Municipal (local) elections in South Africa:Any lessons for Ghana’s dominant political parties?

Final results from last week’s local elections in South Africa show that the governing African National Congress (ANC), which ended white rule when it won power in the country’s democratic national elections in 1994, has been dealt with the biggest blow since the end of apartheid two decades ago.

The ANC was defeated by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the capital Pretoria. The DA took 43 per cent of the vote compared with the ANC’s 41 per cent in Tshwane, the municipality that includes Pretoria.

The DA will need to form a coalition in order to secure control there.

In the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, the ANC beat the DA but fell short of an outright majority, with 44 per cent of the vote.

The ANC has also lost Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area in the Eastern Cape, which includes Port Elizabeth, to the DA.

The irony of the results from the three cities must be an awakening call on the ANC since these are cities it had previously held virtually unopposed.

A significant loss of support for the ruling party in these areas has marked a watershed in South African society and politics as the country shifts from what has effectively been a one party system in the era immediately post-apartheid.

From all indications, it has been the ANC’s worst electoral performance since it was elected to power at the end of apartheid and the replacement of white minority rule by democracy in 1994, and the first time since then that it has lost control of the capital.

The DA has won 93 seats in Tshwane while the ANC is second with 89 seats in the 214-seat municipal council.

The municipal vote comes against the backdrop of rising anger among voters at high unemployment and lack of basic services as Africa’s most industrialised country teeters on the edge of a recession, as well as string of corruption scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma.

The South African economy has stagnated since 2008’s global financial crisis, and the country has one of the highest rate of economic inequality in the world.

Revelations that upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s private home were funded with $20m of public money caused an outcry. The Constitutional Court recently instructed Mr. Zuma to reimburse the state $507,000.

Observers say many ANC supporters are switching allegiances to the DA, bolstering its attempts to attract black voters and shake off its image of a party that chiefly serves the interest of the minority white community. This explains why the DA tactically elected its first black leader, 36-year-old Mmusi Maimane.

The municipal election results is probably the biggest wake-up call the governing ANC has received since it ushered in democracy in South Africa in 1994.

Clearly, the ANC still commands huge support across the country but that support is waning. It can no longer take it for granted that the black majority will blindly follow it.

A good example is the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, won by the DA, which has rich history of anti-apartheid struggle. Its DA mayor is Athol Trollip, who is white.

Twenty-two years after the end of apartheid, black people. It has been observed, are now voting on issues and not on race. Mr. Trollip, who is said to speak fluent Xhosa, would not be where he is if the vast majority of black people had not voted for him.

The party of late President Mandela, the icon of the struggle against apartheid, still commands strong support with about 54 per cent instead of the more than 60 per cent of the national vote at every election the country’s multi-racial vote in 1994..

The DA, on the other hand has received about 27 per cent, while the radical Economic Freedom Fighters party – contesting local elections for the first time – has taken about eight per cent.

The poll is not only seen as a marker ahead of the next general election due in 2019, but a mid-term reflection on the performance of President Zuma since assuming office in 2009.

There are lessons to be learnt by Ghanaians in general and the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) which has tasted power before.

Firstly, even though the incumbent ANC suffered losses in its hitherto strong holds, it did not challenge the outcome and President Zuma graciously congratulated the DA. And indeed the conduct of the election was peaceful.

Secondly, a reflection on the postures of the NDC and NPP on Ghana’s political landscape suggests that they assume they are the only political parties that can govern and so they do whatever they like without regard to the people they are supposed to be governing.

It is therefore up to eligible Ghanaian voters to cast their votes in the up-coming general elections based on issues and not on race or personality.

Our district level elections should also be partisan to allow us to elect District Chief Executives. This will make them and their political parties render service to the people diligently and bemore accountable to them.

But in all this we must all contribute towards a peaceful election on December 7.

By Dan Osman Mwin

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