Could we take a moment to step back and look at what has happened in local politics, because I get the feeling a fundamental sea-change has taken place, which not un-typically is not recognised by the political class.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
It’s understandable that the politicians and bureaucrats struggle to understand the full complexities of running a parastatal as large and difficult as, say, Eskom. Few can. But you might have thought the one thing politicians would understand is the process of getting elected. A fundamental aspect of that process is submitting a list of names of the people you want elected to the IEC.
So leave aside for a moment the decision by the IEC to throw the ANC a lifeline and reopen the submission process – that was always going to happen, and arguably should – you don’t want democracy to be undermined because of a bureaucratic bungle.
But think for a moment what it means that the ANC could not actually get that together. The party has all kinds of dubious claims as to why it could not get the names in along the lines of “the toner for the fax machine had run out”, and the IEC’s website was “down”.
Now add the fact that its own staff have not been paid and tried to bring a court case against party, hastily withdrawn, to get their salaries. In combination, what you have is the most extraordinary ineptitude, even by ANC standards. How did this happen?
We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess; as Carol Paton pointed out in a recent analysis in Business Day, the precise problems that the ANC has inflicted on the public in general have now, at last, come home to roost within the party.
The issues are completely within the realm of what we have learned over the past 25 years; they are cadre deployment, laxity, greed, and factionalism. The ANC elected two of its worst administrators to, get this, head the party. Ace Magashule ran his province absolutely into the ground, and was rewarded with the most senior position in the party. From that elevated vantage point, he has spent the past two years trying to build links with the alliance of the discontented, with an eye to staying out of jail for years of what appears on the face of it to be grotesque corruption in his past.
Elbowed out by the party, Magashule’s replacement is the assumptive, off-kilter, gratuitously dysfunctional Zuma-faction acolyte Jesse Duarte. That the party has run out of money under her watch is completely unsurprising.
That covers, briefly, the cadre deployment and factionalism issues. What about greed and laxity? Like it has done with public servant salaries, SOE bailouts, and the rest, the ANC’s approach to money is so gratuitously unaware of what it takes to make money, and so spendthrift in parting with it, that somehow the party itself has become embroiled in the process. The party decided to match the salaries of head office positions with those in the civil service so that party workers would not be prejudiced by working for the party. The problem is that government pays civil servants with extortionate taxes, but party members with what it can extort from tenderpreneurs. That has kept the party locked in a cycle of having to grant inflated state contracts to its support base – but opened the party to corruption, which has, as we now all know, spread in cancerous fashion.
There is a twist here, and that is the Political Party Funding act which has just kicked into action. The ANC proposed the bill essentially I think in the hope it could stymie its opponents because corporate SA would be embarrassed to acknowledge its funding of the DA. But the move backfired since it also puts tenderpreneurs at risk because it makes it more likely that the connection between party payments and state contracts will become public knowledge. No tenderpreneur want anyone to join those dots.
It’s also misconstrued because corporate SA has long ago stopped funding the DA, which now relies almost exclusively on a small group of very rich families, notably the Oppenheimer clan, because the DA’s determination to remain within its racial cocoon means it has no prospect of ever becoming the ruling party.
So how has this played out in the public eye? We get previous few insights into the mindset of South Africans and those we do are kinda suspect. But just at the right moment, the one insight we have got recently is the small poll done by Ipsos, and the results are just mind-bending.
The poll found support for the ANC in the local government election dropped from 51.8% in December 2020 to 34.9% in August 2021. These numbers are easy to misunderstand since they consist of the proportions of the total sample. In other words, they are not reflective of the outcome of the election because they include those who don’t intend to vote or won’t say how they intend voting. Ipsos does that calculation too and finds the ANC will get probably get just under 50% of the vote – which by the way, would still be its worst result in any national election.
Why this is not front-page news everywhere I just don’t understand. Clearly there has been a huge mindset change; with the riots and the looting and the booze bans and the continuing corruption and the Covid-19 debacles. I think an increasing number of South Africans just don’t believe the ANC can be trusted anymore. That is the sum of it.
You would think in these circumstances the opposition parties would be rolling in the sun, but here is the strange thing; they are not. The like-for-like aspect of the poll shows minor gains for the DA and the EFF remains static.
Welcome to the dispiriting scene that is SA politics. DM168