Delivery or transformation? - Tomorrow's local government election
Tomorrow, South Africans will be going to the polls for the third, non-racial local government election in our country's history. Much is at stake. As the SACP we are confident that once more the ANC, supported by its Alliance partners, will emerge overwhelmingly victorious.
But tomorrow's ANC victory will have been achieved in the face of a sustained media-led opposition campaign. Until this past Sunday's massive 90,000-plus attendance at the Siyanqoba rally wiped away some of their smirking, the media commentariat had smugly predicted a "new dawn" in South African politics. The ANC, we were being told over and over, would finally be placed on an irreversible downward electoral trajectory.
Of course, this media oppositionism is not new. In every election campaign, some supposedly "new kid" on the block is celebrated. In 1999 it was Bantu Holomisa's UDM that was going to finally breach the ANC's overwhelming dominance in black townships and rural areas. In 2004 it was Patricia de Lille (a serial party-hopper) and her ID that were the acclaimed "new kids" on the block. In 2009 it was COPE.
This year it is Helen Zille's retrofitted DA supposedly leaving behind its earlier "fight back" mentality, and now embarking on a new tack of "delivery to all". In seeking to shape her campaign in this manner, Zille has been aided and abetted every step of the way by the print media commentariat - through the manner in which the electoral story has been consistently shaped.
From before 1994 right through to the present, the paradigm that still prevails in these quarters is that an overwhelming majority is, by definition, "bad for democracy". In SA, this paradigm has an intersecting class and racial core to it.
It is class-biased because its effective agenda is to place large areas of policy and decision-making in the hands of unelected economic elites in private corporate board-rooms.
This "strong majorities are bad for democracy" school of thought is happy with a charade of democracy, periodic elections in which the electorate "chooses" between alternating Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee parties with very little to differentiate them, and in which the winner's slender majority renders it hostage to other non-democratic forces, notably the "market".
This is fine if you want to permanently stale-mate the possibilities for any systemic transformation - witness, for instance, the predicament of a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama in their attempts at transformation of the woeful US health-care system.
The refrain that in SA "an overwhelming democratic majority is bad" also has strong racist undertones, precisely because of its inherent anti-transformation implications. Zille's supposedly novel contribution to South African electoral politics is that she is breaking the mould of "voting by race".
But notice how all of the commentators who have been arguing this view, among them our doyen liberal Allistair Sparks, don't expect the great majority of WHITES to abandon THEIR racial voting habits. The commentariat is not hoping that white South Africans in their great majority will vote for the ANC in order to break the so-called "racial log-jam" in South African politics. It is, of course, the black and working class majority that are supposed to fragment electorally!
Zille's local election campaign has not departed from the DA's "fight back" past. In fact it is precisely the platform on which she is building her campaign. Her campaign consists in the gravity-defying claim that it is possible to democratize and de-racialise SA without impacting on the systemic features that continue to reproduce the apartheid-legacy of powers and privileges enjoyed by a minority white constituency. The code-words here are "maintaining standards" while "delivering" to "all".
However, let's be clear, it is not now a question (as is sometimes asserted by the more demagogic forces around) of criminalizing all whites. Even at the height of the anti-apartheid liberation struggle, the ANC was absolutely consistent in arguing that it was not whites who were the enemy, but the system (which the UN correctly categorized as a "crime against humanity").
It was a system from which all whites (and some blacks) benefited in varying measure. And many of the deeply embedded structural features of this system still remain in place to this day - for instance, the racialised geography of our towns and cities.
It is also not now a question of arbitrarily and unconstitutionally seizing white property without compensation. However, contrary to what the DA and media commentariat assert (and demagogues on the other side imagine), the property clause in our progressive and transformational Bill of Rights allows for expropriation for a public use or in the public interest, and it clearly asserts that compensation does not have to be based solely on market value - it can be based also on other considerations including "the history of the acquisition and use of the property".
Zille's agenda of protecting inequitable privilege ("maintaining standards") while still "delivering to all" conceals a fundamental fact - it is not just "delivery" that is required, but fundamental transformation. For instance, our towns and cities (not least Cape Town) are still characterized by massive racialised geographical divisions and inequities.
