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South Africa’s city hall cliffhanger

By Crystal Orderson in Nelson Mandela Bay
Posted on Thursday, 4 August 2016 09:15

Danny Jordaan, credited with bringing the World Cup to South Africa in 2010, is now the man that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) hopes will rescue it from a local election disaster in its political heart- lands on 3 August.

ANC leaders see its control of Nelson Mandela Bay metro- politan area, which includes the city of Port Elizabeth and neighbouring towns of Uitenhage and Despatch, as vulnerable to a challenge from the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the right- of-centre Democratic Alliance (DA).

Hit by rising unemployment combined with a poor record on local services and corruption, support for the ANC had been slipping in the area since the last elections in 2011.

Jordaan, a local man who still heads the South African Football Association, was brought in a year ago to stop the rot in Nelson Mandela Bay after a succession of appointees had failed. “I was minding my own business. When I heard what was going on here, I had to come back. This is the place of my birth, I grew up here and I will retire here,” Jordaan tells The Africa Report.

Zuma’s damp squib

Doubtless, the charismatic Jordaan has won back some goodwill for the ANC in the region, but the party will have to struggle hard to hold on to the metro area. Mounting criticism of President Jacob Zuma in the wake of his sacking of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December and Zuma’s links to the Gupta family are weakening the party’s position.

Many of the country’s liberation heroes were born in Eastern Cape and worked in Port Elizabeth. Not for nothing did the ANC choose to launch its campaign manifesto here in April.

But the event turned out to be a damp squib: the 46,000-seater football stadium in Port Elizabeth was half empty when Zuma arrived. Some angry ANC officials talked of sabotage and investigating what went wrong.

In local elections in 2011, the ANC hung onto the metro with just 51.9% of the vote

But the true reasons behind dwindling enthusiasm for the ruling ANC were not hard to fathom: “No toilets. No water. My children are sick every day, and there’s too much crime,” complains Nloyiso Manyala, a mother of four. Manyala’s home is a two-roomed zinc and iron shack – with no running water, electricity or sanitation – in the Nelson Mandela metro township of Edongweni, KwaZakhele, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth.

Speaking in Xhosa and English, Manyala talks of her frustrations with the area. She has been living in the shack since 1990. She has to walk to a communal tap to collect water for drinking, bathing and laundry. The communal toilets are still further away. There is no street lighting. Many people, especially women, are scared to use the toilets after dark.

Conditions at KwaZakhele’s Silvertown were the worst in the country, according to the 2011 census. Most people were still using the bucket toilet system and paraffin was the main source of energy.

People like Manyala have borne the brunt of poor service delivery in the area. In June, auditor general Thembekile Makwetu reported that Nelson Mandela metro had the country’s worst record for wasting public funds. It lost more than R235m ($15.4m) in revenue from water and electricity last year.

Manyala wants action from the government: “I am too much disappointed in the ANC. I think it’s time I vote for someone else,” she tells The Africa Report.

A longtime ANC stronghold, the Eastern Cape has been weakened by in-fighting. The party split after Thabo Mbeki lost the national presidency to Jacob Zuma in 2007, and most of the ANC’s national executive in the province left to form the Congress of the People (COPE).

In local elections in 2011, the ANC hung onto the metro with just 51.9% of the vote. The DA won 40.1% of the vote, while COPE trailed with 4.9%. In general elections in 2014, the ANC got just 49% of the vote in Nelson Mandela Bay, its second-lowest result in the country after Cape Town, which is an opposition bastion.

The ANC slide looked set to continue until its headquarters at Luthuli House hit on the idea of drafting Jordaan as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay to sort out the troubled metro, which has had six mayors in just 15 years.

“The top six of the ANC have been in the metro regularly. The law was laid down […] support must be given to Danny Jordaan,” says Professor Joleen Steyn Kotze, who works in the politics department at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. And over the past year, Jordaan has started shaking things up: officials accused of corruption have been suspended and are being investigated, and public services are improving.

“It’s been challenging, difficult but rewarding. We will retain the metro […] I am confident of that. I see great possibilities for the city,” Jordaan says on the campaign trail. Although he is upbeat about the ANC’s prospects, Jordaan admits the fight against corruption and waste is a work in progress.

Voters undecided

It will be an all-out fight in elections on 3 August. TV broadcaster eNCA and polling company Ipsos conducted a poll in Nelson Mandela Bay that indicated the ANC could still win the municipality – based on what it didn’t know rather than what it did. In the poll, conducted on 6 and 7 June, 34% of people polled said they plan to vote for the DA and 30% for the ANC, but as many as 21% of respondents were either undecided or refused to say who they would vote for.

Not only does the ANC face challenges from the DA and the EFF, it will also have to contend with the United Democratic Movement, a breakaway from the ANC, and the United Front (UF), formed by radical trade unionists from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), whose base is in the auto industry around Port Elizabeth.

Jordaan’s campaign focuses on diversifying the economy away from the auto sector

With sprawling factories owned by Volkswagen and General Motors, the auto industry is one of the biggest employers in the area. Most of the unionised workers belong to NUMSA, which fiercely opposes the Zuma government and last year split from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the pro- ANC union federation.

