YONELA DIKO: The ANC will rise again after 2016 local election losses

OPINION

In his Reflections from Prison essay in 1976, Walter Sisulu said: "In a certain sense the story of our struggle is a story of problems arising and problems being solved". This has been without a doubt the story of the African National Congress (ANC), both as a liberation movement and as a governing party. There have been moments of progress - onwards, upwards - and there have been moments of wreckage, at once because of the arrogance of our gifts and again the corruption of the heart. Then the organisation, out of self-inflicted ruin, rises again.

In this long journey of the rise and fall and rise again, the ANC has always been succinct in articulating the nature of its problems, even though it has not always had the courage to correct course. In these times, it has always taken a steady, strategic and wiser hand to restore faith and hope in the organisation and its vision.

Throughout the life of the ANC, the glorious and the testing moments, the people have always been consistent in their support for the party, mindful of all the sacrifices made by the organisation and its leaders, the pain and suffering, the measured triumphs, people's support for the ANC has always been unwavering. In 2016, however, in the fifth local government elections since democracy, the people had reached a tipping point.

In 2016, the people of this country dealt the ANC a devastating blow by giving the party, for the first time in 27 years, no clear mandate to govern the economic hub of the country, the country's capital, and other critical metros. It was a wrenching outcome for the party's members and its leaders, who had grown lazy and fat and forgot the battle they still needed to wage on behalf of the people.

In fact, the people signalled such withdrawal of support for the ruling party in an election before, in 2014, after the party hopped from one scandal to another without any sense of remorse or care.

In 2015, the ANC released its National General Council (NGC) discussion documents ahead of the October meeting. The ANC, true to its character, analysed and acknowledged this signal by the people to withdraw their support correctly and was even able to devise plans and commitments to listen to the people and change course.

This analysis reflected a dramatic shift in 2014 electoral outcomes. Except for a marginal gain in Buffalo City, the support for the ANC declined in the metros by an aggregate of 10.3%, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) gaining 6.5% and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 11.4%. The 2016 electoral outcomes were a mirror image of this situation .

REASONS FOR THE DRAMATIC SHIFT IN SUPPORT

The ANC acknowledged that it shed support among the African lower and upper-middle strata, as well as the urban poor. The ANC NGC noted that certain groups of society no longer considered the ANC as the representative of their aspirations. The party also noticed that a section of the black middle strata viewed the DA, and to a smaller extent the EFF, as being representative of their interests.

The main reasons for the dramatic shifts were said to be impatience with change among the poor and African professionals. There was also a rising primacy of current issues as spread out daily in local and national news outlets - such as corruption, issues around then President Jacob Zuma, e-tolls in Gauteng - in how people decided to vote. It was clear that the black middle-class was a lot more fickle in their politics than those who may be loyal to the ANC for their own reasons irrespective of how the party conducted itself.

These issues damaged the ANC's image and credibility and an ANC that lacked both was becoming less and less capable of retaining the majority vote to keep the country under a singular vision and social compact.

REFERENDUM ON RAMAPHOSA

The 2016 elections, although they were local government elections, were said to be a referendum on Zuma. Many experts such as Professor Cherel Africa of the Western Cape claimed that voters - irrespective of whether the ballot was national, provincial or local - decided on their votes in the main according to what the ANC was doing nationally. It may well be then that the 2021 local government elections will be a referendum on Ramaphosa: is Ramaphosa's short tenure as president a success (or even defendable)?

It is said that for presidents to be great, times must suck. You have to be dealt a bad hand, be great and exit the office leaving the country far better than when you found it.

Ramaphosa inherited a cratering economy, a crumbling government machinery, a broke state and a highly divided ruling party whose factions would attempt to undermine him at every turn. Then the unthinkable happened: a pandemic crippled every effort at recovery and reform, drained every resource for its own battle and sucked the life out of an economy that was barely keeping its head above water.

Nothing short of exceptional leadership was required to keep the country from completely sinking. Whatever shortcomings Ramaphosa displayed over the challenging period, whatever skin he has left on the floor, he has without a doubt saved the republic.

In all Ramaphosa's efforts trying to save the republic, he has not forgotten the importance of remaining scandal-free as a president, steady and inclusive in his leadership approach, and in that, the local government elections referendum may favour him and may give the ANC all that it lost.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

These are still local government elections, however, and local issues, which are not Ramaphosa's responsibilities. Still, they loom large, especially past delivery records and choices of ward councillors.

Every nook and cranny of this country belongs to a municipality, are allocated budgets by national government to provide services. In the last Budget by former Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, municipalities were allocated only 9% of the Budget. The rationale was that municipalities, unlike provinces which received 40% of the Budget, were able to generate their own revenues through rates and levies.

Unfortunately, only the metros have the citizens' income base to be able to honour rates and levies, meaning that most municipalities are unable to generate enough revenue. With populations growing and communities expanding, and revenue not keeping up with this growth, municipalities have been under even more strain to continue providing their constitutionally mandated services.

The challenge of extending services to new communities - some of whom are not even in the municipality's plans due to the rapid movement of people to where opportunities are - has been even more dire. Still, within all these financial limitations, services have been provided. This is the reason people continue voting for the ANC.

The future may well be that all services provided are well paid for, even highly paid for, but that will depend on the improving income base of citizens and the fair financial balance between those who can pay and those who genuinely cannot.

There are also other issues plaguing our municipalities, such as lack of adequate skills and poor to zero spend on infrastructure maintenance, which can all be traced back to lack of adequate funding, especially for poor municipalities.

We cannot run away from the cancer of corruption which results in lack of cost containment, and this needs to be nipped in the bud.

There are, however, local government success stories whereby municipalities, despite the lack of adequate funding, have financial control, good governance and the requisite skills. Municipalities like Senqu, Okhahlamba, Capricorn District, Gert Sibande and many others are great models for a bright municipal future.

The ANC has not been perfect, but it has done much more for the people, with very little, within the realities of inadequate resources and human faults.

The ANC will have a convincing electoral victory in these coming local government elections.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko

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