Protests Rocking South African Capital Highlight ANC Divide

  • Party members oppose Didiza’s candidacy as Pretoria mayor
  • Poll shows ANC losing control of Pretoria, Johannesburg

A truck on fire in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, South Africa, on June 21, 2016.

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP vie Getty Images

Protesters burning tires and barricading roads in townships around South Africa’s capital have highlighted divisions in the ruling African National Congress that are threatening the party’s grip on Pretoria and cities including the commercial hub, Johannesburg, in Aug. 3 municipal elections.

The protests erupted on Monday after the ANC’s national executive committee nominated senior parliamentary official Thoko Didiza as its candidate for mayor of the Tshwane municipality, which includes Pretoria, instead of incumbent Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

A truck burns in Pretoria.

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

“This is really bad for the ANC because over and above the factional issues that have been there for quite some time, now there’s the problem in uniting behind a mayoral candidate,” Dirk Kotze, a politics professor at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said by phone on Tuesday. “The NEC’s focus was to try and find someone who can help build bridges between the different factions but I think it has had the opposite effect.”

Mounting Discontent

While the ANC is still credited with leading the fight against white-minority rule and has won more than 60 percent support since taking power in 1994, mounting discontent over a lack of basic services and a series of scandals implicating President Jacob Zuma has boosted the opposition’s campaigns.

A June 6-7 survey of 3,000 potential voters in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay by research company Ipsos for broadcaster eNCA showed the ANC is set to lose control of all three municipalities. The Democratic Alliance topped the rankings in Tshwane, with 33 percent support, while the ANC polled 28 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters 10 percent.

“Tshwane is divided down the middle,’’ Nkenke Kekana, a spokesman for the ANC in the central Gauteng province, said by phone. “If we are going to start letting branches choose the mayors then there would be revolt. We don’t know why the members choose to go out onto the streets and sort things out. It is the ANC that they vote into power not individuals.”

Unrest areas in Pretoria

Ramokgopa, the ANC’s chairman in Tshwane who has been at loggerheads over recent months with his deputy Mapiti Matsena, told Johannesburg-based PowerFM on Tuesday that he supports Didiza’s nomination as mayor.

Twenty-one buses and other vehicles were torched, several stores were looted and one of the main freeways leading into Pretoria was closed due to the protests, Johannesburg-based broadcaster eNCA reported. 

Additional police have been sent to Tshwane and violence and damage to property won’ t be tolerated, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters in Pretoria.

“This is the capital city,” Mapisa-Nqakula said. “There is no way the law enforcement agencies will allow the kind of anarchy we have seen to continue.”

The rand gained 0.5 percent to 14.7647 per dollar at 4:38 p.m. in Johannesburg on Tuesday, extending Monday’s 2 percent advance, as concern eased that the U.K. will vote to exit the European Union -- a move that may adversely affect emerging markets. It fell to as low as 15.8952 in December after Zuma fired the country’s respected finance minister and replaced him with a little-known lawmaker. That appointment lasted four days after which he was replaced by former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Ethnic Divisions

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said Tuesday the party stands by its decision to nominate Didiza, who was born in Zuma’s home province, KwaZulu-Natal and is a former minister of agriculture and public works. Some ANC members are mobilizing support along ethnic lines to sow divisions within the party, he said.

The protesting townships of Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and Hammanskraal are dominated by migrants from the Tswana and Pedi ethnic groups, many of whom back Ramokgopa.

The 278 municipalities oversee parks, libraries, sanitation, some roads and distribution of electricity and water, and get most of their funding from real-estate taxes and transfers from the national government. The ANC currently controls seven of the country’s eight biggest cities, while the DA runs Cape Town.

‘Ethnic Entrepreneurs’

Since mayors and municipal councilors are well paid and have sway over the issuing of contracts, the ANC is facing divisions caused by the rise of “ethnic entrepreneurs” who use “ethnic mobilization” tactics to hold onto power, said Mcebisi Ndletyana, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg.

“The different factions in Tshwane are fighting back because they don’t want to lose what they expect is coming their way,” the University of South Africa’s Kotze said.

The Ipsos poll showed the ANC had 31 percent support in Johannesburg, the DA 29 percent and the EFF 10 percent. In Nelson Mandela Bay, which includes the city of Port Elizabeth, the DA had 34 percent backing, the ANC 30 percent and the EFF 7 percent. Between 17 and 21 percent of respondents in each of the cities said they were undecided about who they would vote for. The DA and EFF have said they are prepared to enter into coalitions with other opposition parties but not the ANC.

The Tshwane protests illustrated the difficulties the ANC’s leadership faces in exerting control over the party’s rank-and-file members, Ndletyana said.

“That the feuding groups are rejecting Didiza’s nomination by the senior structures shows that the senior leaders have a deficit of legitimacy and moral authority,” he said.

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