Nelson Mandela Bay is the DA’s number one target in the local elections. Its mayoral candidate, Athol Trollip, has been campaigning since last November. “This is a tale of two cities, one rich and the other poor. There are signs of massive strain with no infrastructure. The apartheid hierarchy is alive and well,” Trollip tells The Africa Report while campaigning in KwaZakhele and Soweto-on-Sea. “We are the party who can bring about change.”

Trollip, who speaks fluent Xhosa, promises to make Port Elizabeth an integrated and connected city and fix its crumbling infrastructure. Also on the DA’s campaign in Soweto-on-Sea township, 27-year-old Ncababakazi Manasi pores over a map of the area with 10 other party supporters. She says the youth are tired of the ANC, but much of the older generation is still loyal to the party that led the freedom struggle. The youth vote is increasingly important to all the parties.

On the other side of the city, in the rundown Northern Areas, groups of unemployed youths are standing around on street corners. Fred – who declined to give his surname – says people are angry and disappointed at conditions in the city and the lack of jobs and educational opportunities. “Every five years, politicians promise us things but then nothing happens,” he says. “But this time we are feeling motivated because we can change things.”

Five-year plan

Nelson Mandela Bay accounts for just over 40% of the Eastern Cape’s economy. Of the more than 1.2 million people living in the metro area, one in four is jobless. Yet in June rating agency Moody’s upgraded Nelson Mandela Bay’s credit-worthiness to AA1, second only to Cape Town. According to Jordaan, his administration’s new five-year plan will “change the economic life of the city entirely.” Jordaan’s campaign against unemployment focuses on diversifying the economy away from the auto sector and instead developing the ocean economy, tourism and revitalising the township and creative economies.

The mayor holds regular briefings with business and labour leaders. During one such session, local businessman Chumani Maqina tells The Africa Report that he has been impressed with the ideas: “It’s been refreshing to hear the plans, but the change in the political landscape might not enable it.” Others speak of the need for stability and continuity if the development plans are to work.

“He’s had to clean up, restore trust […] he is making inroads, but is this enough?” asks Northern Areas resident Donovan Davids. Davids, who has known Jordaan since his sporting days in the 1960s, says Jordaan will do a great job but asks whether he will be a caretaker mayor or remain in office for a full term if the ANC wins.

Every second young person is unemployed, this will bring the ANC to its knees,” Trollip says

The DA’s Trollip, who also thinks the metro should use its two ports and expansive ocean to drive growth, is highly critical of Jordaan and the ANC: “There is infrastructural strain. Danny has bragged about the R2bn [in cash reserves], but it doesn’t help if you have money in your bank account but you’re not delivering and fixing potholes.”

The DA has run one of its longest-ever campaigns in Nelson Mandela Bay, with Trollip spending at least a day in each of the 60 wards in the metro. “Every second young person in this metro is unemployed, and this will bring the ANC to its knees,” Trollip confidently predicts.

DA disarray

But Trollip’s campaign has its own problems. In late May, seven DA council candidates defected to the ANC. Then Veliswa Mvenya, the DA’s chairwoman for Eastern Cape, announced her resignation, apparently due to disagreements with Trollip.

Mvenya had played a key role in building the party’s base in the province, especially in rural areas. It took an intervention from former party leader Helen Zille to dissuade Mvenya from quitting permanently.

All the fuss has helped the ANC. Jordaan says Trollip’s strategy has created problems in the party and alienated people: “DA structures are collapsing. I think the real opposition here will be the EFF, not the DA. The EFF is getting young people, and we have to work in that space.”

On that point, EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee would agree with Jordaan. Gardee says the EFF will field candidates in all the contested wards in the metro and says it has the capacity to shift things and deal with the many deep-seated service delivery issues. “People are looking for a credible alternative. They are not happy with the ANC or the DA. The EFF is here to win!” Gardee asserts.

EFF leader Julius Malema addressed thousands of supporters on a whirlwind tour of the Eastern Cape in May, and its door-to-door campaigning across the city is winning over voters, who complain the ANC has neglected them.

The other new leftist party, the UF, has made less of an impact. Mziyanda Twani, a NUMSA official and leader of the UF in Eastern Cape, is confident the ANC will lose overall control of Nelson Mandela Bay: “We are contesting all the wards, but we don’t think there will be an outright winner and a coalition might govern the area.”

On the record, the ANC’s Jordaan rejects the possibility of a coalition. He sees plenty of people who want to be ANC councillors and perhaps more defectors from the DA. For his part, the DA’s Trollip is talking tough: he would only go into a coalition with a party that was willing to implement DA policies.

In fact, the EFF has the clearest, and perhaps most practical, strategy on coalitions. Gardee says the party wants a “coalition of a special type”. That means it would be willing to give up seats in Johannesburg, Tshwane or any other area where it may win substantial votes, to its rival parties. In exchange, it would demand seats from them in areas such as Polokwane or Mpumalanga so it can govern those areas outright.

With its plans to stamp its authority on a particular area of the country, the EFF shows its distinct strategic thinking com- pared with its rivals. As the ANC copes with growing pressure, the EFF plans to seize its big political opportunity. ●

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