Posted on Thursday, 04 August 2016 10:32

South Africa's local litmus test

By Crystal Orderson in Cape Town

Parties are competing for control of 278 municipalities in this year's local government elections. But above all, it is a litmus test for african National Congress (ANC) rule since it came to power 22 years ago.

On the face of it, the signs are not good for the ruling party. Scandals at the top of the party and factionalism are weakening its solidarity.

Making matters worse are the sluggish economic growth and unemployment figures, which rose to its highest ever in the first quarter of 2016.

Although opposition parties argue that Nelson Mandela Bay is the ANC's weakest area, they are also wresting control of cities such as Johannesburg, South Africa's economic capital, and Tshwane, which includes the political capital, Pretoria.

The campaigns have already been marred by bitter political rivalries and political assassinations. Much is at stake for the parties and the candidates.

At a time of economic troubles, being a councillor with perks such as new cars, bodyguards and the authority to award contracts looks highly attractive.

The contest over mayoral posts also reflects factional battles in provinces. In Gauteng, the battle lines have been drawn between groups vying for mayoral posts for their candidates in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni.

According to the independent electoral Commission (IEC), there are close to 26 million citizens on the voters roll, with 77% of eligible voters now registered. The IEC says more than 53,000 candidates contested in the last municipal poll in 2011.

This time, even more are joining the fray, many sensing that political change is in the air. Many of the rival parties see the local elections in august as a dress rehearsal for the critical national elections in 2019. ●

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