Mbalula: ANC has explained its sins; party's fate is in the voters' hands

ANC head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, said that the party had done its best with its election campaign to explain its plans for municipalities and to account for ineptitude and that the party's fate was in the hands of the electorate.

FILE: African National Congress (ANC) head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, briefs the media on 16 September 2021 on the party's plans for 2021 local government elections. Picture: @MbalulaFikile/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - In what is one of its toughest elections campaigns yet, the African National Congress (ANC)'s head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, said that the party had done its best to explain its plans for municipalities and to account for ineptitude. His and his comrades' fates, he said, were now in the hands of the electorate.

“You cannot control the narrative through running fake or dishonest campaigns. Even if you attract the most numbers or bus people in, the focus for us is to win the war and that will be on Monday,” Mbalula said.

In a wide-ranging interview with Eyewitness News, Mbaks, as he is often called, said that he believed that a sign of having done a great job during this short and gruelling campaign season would be seeing South Africans across ANC strongholds coming out of their homes and making their way to the various voting stations to cast their ballots, hopefully in his party’s favour.

The party is on Friday holding its final rally in Soweto, its traditional bastion but also an example of the party’s steady decline at the polls.

Soweto, which accounts for about 27% of the Johannesburg metropolitan voting population, has punished the ANC over the years. In 2011, the ANC won 87% of the votes but in 2016 that declined to 71%.

The party is campaigning when the country is facing another devastating bout of scheduled power cuts that have not only left people in the dark but have also affected water supply in Gauteng.

Mbalula said that the ANC had taken its manifesto to the people who had questioned the party over many of its failures, including municipalities that were in a state of neglect and unable to deliver basic services such as water, electricity and refuse collection.

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The ANC leader said that the party had explained its sins of incumbency and believed that the party had been heard.

Mbalula barely thinks of the opposition. He doesn’t see parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA), which he admits has a strong loyal base, or the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as anything to worry about. Instead, he recognises that the official opposition during this period has scored various own goals, possibly alienating itself from some of its supporters.

A fractured ANC is attempting to claw back support from the devastating 2016 elections when it was pushed out of the governing seat in three metros and barely held on to Ekurhuleni through a coalition with smaller parties.

Mbalula said that this was a different era for the ANC where its president was holding up the organisation, unlike the 2016 polls when it suffered its worst defeat in local government elections. The losses were blamed on angry supporters, especially in the main cities, punishing the party by staying at home during scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma's tenure.

“It’s not the other way round. This makes things better, as it happened with [Thabo] Mbeki and we came out with two-thirds majority back-to-back,” Mbalula said.

“With Zuma, we had challenges because attacks start from the head and those things affected us,” he continued.

It’s the pulling power of Ramaphosa, who polls better than the party, that is expected to help win back support, especially in crucial metros where the ANC has tasted defeat.

Once again, the party did not announce mayoral candidates and Mbalula said that this was a tactical move deployed even during the Zuma era.

He also said that the party did not have enough time after the Constitutional Court rejected the Independent Electoral Commission’s application to postpone the elections to next year.

“It would have further affected our campaign negatively. We also didn’t have the time because we needed to interview these candidates,” said Mbalula.

The ANC is grappling with internal disputes over the councillor candidate nomination process, with some members complaining that the wrong people were on the lists submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission or that community meetings to nominate candidates did not take place.

But for the most part, the party has said those aggrieved are mostly people using disputes for their own factional interests.

Some of those who lodged disputes have since registered as independents, taking on the party at the polls.

The process of communities nominating councilor candidates is fairly new and is part of the party’s renewal process.

Clashes have emerged in the party over its renewal project, adopted at its 2017 national elective conference in Nasrec, which has seen the secretary-general Ace Magashule booted out of office and not allowed to campaign or have a say over deployment and candidate selection processes.

Mbalula said that the ANC expected the disputes because the party saw this trend developing during recent by-elections when it implemented its new selection process.

The ANC’s national executive committee, which is its highest-decision-making body in between conferences, decided that these would all be addressed after the elections, in cases where by-elections must take place, it will happen to ensure the right candidates are in office.

The ANC also had to gag members who wanted to cloud the campaign period with their own internal succession debate.

“There were sparkles of people who wanted to start 'that silly debate,'” admitted Mbalula.

ANC deputy president David Mabuza was one of the leaders who commented on it, telling journalists that he was available to run again as the party’s second-in-command if members wanted him to.

Mbalula said that it was dealt with swiftly to put the issue on ice and that he was happy about how party members responded to the request.

He insists that the ANC has run a wall-to-wall campaign, addressing people in big and small crowds, while cautioning their own from organising too many people in the middle of a pandemic.

The ANC head of elections said that the party had been taken to task and answered for its mishaps as best as possible and it would now be up to its own members to keep the ANC in power while helping it regain lost ground in some of the metros where it had fallen out of favour.

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