By GEOFF EMBLING, DA candidate for Ward 4
Local government elections are about voting for the political party, bringing good governance and service delivery to your municipality. On the other hand, national elections are more about political ideology – voting for the party which will implement provincial and national policies that you would like to see. This is why some people vote for one political party in a national election and another in a local election.
In the 2020/2021 financial year, a mere 27 out of 257 municipalities in South Africa received clean audits, and R26-billion of local government (municipal) expenditure was classified as “irregular” (Daily Maverick 29 August 2021). The ANC governs the vast majority of those 257 municipalities, which means that it is not competent in local governance.
The official opposition (DA) runs one province, the Western Cape, and the Western Cape alone has 19 municipalities with clean audits. Midvaal is a DA-run municipality outside of the Western Cape that has a clean audit, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the DA will pour its institutional knowledge and expertise into any municipality that it wins.
Smaller parties make numerous promises before elections, but the reality is that they are hard to keep. Firstly, it is challenging for small parties to raise funds and mobilise volunteers to achieve their goals. Secondly, due to a lack of oversight and performance assessment, independent candidates and councillors from newly created parties may become free agents and renege on their promises. Thirdly, DA councillors have the experience, institutional knowledge and access to training to hit the ground running and deliver services effectively.
Over the years, the DA has built up a robust political performance assessment system. Each councillor is assessed regularly and sits in front of a panel, including their constituency head (MP of MPL), caucus leader, whip and constituency chair. If a councillor does not reach the targets set at the previous assessment, they will get red-flagged and put on a capacitation programme. A councillor who ignores these measures will have a disciplinary hearing and could get expelled from the party.
History shows that voters do not change allegiance easily and that small political parties may get a councillor or two. Still, they often don’t get enough votes for even one councillor per municipality. Herein lies another problem – wasted votes. Voting for a small party in a local election instead of for the DA splits the vote and weakens the DA’s chance of gaining a majority in council and taking over the municipality. Splitting the vote weakens the DA and strengthens the ANC proportionately, which allows it to maintain a majority of votes in council to continue the process of “irregular expenditure”.
Suppose a voter’s goal is to weaken the ANC. In that case, she should look objectively at local government statistics, keep her ideology in her back pocket until the national election, and vote strategically.
Councillors can be compared to the board of directors of a municipality, and the municipal manager, CFO and municipal workers have to do the bidding of the majority in council. The DA has many examples of winning ANC municipalities and turning them around in a short space of time.
This is due to a unified majority in the council which has to vote for the DA’s policies on good governance. Furthermore, councillors must have direct channels to the provincial legislature and parliament to escalate matters of corruption. Larger political parties have provincial legislatures and parliament representatives, but small “pop-up” political parties have no recourse.