It is time for parties to shift left

2016-08-08 10:29

It is easy to see the results from the last week’s local government elections in SA as purely a rebuke of the ruling ANC. In addition, we should see it as a cry for help from the poor and disenfranchised, a cry for better services, more opportunities and jobs. It is a cry for a better deal in SA. All political parties should take heed of this message. They should realise that none of them will achieve meaningful growth in their support without aggressively addressing the concerns of the poor in SA, both in messaging and delivery. It is time for those parties serious about continued growth to shift left.

The ANC was the biggest loser in the local government elections, seeing countrywide support declining from 62% in 2011 to 54%. It has lost outright control in four major Metros, namely Tshwane, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni. In addition it will lose many other municipalities to the opposition or will have to govern through coalitions.

The ANC should embark on a period of self reflection to understand why voters in the large Metros did not come out to support it in these elections. Now is not the time for in-fighting. It is time for a leadership overhaul and aggressive focus on improved governance in the Metros and municipalities they retain as well as provinces and nationally. There is nothing like political competition to focus the mind and it is my hope that the increased threat of losing further support will invigorate the ANC to improve delivery. Because it retains the strongest power base in SA, national government and 8 out of 9 provinces, it is best positioned to improve the outcomes for the poor and most vulnerable in SA. It is likely that the ANC will increase its pro-poor focus utilising its significant power. We can only hope that it achieves this at least in part by improving efficiency.

The DA was the biggest winner in the local government elections. It is likely to take control of three major Metros in the form of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, while it has the outside chance to form a ruling coalition in Ekurhuleni and being part of an EFF-led coalition in Rustenburg.

It would be easy enough for the DA to fall into the trap of gloating and self congratulation after these elections, but that would be a mistake. The people in many Metros and municipalities have given the DA an opportunity, but not a blank cheque. The party now faces a huge responsibility to deliver on its promises. If the party’s track record in other municipalities is anything to go by, it should take a very technocratic approach to ruling new regions, including attracting more skills, identifying inefficiencies and aiming for clean audits.

It is hoped that the DA will be able to achieve cost savings. They key is how it will apply these cost savings and how it will deal with the existing deployment of resources. It is my view that all savings achieved should be employed to enhance the conditions and prospects of the poor and disenfranchised. Poor service delivery should be addressed with the utmost urgency, followed by developmental spending in the poorest of areas. Local infrastructural spend should be encouraged, with a focus on creating employment.

However, I would go even further than utilising savings to rebalance the budget towards the poor. There is an important case to be made for reducing spending on affluent areas in lieu of poor areas: 1) it is morally the right thing to do, considering the inequalities of the past; 2) rising unemployment, stubborn inequality and low economic growth is creating a ticking time bomb for SA that cannot be ignored; 3) the development of poor areas and creating opportunities for the disadvantaged is important not just for stability, but to encourage long-term growth; and 4) the only way for the DA to defend and grow its support is to deliver to the constituency that (at the margin) put it in power.

If the DA does not shift left and illustrate a clear pro-poor focus, its gains during the recent elections could easily be reversed. The next election could see a much higher turn-out in poor areas with these votes going to the ANC or the EFF. To cement its gains, this constituency has to see the benefits of DA rule.

The EFF garnered less support in the recent elections than many analysts, including myself, expected. It received 8% of the national vote and did not obtain an outright majority in any municipality. However, it has created a very strong base from which to grow, it is in a position to determine who will rule in major Metros and it has the opportunity to be involved in the governing process, promoting its own policies.

The EFF is already a left-leaning party with a pro-poor focus. Its challenge now is to turn its policies into concrete delivery in the municipalities where it is part of the coalition. It has to choose its partners wisely and it has to be realistic in its demands. It has not garnered enough support to drive revolutionary changes in the way budgets are allocated, but it is in a strong position to ensure that a strong and sustained shift left starts occurring where it is involved.

In my opinion, the EFF can have a bigger impact in coalitions with the DA than with the ANC. In such coalitions, the EFF would be a clear and unambiguous voice for the poor and if successes are achieved, it may see its support growing over time. In coalitions with the ANC, it may face a number of problems: 1) the elimination of inefficiencies and delivery may not be as strong (if ANC track record is anything to go by); 2) it would not stand out as clearly as a pro-poor left-leaning voice of the poor as in a DA coalition; and 3) it faces more risk of being co-opted by the ANC and that some of its support is reabsorbed by the ANC.

SA is facing numerous challenges, including rampant unemployment, stubborn inequality, low economic growth, poor education outcomes and inefficiency (including corruption). The ANC, especially under its current leadership has not effectively addressed these concerns and it has lost support as a result. The uncertainty caused by lack of delivery has led to the rise of opposition parties, but it has occurred in a very negative political environment and a bruising election campaign. It is my hope that the era of coalition politics in SA will offer the opportunity for more constructive engagement between political parties. It is time to unite and address our challenges or face a populist uprising over time.

I continue to promote a New Deal in SA, with an aggressive focus on unemployment and education. Even if it leads to economic pain in the short-term, we should make a definitive decision to refocus our budget on these areas. We absolutely have to create an inclusive economy and improved education outcomes so that we can look back a decade from now at today being the turning point in the SA story.

In addition, I stand by my view that we need a Minister of Employment who has the necessary power and the ultimate responsibility for increasing employment. This minister must stand or fall based on progress here, this is where the buck should stop. In our current cabinet as well as in a DA shadow cabinet, the responsibility for dealing with unemployment is decentralised. This has not worked and is unlikely to work in the future. The role must be centralised, we need a champion and we need delivery.

How do you feel following the local government elections? Are you encouraged or disappointed? How do you feel about political competition and the rise of coalition politics? Do you believe that we should and will have an increased pro-poor agenda going forward? Do you think that our parties will shift left after the election? I would love to hear your feedback. Comments are welcome on my website.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

#LGE2016 #NewDeal #MinisterOfEmployment #TshwaneCoalition #JHBCoalition

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting

https://www.facebook.com/straighttalkingstrydom

https://twitter.com/Marius_Man

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