The ANC as opposition

Jan-Jan Joubert assesses the party's performance in the Western Cape

One of the most interesting aspects of living in the Western Cape is the opportunity of experiencing the ANC in the unusual role of opposition in a democratic dispensation. How did this happen, how are they faring as an opposition, and what can they do to improve their cahnces at challenging the DA at the polls in 2014?

By 2004, the ANC ruled both the province and the City of Cape Town, albeit with the help of the National Party. More importantly, they beat the DA and their trajectory showed growth. Since 2006, the ANC's fortunes at the Western Cape ballot box have been going downward, fast. These figures, listing ANC support levels in Western Cape elections, speak for themselves:

2004 Provincial Election - 45,3%
2006 Local Government Elections - 40,2%
2009 Provincial Election - 31,6%
2011 Local Government Elections - 34,1%

Incidentally, any temptation to deduce from the difference between the 2009 and 2011 results that a turning point has been reached and 2014 might show marked progress for the ANC should be resisted as premature. Two factors must be kept in mind.

Firstly, Western Cape ANC support is always stronger in the rural areas than in the Mother City. The IEC calculates local government elections results by recording every ballot cast. In Cape Town, as in all metros, every voters casts two ballots. In the rural areas, voters cast three ballots, the extra one being for the district council. Because every urban voter contributes two votes, and every rural voter contributes three, a relative rural bias exists in the official IEC figures - a bias which will favour the Western Cape ANC with its relative rural strength. Every voter only casts a single ballot for the provincial election, which means the bias favouring the ANC disappears.

Secondly and more importantly, unless something truly unforeseen happens, Helen Zille will be the DA candidate for Western Cape premier in 2014. Zille commands astounding personal support and loyalty from Western Cape voters, and is deeply respected, even by the vast majority of those who choose not to vote for her. To underestimate her personal appeal would be foolish, and the empirical proof can be found in the difference between the DA Western Cape support levels in the 2009 provincial and national ballots, respectively.

On the national ballot, 48,8% of Western Cape voters voted DA. Had this pattern been replicated on the provincial ballot, the DA would not have achieved an overall majority, enabling it to rule on its own and prove itself in government. But on the provincial ballot, the same pool of voters on the same day gave the DA 51,5% of the vote. On the day, 23 000 people who did not support the DA, split their vote because they wanted Zille in charge. The Zille factor ensured an absolute DA majority in 2009. I believe it has grown since then and should not be underestimated.

What has changed for the ANC since those heady days in 2004? Most importantly, the party has lost Coloured support. ANC support levels in parts of Mitchells Plain dipped below 5% in this year's municipal elections. For this, the ANC largely has itself to blame, though much of that blame lies at a national rather than a provincial level.

In the first place, the sheer enormity of corruption, maladministration, managerial ineptitude, tenderpreneurship, personal enrichment, conspicuous consumption and jobs for pals in national government and in too many ANC-controlled provinces and towns, not to mention the infighting and unacceptably low level of internal ANC politics in ANC-controlled provinces (drunkenness and violence at ANC conferences, allegations of hit lists and even of political killings in Mpumalanga) is unappealing. Many Western Cape voters identify these aspects as the fruits of ANC rule, and would prefer not to have it in the Western Cape.

Another reason why Western Cape Coloured voters have turned on the ANC is that many of the ruling party's policies alienate Coloured voters. To have as one of your primary stated goals the advancement of blacks in general, and Africans in particular", is to favour Africans and therefore to discriminate against Coloured people. The way in which affirmative action is perceived by many Coloured voters is that it it means their children cannot compete on a level playing field. It mattered little to the Coloured vote that Jimmy Manyi's comments regarding a surplus Coloured workers in the Western Cape were officially repudiated. That it was his honest sentiment mattered a great deal. The subsequent vile and at times racially charged personal attack by Paul Ngobeni on Trevor Manuel's reaction to Manyi did little to allay the growing sense that many in the ANC, at a national rather than a provincial level, do not care for, or about Coloureds, in particular.

Events within the Western Cape ANC have not helped matters. In 2005, Mcebisi Skwatsha challenged Ebrahim Rasool for the provincial ANC leadership and beat him fair and square. For some reason, Skwatsha was out of favour with the national leadership from day one. Hr has since been unseated by Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Marius Fransman in an election of which the veracity has been formally challenged within ANC structures by Skwatsha supporters. The result of that process is still awaited.

Skwatsha is an honest, hardworking tactical thinker and is viewed by many as by far the best ANC leader in the province. Why the national leadership of his party refuses to give him a fair shot at success is hard to fathom. Could it be that some ANC leaders still cling to the outdated and bigoted view that the Western Cape ANC leader should preferably be Coloured?

The Western Cape ANC's performance as opposition in the legislature has been strongly criticised, not least by President Jacob Zuma in opening the very ANC provincial conference in February this year which saw Skwatsha unseated. As a first step, the Western Cape ANC will therefore need to get its own house in order and stop its infighting before it can challenge the DA.

As a second step towards challenging the DA, the ANC has to present a well-costed, realistic, honest alternative governance plan to the voters. It cannot focus on issues such as bicycle lanes or releasing state land in Constantia for low-cost housing. Both are limited, reactive and rely on envy rather than truly making a positive difference in the lives of those constituting the Western Cape swing vote.

The ANC would have to focus on bread and butter issues mattering to voters, and would have to show it can realistically and truthfully deliver better services than the DA. This is going to be hard to do, given its record elsewhere.

Flowing from this second problem the Western Cape ANC faces, is the third. It is not that the provincial government is perfect - it isn't - but that the province is the best governed of any province by just about any objective means, including the assessments of the auditor-general. The easy way out for the DA-controlled Western Cape is simply to compare itself with decaying, corruption-riddled ANC-controlled provinces, and with national government. The problem for the ANC is that the comparison is not only easy and clear, but also valid.

That problem means that, fourthly, as an opposition, the ANC needs to find more examples of DA corruption and poor DA governance, when compared to ANC governance. The ANC in the legislature has attempted this, but not with great success.

Much was made of a provincial communications tender, which is currently being probed by the Public Protector. Whilst the ANC allegations against Premier Zille's adviser, Ryan Coetzee, have been noisy, thus far they lack substance. No proof of self-enrichment, inflation of tender figures or favouritism have been forwarded, just some technical issues which fail to answer the basic question: How did those whose names are thrown about, benefit? We'll have to await the Public Protector's report, but if it is a damp squib, the ANC's credibility will suffer another blow.

The final, most difficult and most important challenge for the ANC is finding a candidate for premier in 2014 who can challenge Zille, and building that person's profile, preferably within the legislature, where Zille has sometimes been riled by sustained questioning. It will be a tall order to find such a candidate, but if the ANC wants to challenge for power in 2014, it must do so timeously and clearly.

To sum up, for the last five years the ANC's electoral fortunes in the Western Cape have slipped dramatically. To have any hope of challenging the DA in 2014, they must:

  • Achieve internal party unity;
  • Present a truthful, well-costed policy alternative to the DA;
  • Jack up ANC governance nationally and in other provinces;
  • Show true weakness in how the DA governs the Western Cape compared to the ANC and
  • Most importantly, find a strong candidate to challenge Zille for the premiership in 2014.

Jan-Jan Joubert is Beeld's political editor

This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The views presented in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FNF.

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