A bruising contest for the wilting Mangaung metro
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OPINION: While the ANC is likely to retain its control of the municipality, there is a need to restore this metro to its glorious former status, which will require cooperation among the ruling party’s political opponents, says Free State University academic
BY Professor Sethulego Matebesi
Since it was founded in 2011, Mangaung Metro Municipality (Mangaung metro) in the Free State has moved from one crisis to another. The metro, a traditional stronghold of the ANC, has been on a slippery slope with no sight of improvement.
The prowess of the ANC in the Mangaung metro was evident when the party managed to retain the council with an outright majority when it lost control of several metro councils in 2016. The party won 58, DA 27, and EFF 9 of the 100 seats available. However, the metro bore the brunt of the inability of the Free State provincial government to develop and implement systemically meaningful responses to high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Scandals plaguing the metro
The past few years saw some of the worst scandals in the history of Mangaung metro. First,the embattled municipality was placed under provincial administration in 2019. This was followed, a year later, by the ousting of former mayor Olly Mlamleli, in a motion of no confidence by the Freedom Front Plus that was supported by a majority of councillors. Interestingly, at the time, the ANC in the province did not understand what made ANC councillors vote with the opposition.
However, for many observers, it was evident that factionalism and political infighting were driving the Mangaung metro to its collapse. These same factors also played a role in the metro being without a permanent executive mayor for over a year. Despite the assurance that the new city manager and newly-elected Executive Mayor Mxolisi Siyonzana will restore people’s trust in the municipality, effective service delivery remains a challenge.
In addition, the metro has maintained its bad reputation for poor monitoring of internal financial controls. More disturbing is that the National Treasury instructed the metro to disband the controversial Mangaung Metro Police Service after widespread criticism by opposition political parties that due processes were not followed.
While there may be other explanations for these scandals, most are fostered by excessive greed and a lack of accountability, which can erode residents’ trust in the embattled municipality.
Against this backdrop, the question remains: What are the implications of these scandals and the performance of the metro on the outcome of the elections?
A no-holds-barred position of the opposition
When the formal processes and institutions of democracy fail to provide citizens with the space to voice their grievances, citizens often use unconventional means to draw attention to their needs. For example, in May this year, complaining about lack of housing, service delivery, and business and job opportunities, the Mangaung Service Delivery Forum mobilised communities leading to the complete shutdown of the metro for two days.
The Mangaung shutdown raises critical questions about civic engagement and citizen participation by the metro. In the broad political discourse, engagement and involvement of local residents have become buzzwords.
However, opposition parties have been complaining that public meetings are held when they benefit councillors in the context of Mangaung metro. These parties were steadfast in ousting the former mayor and recently blamed the municipality for withholding services in wards that opposition candidates had won.
What does the future hold for Mangaung Metro?
Generally, several factors point to the ANC retaining its outright majority in the metro. For instance, I doubt that the suspension of the ANC’s secretary-general and former premier of the Free State, Ace Magashule, will negatively affect the electoral support of the ANC in the metro. In fact, as divided as the party is in the Free State as elsewhere in the country, its leaders from the different factions have emphasised the significance to their supporters to continue to vote for the party.
The ANC in the Free State has also been bolstered by the active participation of its alliance partners in its elections campaigns. Unlike in the past, there have been fewer public outcries from the alliance partners about the possibility of contesting the elections on their own.
Meanwhile, it is not necessarily the opposition’s attempts to fight malfeasance in the metro council that falls short. It is, in many ways, their inability to sustain these campaigns and maintain visibility to the end.
Against this backdrop, despite a bruising contest for the soul of Mangaung metro, political parties and candidates must recognise the high bar of cooperation between political opponents required to restore this metro to its glorious former status of the City of Roses.
* Professor Matebesi is academic head of the department of sociology at the University of the Free State.
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be those of IOL.