployed community members to even work in the maize fields and every one of them would receive a stipend.

Boitumelo Menyatso, 21, agrees. “People still say they miss him a lot.”

Menyatso says there is a strong perception among community members that people who get employment through the local tribal office have paid bribe money.

She wants to vote for a party that makes promises and keeps them, but so far, she says, she has been disappointed. “I want to see the changes first before I vote.”

Until then, Menyatso says, she will not vote.

Among the local developments that are taking place, she mentions the main road leading to the tribal office.

Menyatso is unhappy about the tribal authority’s intervention in the running of Motswedi.

“The only thing the tribal office has done is call a prayer session for rain. It has done that six times in the past three months.”

The two women point out that policing in the area is ineffective, dealing only with petty tavern squabbles but ignoring cases such as housebreaking and robbery.

Mangope passed away in January last year, and the upcoming general elections will be the first for the UCDP in his absence.

Two by-elections were held in Zeerust – including Motswedi – in December, but the UCDP did not participate.

Both wards, Ward 4 and 16, went to the ANC.

The DA believes that the UCDP still has potential, and it could even split the ANC’s votes if the party ups its game.

‘Water is everything’

On February 20, the ANC won another by-election in Naledi municipality in Vryburg, which is a subregion of Dr Ruth Segomotso Mompati region.

On Wednesday, the new ANC councillor, Mongameli Moeng, faced a protest in Huhudi township to demand water.

The protesters left Market Street in Vryburg’s central business district trashed, with rubbish strewn all over the road.

Huhudi township fared no better: it resembled a mini war zone, its roads barricaded with burning shrubs and rocks.

Across the road from Kasi Car Wash lives 55-year-old Abel Moepeng, who says there can be no life without water.

“I am not happy at all. They must deliver water. Food is cooked with water. Water is everything.”

City Press learnt that the water has been on and off since December, and it has made the community furious.

A 31-year-old woman says there is too much favouritism in Vryburg and questions why only select people get jobs, while others are snubbed.

“I don’t know what it is that is special about some people, that they get preference over others.”

She says she will vote because “if you don’t, then the party that wins will win anyway”.

Her 38-year-old boyfriend says people who do not vote give the ANC an advantage. He says only three parties are active in Huhudi: the ANC, EFF and DA.

“The UCDP does not exist here,” he says.

Still at Kasi Car Wash, a young ANC activist says people across political parties took part in Wednesday’s protest action and that the plan was to shut down the entire town.

He says connected local ANC leaders are benefiting from the contracts that have resulted in water tankers being brought in to supply water in the interim.

“We know what they are doing and we are going to stop all of these things,” he says.

In the memorandum for both Naledi municipality and Dr Ruth Segomotso district presented by the protesters to the district municipality, there were 31 demands.

They want both mayor and municipal managers gone.

First on the list was that the municipal manager be dismissed and an administrator appointed “to deal with service delivery backlogs such as potholes, illegal dumping sites, water shortages, and the cleaning and fencing off of cemeteries.”

Protestors also want a forensic audit to be conducted on allegedly corrupt municipal tenders, an investigation carried out into the reasons why the Naledi municipality got a disclaimer audit outcome, and a lifestyle audit to be conducted on the municipal manager.

By late Wednesday evening, police escalated their presence in the township in anticipation of a possible flare-up after dark.

IEC concerns

Dr Tumeloentle Thiba, chairperson of the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) in the North West, says that in January, “for the first time ever”, 28 voting stations delayed opening mainly because of service delivery protests.

“Those 28 stations were a major cause of concern for us. It is our main concern that on voting day, May 8, a delay occurs. We should not have delays. The cause was almost invariably attributed to service delivery protests,” Thiba tells City Press in an interview on Thursday.

She says one of the stations was in Atamelang, the home village of former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo.

Here, “the station was opened, and then some disgruntled community members forced it to close.”

A special party liaison committee meeting was immediately called to ask political parties to use their influence to calm residents down.

“We said: ‘These are your members, supporters and your people, so can you not explain to them how important this is.”

Thiba says that apart from those delayed stations, “we do not expect any major incidents on election day”.

She says the first day of special votes on May 6 will provide some sense of how the main election day pans out.

While the January delays affected only 28 out of the province’s 1 733 stations, Thiba said it might be “a small percentage, but for us it is a big deal”.

“Every voter turnout is important because we have to make sure that electoral democracy works in the province. So, if our processes are disrupted in that manner, it is a major cause of concern for us. We would like as many people as possible to participate because, in our country, voting is not compulsory.”

Thiba says her main goal is to promote electoral democracy and “have a smooth transition into the new term from the previous one – a transition that is legitimate”.

She adds: “We try to appeal to political parties when we meet that they should talk to supporters and members about the significance of electoral democracy. People have a right to protest, but they must be prudent that it does not infringe on the rights of others to vote.

“Their concerns are genuine but when they disrupt our processes, it is a pity because it is this vote that gives them a voice.”

She says that in the coming weeks, the commission will conduct training sessions for electoral officers.

The parties also have to participate in vetting electoral officers to ensure that people who are active in party politics are not appointed in key positions, which would compromise the credibility of the process.

The three key staff members, she says, will be the presiding officers, the deputy presiding officers and the voters’ roll officers.

“These candidates cannot have a high political profile, and the commission relies on party liaison committee members to assist with vetting.”

DA faces uphill

DA provincial campaign director Sello Seitlholo says the party has a good relationship with the provincial IEC, adding that he finds Thiba to be “very objective”.

