Why has Tlokwe Got the ANC so Worried?

2013-08-07 13:03

Tlokwe (then Potchefstroom) has a rich history of struggle and politics (depending on your persuasion). It was founded in 1838 and can claim to be the second oldest European settlement in the then Transvaal. By 1848, the town had been promoted to capital of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR). For any history aficionados, the significance of this is stark, considering what happened about 5 decades later.

Fast forward to 2013, and Potchefstroom (now Tlokwe) is still gripped by intense politicking of a completely different sort. As opposed to racial-nationalist groups fighting for control of the land, the city is now the site an equally fierce, but inclusive, rivalry between the ANC and the DA both of whom claim that they, and not the other, truly represent the will of the people.

As Judge Tuchten of the North Gauteng High Court characterised it, the ANC’s bitter in-fighting has brought the city to the verge of collapse. Service delivery is not as it should be. Rather, backroom intrigue and perpetual plotting keeps both government and opposition alike totally fixated on whose bottom gets to fill the mayor’s chair.

It is understandable why this battle has been as intense as it is. Since the 2006 local government election, the DA made several gains at the ANC’s expense (particularly in the Western Cape). Having done so, the DA has worked incredibly hard to convince voters that where it governs, it governs well, and certainly better than the ANC.

Whether this is fact (as I think it is) or spin (which it is as well) or good luck (which it also is to some degree – the Western Cape being very different to, say, rural Limpopo or KZN), the DA bore fruits of this strategy: it won an absolute majority in the Western Cape and booted the ANC out of office.

Demographics aside, corruption and alienation of voters also did the ANC tremendous harm. So too did the internecine warfare amongst ANC leaders in the province (Mcebisi Skwatsha, Lynne Browne and Ebrahim Rasool). The DA benefitted from further exposing these and disciplining its own fractious structures into a serious vote-getting.

Winning these municipalities alone would not have been enough. But a moderately better run municipality, against the backdrop of general failure, makes for good political mileage when it is used to further exploit existing tensions within the province.  This created the perfect storm for the DA to sweep into office which the ANC will be hard pressed to undo.

The DA’s growing traction in other provinces such as the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape and Gauteng (it has one municipality in each: Baviaans, Nama Koi and Midvaal) may mean that the ANC is only too aware that the tsunamis that took over in 2007 at Polokwane may be coming back to wash over them now. If the DA is able to pour adequate resources into these provinces and discipline itself like it did in the Western Cape, victory may be more than a pipe dream.

Given that Thandi Modise is fighting for her political life after switching to the anti-Zuma grouping that was trounced in Mangaung, it certainly looks like the storm clouds are starting to gather. Modise is but one of the leaders that is either the subject of or supposed mastermind behind murder plots reminiscent of B-grade mafia films: the names China Dodovu, Obuti Chika, Papiki Babuile and others have also been in the media, all linked to supposedly politically motivated killings.

Add to that, the North West’s 19 municipalities, including Tlokwe, are almost universally accepted as being defunct and not fit for purpose. Corruption is rife and state structures are buckling under its debilitating effect. This is owing to the fact that the non-existence of separation between party and state means that the dominance in party structures allows the access to state resources and the power of patronage.

When one thinks about all of these things, the conditions under which the DA won the Western Cape start to look like they are/have manifested themselves in the North West too. Even if it does not come close to winning, the party certainly has the ability to make inroads. Luthuli House is obviously aware of this as it tries, desperately, to focus the minds of local ANC officials to stave off the DA rather than fight against each other. But Luthuli House’s pleas continue to fall on deaf ears – local power is the difference between feeding at the trough and being out in the wilderness. And after so many years of chewing the fat, I doubt many will be willing to surrender personal ambition for the sake of the collective.

Sometimes in politics a party or a candidate can win, not by being better, cleverer or more strategic than the other guy. Sometimes in politics, in order to win, all you have to do is let the other side tear itself apart. Trapping the other side in a vortex of their own scandal, smear and shame can be enough to make voters close their ears to their messages and start opening them to yours.  Margaret Thatcher did that against James Callaghan, Tony Blair against John Major, George W. Bush against John Kerry and Barack Obama against Mitt Romney.

If the DA plays its cards right, Tlokwe may bring for it the benefits that Cape Town did in the Western Cape. The same can be said, for various other reasons, of Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape. If the DA can break out of the Western Cape and take another province off the ANC and show that it can govern better, as it says it can, then national power will truly become winnable for it. No wonder why this quaint little city has got the ANC so worried – it is the proverbial writing on the wall.

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