Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

ANC Scrambles to Retain Control of South Africa’s Capital

  • Big towns will be main battlegrounds in Aug. 3 vote: Mashatile
  • ANC to consider coalitions in towns it fails to win outright

South Africa’s ruling party said it’s redoubling campaigning efforts in the capital, Pretoria, which independent polls show is at risk of falling to the opposition in Aug. 3 local government elections.

The opposition Democratic Alliance won control of Cape Town, South Africa’s second-biggest city, in 2006 and now hopes to wrest the Tshwane municipality, which incorporates Pretoria, and Johannesburg, the economic hub and largest city, from the African National Congress. Three recent polls done by research company Ipsos on behalf of broadcaster eNCA show the DA is ahead of the ANC in both centers, yet will fall short of winning a majority.

“We don’t want to lose the capital city,” Paul Mashatile, the 54-year-old chairman of the ANC in the central Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, said in a July 7 interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office. “Our biggest fight is going to be in the metros. I think the opposition are not putting a lot of effort in the smaller municipalities.”

QuickTake South Africa

The victor in the elections in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, which lies east of Johannesburg, will gain control over combined annual budgets of more than 100 billion rand ($6.9 billion). Toppling the ANC in any of the municipalities would also give momentum to an opposition drive to challenge the ANC’s political dominance in a national poll in 2019. The ANC has won more than 60 percent of the vote in every election since it took power under Nelson Mandela in the first multiracial one in 1994.

Losing Capitals

“If you lose all your capitals, the legislative capital in Cape Town and now the prospect of losing the administrative one in Tshwane, it literally means the national government will be under the by-laws of an opposition party,” Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said by phone. “The symbolism is quite significant.”

The ANC had the support of 26 percent of respondents surveyed July 4-5 by Ipsos in Tshwane, while the Democratic Alliance had 39 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters 12 percent. In Johannesburg, the ANC had 31 percent backing, the DA 36 percent and the EFF 10 percent. The ruling party’s popularity in urban areas has been dented by a series of scandals that have embroiled its leader President Jacob Zuma and discontent over a 27 percent unemployment rate and widespread poverty.

The poll also showed the ANC trailing the DA in the southern Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which incorporates the city of Port Elizabeth.

ANC Surveys

The ANC’s own recent surveys show it will retain outright control over all three of Gauteng’s main centers, said Mashatile, who is also the provincial housing minister.

“What Ipsos is basically saying is we have lost the election,” he said. “I‘m not sure how they are doing their research. We are quite confident that in many of our municipalities” the ANC has 50 percent support or more.

The ANC has been beset by infighting in Tshwane. Riots erupted in the capital last month when the ANC chose lawmaker and former agricultural minister Thoko Didiza as its mayoral candidate. Five people died, scores of shops were looted and buses and other vehicles were torched.

Areas on unrest in Pretoria on June 20
Areas on unrest in Pretoria on June 20

Mashatile said he and other senior ANC leaders spent four days trying to defuse tensions between two ANC factions, one that wanted incumbent Kgosientso Ramokgopa to remain as mayor and another that backed his deputy, Mapiti Matsena. While the bid to persuade them to accept Didiza as a compromise candidate had distracted the party from campaigning, the situation has now stabilized and ANC members are now fully behind in their efforts to retain the municipality, he said.

The ANC would be willing to enter into coalitions in centers where it doesn’t win an outright majority.

“If we don’t have the numbers we will be forced to do it,” Mashatile said, without disclosing the possible partners. “It’s almost like a forced marriage, you end up having no choice but to hug the hyena to cross the river.”

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