Picture: ALON SKUY​
Picture: ALON SKUY​

ANC deputy president David Mabuza was candid about the party’s election prospects on the campaign trail on Tuesday, voicing fears that winning back the three metros it lost in 2016 was going to be “tough”.

The ANC lost the City of Joburg, the City of Tshwane and the historically significant Nelson Mandela Bay metro in the 2016 elections – via coalitions and a co-operation agreement between the DA and EFF. 

Back in 2016, the ANC was in the middle of a storm of state capture allegations against then president Jacob Zuma – the elections were held just months after Zuma replaced Nhlanhla Nene with Gupta lieutenant David Des van Rooyen as finance minister (briefly), a move which tanked the rand and saw the price of bonds falling sharply. The cabinet move marked the most outward manifestation of the state capture project, and the admission by then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that the Guptas had offered him the post mainstreamed the extent of the family’s influence on the Zuma administration. 

It was national issues, linked directly to Zuma, that led to the ANC’s dismal performance in the 2016 elections. This time around, the lived experiences of ordinary South Africans – during a pandemic – are taking centre stage. 

Electricity, water, sanitation, housing and the failure of municipalities – most of them run by ANC cadres – to deliver these basic services are at the heart of the issues driving voter sentiment.

The ANC, for its part, has asked for “another chance”. It has admitted its mistakes and said it is moving to correct these.

Whether voters have bought into this messaging will become clear next week. 

Joburg is a key prize. With the ANC on the back foot due to power outages and service delivery issues, the city is up for the taking, very likely again via a coalition. Internal polling by the ANC shows that its majority in the city will be reduced yet again – historically it has been difficult for the ANC to claw back where it has lost ground. 

Mabuza’s comments on Tuesday reflected concern that at least three of four of the country’s metros are touch and go for the governing party. 

He was confident that Ekurhuleni is in the bag, despite its mayor, Mzwandile Masina, being among the last remnants of the Zuma faction, who ardently defended the former president even as he destroyed the economy and key state institutions. Masina is likely to be returned to the mayoral post should the ANC hold onto Ekurhuleni, which it narrowly did in 2016. Mabuza said the metro is well run, with key developmental projects under way. 

Masina is perhaps fortunate that he inherited a solid administration from his predecessor, Mondli Gungubele, who is now a minister in the presidency. For his part, Masina spent much of his time in the early days of his term playing politics in defence of Zuma and the “radical economic transformation” faction.

Mabuza, flanked by Masina, said the ward he was campaigning in was lost to the DA in 2016, but he was confident the ANC would reclaim it. 

We are looking good and I am confident that we are going to win Ekurhuleni outright, we are strong on the ground. This ward we lost to the DA, but we are going to get it back. 

“The main issue here is housing … and a bit of disruptions in electricity, but generally people are fine. But generally speaking, Ekurhuleni is our best metro and we think we are going to win.” 

Of the other three metros the ANC lost in 2016, Mabuza said the ANC’s prospects are “tough”.

“Well, we are trying to push hard in Tshwane. Maybe we can win Tshwane. But here [in Ekurhuleni] I am confident. Joburg is a bit steep, we are going to put our last shot, move a bit faster and maybe we can turn the situation around,” he said.  

Mabuza reiterated the message expressed by ANC leaders on the campaign trail: “Give the ANC a chance, we have made progress … we are committed … We have selected leaders we think are good and we are going to monitor them. Give the ANC a chance.” 

While it has been a tough campaign season for parties across the board, it has been particularly hair-raising for the ANC. It dealt with the national issues which led to its decline in the 2016 local elections by electing President Cyril Ramaphosa on a reform and renewal ticket to lead the party and the country. The hurdle it now faces is to overhaul its leadership at lower levels, which had largely come to mirror the rot at the top. This is set to be more difficult, and overhauling its councillor candidate selection process, which it did ahead of this election, was only a first tentative step towards doing so. 

Marrian is deputy editor of the FM

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