However, says Seitlholo, the DA is frustrated that the commission is taking too long to provide the parties with a list of presiding officers so they can vet them.

“It does not help to make the names available two weeks before elections. We must peruse the list and then red flag problematic people,” he says.

“Another thing is that we need to protect the vote. We need to make sure that we deploy as many party agents and front-of-house operations in voting stations, especially those far out,” he says, adding that the DA has identified risky stations where people could be bussed in to vote.

“We need to keep the IEC accountable as well. These are make-or-break elections for the ANC, which could see itself score below 50%.”

On Wednesday, Seitlholo was among the 18 party liaison committee members attending the scheduled meeting at the IEC’s provincial offices.

Thiba tells City Press on Thursday that the commission treated all parties’ complaints as valid concerns, indicating that more needs to be done to educate the parties and gaps have been identified in the commission’s processes.

She says parties are mostly concerned about overnight security for special vote ballots.

“We have to assure them that the boxes are escorted from each station to a place of safety, and that there is either a strongroom or a person there guarding the boxes physically.”

On previous occasions, says Thiba, “we have had parties sleeping in our offices to guard the ballots”.

“They are supposed to trust us, but this is a highly competitive and contested area. It is understandable because for some of them, this is about bread-and-butter issues. It is useful that parties express concern. Sometimes they accuse us of things we have not done, but it is okay.”

Thiba says one of the concerns raised at the meeting was that “people are being told that if they do not vote, then the votes will be given to the governing party”.

Seitlholo met City Press on Monday night at a Total garage outside Lichtenburg, 60km outside Mafikeng.

His job as DA provincial campaigns director means that he has to travel between his home in Potchefstroom and other parts of the province on a daily basis.

This, he says, despite the fact that “I do not like driving at night”.

Part of his groundwork involves managing the party’s “growing” number of activists.

“Because the party is growing, it becomes difficult to manage – you do not know how many of those people the party has recruited come from other parties and just come to disrupt the voting process, then go away.”

He says the DA has attracted many unemployed young people to do party work, and some would expect an incentive for doing this.

Seitlholo says there are also places, like Tsetse in Ramatlabama, where the party is “invisible”. Earlier in the day, he was busy campaigning in Tsetse.

He says the North West is still challenging for the DA because “we are dealing with voters who are still adamant that the ANC is the only thing they know, which makes it difficult to introduce them to someone else”.

The DA aims to topple the EFF and become the main opposition in the province. This requires lots of groundwork in areas where the EFF is strong, such as Mafikeng and Rustenburg.

He says the violent protests against Mahumapelo last year, which led to the former premier’s axing, provided a window of opportunity for the opposition.

“Those are things we can utilise as a benchmark to say that we cannot go back to this particular government.”

Seitlholo says that in order for the ANC to keep power, “it needs to keep as much information away from people in rural areas so that they do not question government decisions. So, you lock them away from the true reality of what government is doing. If you go to Tsetse, people do not know about Bosasagate or state capture; they are more interested in bread-and-butter issues.”

He says the DA posters are everywhere in black, Indian and coloured areas, unlike the Freedom Front Plus party, which is targeting traditionally white areas such as Potchefstroom, Ventersdorp and Lichtenburg.

Good Party’s focus on action

Just as City Press concluded the interview with Seitlholo, the Good Party’s premier candidate, Vivien Law, drove into the Total petrol station. For the past six days, says Law, she has criss-crossed the North West, campaigning for former DA mayor Patricia de Lille’s new party.

Her campaign trip, undertaken since last Wednesday, covered Rustenburg; Ventersdorp; Alabama and Kanana in Klerksdorp; Potchefstroom; Wolmaransstad, a coloured community outside Vryburg; Taung; Rivonaire; Danville in Mafikeng; and ended in Slurry on Monday.

“There is just so much rhetoric out there, with the DA practising wonderful speeches and naming and blaming, but they are nowhere on the ground,” says Law.

Her party is focusing on the delivery of water. As a community activist, she says, she has launched a water project in Madibeng municipality in Brits, for a community of 8 000 people.

She says they lobbied the municipality for two years, and tried to speak to the DA because it was in its ward.

“We put water in a DA ward. We eventually raised funding from the private sector, who often say it is the duty of government to do this. But we said: ‘Let us show government how it is done.’”

She says that when government came it quoted R1.6 million for 19 taps – a tap on each street. “We finished the project in a month, putting in 44 taps for R638 000.”

“It is detail and delivery that is going to change this province,” she says.

On Wednesday, the Good Party was scheduled to launch in Rustenburg and conduct groundwork in Brits on Friday.

ANC rifts

The ANC’s provincial task team coordinator, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, says: “The environment in the province is tough and a lot of things are out of our control.”

Kubayi-Ngubane was in charge of the ANC’s campaign in Tshwane during the 2016 municipal elections. As a result, she says, “I always get sent to war zones.

“The issue for me is that North West comrades were given an opportunity to work together but they failed. We were told to come in as a last resort.”

Kubayi-Ngubane says feedback from voters on the ground is that the ANC’s infighting is embarrassing voters and they want the party to sort itself out. The party’s biggest worry is that people may stay away from voting, she says.

“People are telling us that they thought government had no money, but the last administration has shown that it was being looted.”

She says the ANC is running two war rooms: one in government, led by provincial premier Job Mokgoro and another in the party. Mokgoro also sits in the party war room. The two war rooms work hand in hand, and it is through these that the ANC identifies issues on the ground and government steps in at the level of implementation.

The party recently called in all mayors and gave a firm instruction that service delivery should be a major priority, says Kubayi-Ngubane.


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