Flagging electoral support for ANC in metros is a swirling storm for 2024 poll
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By Professor Sethulego Matebesi
How will the next episode of local governance in South Africa look like?
Well, the recent coalition talks about forming local councils, punctuated with barbed public exchanges between political parties, provides a glimpse of what we can expect: an intense period of political horse-trading.
We also know that the outcome of the 2021 local government elections in the country presents a particularly strenuous test on two fronts. First, it diminished the unilateral control of municipal councils by the ANC.
Second, it offers an extraordinary case of the decline of a democratically dominant party and the corresponding growth of opposition party and civil society formations in local governance.
These two factors, and many others advanced elsewhere, create the perception that the ANC will face a fierce storm with swirling debris from these competing formations in the 2024 elections.
This leaves us with an interesting puzzle. Does the ANC’s dismal performance in the Metros signify the party’s loss of power in 2024?
The ANC’s dwindling electoral support in the metros, particularly in Gauteng, must be a bitter pill to swallow for the party. Yet, the party posits that it has learned important lessons that will arrest this decline in support.
And interestingly, others within the party believe the outcome of the elections is indicative of the voter turnout – an issue the party can deal with before the next elections.
Critics, however, bemoan how they poignantly ignored the outcome of the 2016 local government elections as the most piercing alarm signifying a decline in electoral support.
Further, the party failed to note the damage that the emergence of splinter unions formed by former members of Cosatu. In fact, the party should have realised that answers to arrest the decline in electoral support will not come from its tripartite allies.
But this begs a more profound question, what happened to the once mighty leagues of the ANC?
In the current malaise of coalition politics, the ANC Youth League would have delayed the damage caused by the swirling storm the party is facing. We know the ANC Youth League’s ability in the past to draw attention to the party and defuse potentially volatile situations.
Yet, ironically, it is the indecisiveness of the leaders of the party that have rendered the youth of the party redundant. It is thus not surprising that many of the youth within the party and its allies have become perennial cheerleaders, advancing the needs and aspirations of individual leaders and not the party.
Where do all these leave opposition politics? In many ways, the support the DA received from ActionSA and the EFF, among others, in the Gauteng Metros caught the country off-guard after the finger-wagging between them. While the opposition parties successfully managed to unseat the ANC in Gauteng Metros, let us hope that the DA’s hellbent stance on leveraging their superior electoral support and the demands from other opposition parties will not constrain governance and service delivery in the metros.
One of the glaring similarities between the opposition parties and some civil society formations is their extreme dislike of the ANC. Although this is good news for those who voted for the opposition parties, it also presents further problems.
From a citizen’s perspective, the rules of political engagement have changed drastically. I believe that the metros in Gauteng, albeit led by the DA, provide the opposition with an opportunity not to rely on criticising the ANC for poor performance but demonstrate its ability to advance the interests of communities.
Therefore, it depends on whether opposition parties navigate their diametric ideological differences to provide ethical governance to safeguard the public trust. It is also more likely that citizens will use the performance of the DA in the metros as a yardstick in future elections.
It will thus be intriguing to observe how the DA will prevent its unofficial allies from pushing through their strategic interests in the metros.
The road to the Union Buildings is long, tedious, and involves an essential amount of persuasion. Unfortunately, a dysfunctional opposition, advancing narrow-sectarian or race-based politics, is not persuasive.
Therefore, it is probably a safe bet to assume that the ANC will return to the drawing board regarding the next elections. However, the revival of the party’s fortunes in the 2024 elections depends on the opposition’s performance over the next five years.
*Sethulego Matebesi is academic head of the department and associate professor of sociology in the department of humanities at the University of the Free State
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.