The African National Congress (ANC) launches its local government election manifesto on April 16.
Obviously, the elections will definitely not take place in May. Remember that the term of local government ends in May and that the elections must be held within 90 days after the end of the term. This means that voters must go to the polls by August.
When ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa was asked about the timing of the local government elections, he gave two answers, one obvious and the second interesting. First, he reminded us that, in terms of the principle of separating the ruling party from the State, the ANC does not set election dates. Second, he said that, when the time came to set the date, several factors would have to be considered, including the fact that holding an election in winter would constitute a major hindrance for voters in some provinces. For instance – this is me talking now – the winter rains of the Western Cape would be a challenge to many voters, especially those who live in informal settlements. In other provinces, the winter cold would be a challenge. In my view, this leaves us with the realistic option of August as the only reasonable option, if Kodwa’s logic is anything to go by.
The ‘separation of powers’ principle notwithstanding, the ANC, as the ruling party, has an advantage over other political parties. We know that its government deployees would not dare cross the line between party and State by divulging to the ruling party the election date long before its competitors, like the rest of us, are informed officially.
So, the ANC probably has some idea of when the elections will be, but not because of any transgression on the part of its deployees. I think they will learn of the date from the shifty eyes of some of the deployees. But, seriously, though, there is no ruling party worth its salt, anywhere in the world, that will allow a situation to arise in which members of its own party structures, in their capacity as government officials and Cabinet members, are allowed to set an election date that is to the advantage of opposition parties. That, I am willing to bet, is not going to be allowed even by a ruling party as principled as the ANC.
Anyway, my sources have been telling me for some time now that there are concerns among some in the ANC about getting the timing of the local government election date wrong and, therefore, to the detriment of the ruling party. Some are of the view that opposition parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) might cause serious damage to the electoral fortunes of the ruling party if the campaign period is too short or too long. There are those who argue that a long campaign would pose a serious challenge to the EFF because the party lacks the resources to run a long campaign. Others, however, are worried that a long campaign would give a party such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) enough time to focus on the weaknesses of local government, to the disadvantage of the ANC.
But there are those who counter this argument by saying that DA leader Mmusi Maimane has never led the official opposition during an election campaign. They argue that a long campaign may expose Maimane’s limitations and, as a result, sharpen internal contradictions within the DA, to the advantage of the ANC.
Further, there is the view that, as was the case during the 2014 campaign, the ‘enemy within’ might become a problem for Maimane. In other words, and as is already the case, some DA ancestors may attack Maimane’s leadership and question the party’s strategy and tactics publicly. A long campaign would, therefore, be bad for Maimane and the DA.
By the way, the thing to remember is that Maimane may be deposed, de facto or formally, before the 2019 general election if, under his leadership, the DA underperforms in this year’s elections.
But the ANC has its own problems. Tensions are rising in some ANC branches and between Alliance partners around the country. Competition to be on the ANC’s election list has become both fierce and violent, with some members of the ruling party going to meetings armed for the Third World War. I have no doubt that the parlous state of the economy is one of the reasons why some ANC members want to be councillors by hook, crook, bucket or panga. In some provinces, the ANC and the State are the main instruments of middle class formation and local government is the last opportunity for a salary and a better life for some ANC members and their families.
Will the EFF benefit from the challenges a long campaign may pose for the ANC and the DA?