What apartheid planned, the private property market has consolidated and expanded since 1994. Property prices act to exclude the black and working class majority a whole lot more effectively than old-style pass-law officials. In the City of Johannesburg, the ANC-led council has actively set about building mixed-income, medium-density housing that fills in the no-man's-land barriers between Soweto, for instance, and former white suburbs.
But in the unlikely event that the DA drove a policy like this in Cape Town, it would immediately meet opposition from its core constituency, white rate-payers fearing their speculatively fuelled property values would lose ground because of the relative proximity of poorer communities.
This reality lies at the heart of the predicament into which the DA got itself in Hout Bay last year - there was no more "township" space into which to "deliver" to the fishing community of Hangberg, and impacting on property values of the well-heeled DA-supporting constituency in the surrounding white suburb by championing a mixed-income development was unthinkable.
It is precisely through substituting "delivery track-record" for "transformational track-record" that the DA and its media-supporting commentariat have hoped to duck the real challenges, and shape the story of these elections. But "delivery" is not necessarily the same thing as transformation.
By seeking to centre the election campaign on "delivery", the DA has tried to find a more favourable terrain for itself. Even before the DA took control of Cape Town, for instance, the city had a relatively impressive "delivery" and efficiency track-record - this has much to do with resources and other advantages that the city enjoys compared to many other local governments.
But delivering into the same apartheid-era township spaces, however efficiently, without also addressing the overall structural transformation of our rural districts, our towns and cities, simply reproduces systemic and racialised inequality.
Tomorrow's ANC electoral victory, whatever its margins, should, however, certainly not be a cause for smugness on our part. In the first place, our sustained and in many parts of the country overwhelming electoral majority has also had negative consequences - not, however, for the real underlying reasons that the commentariat fear a sustained black and working class electoral majority.
We know from many international examples, and from our own experience since 1994, that sustained party political incumbency can produce many challenges - among them a growing distance from communities, bureaucratic aloofness, the factional manipulation of deployments, and the corrupt abuse of power.
The answer to these challenges is not now to electorally fragment a working class and black majority vote, but rather to boldly renew our policies, our programmes, our political formations, and our local government dispensation.
This is the reason why the SACP has fully supported the ANC's pioneering practice in these elections of testing ANC candidates in communities. Even one of the most insightful and constructive commentators, Steven Friedman, has scoffed at this practice. The only real test of a candidate, he writes, is an election itself. This is the only "true democracy", he tells us.
What Friedman neglects is that in many hundreds of wards throughout SA, ANC candidates have historically won over 80% of the vote. In secure wards like these, the temptation for a local ANC branch leadership is to disregard community opinion, knowing that they will vote ANC anyway. It is important that we constantly seek to mobilize community power to act as a corrective against organizational factionalism and complacency of this kind. In general, community participation in the ANC list process has been an important innovation.
There are instances where the process has still been manipulated by local leadership personalities, but, going into the future, it must be a question of improving - not abandoning the practice.
There are other issues that the SACP has been highlighting in the election campaign. The scourge of corruption needs to be combated through, amongst other things, ensuring that every municipality has a comprehensive anti-corruption programme.
President Zuma's insistence on the appointment process to municipal administrative posts being based on real capacity, and the need to insulate senior posts from narrow party political manipulation must be supported. Ward councilors must be held to their legal obligation of convening ward committee meetings at least once every three months.
Above all, however, the message that we must take from this election campaign is the imperative of transforming the whole local government dispensation and linking it to our wider new growth path agenda. As my SACP PB comrade Yunus Carrim (in his capacity as Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance) succinctly puts it in today's Business Day:
"The very premise of the current financial model [for local government] is wrong. It's based on the presumption that municipalities can raise 95% of their own revenue. But this was the case before 1994, when municipalities had much smaller boundaries, mostly excluded the African majority and had a limited service delivery role. It cannot apply to the new municipalities, with their larger boundaries, significantly bigger numbers of residents and expanded developmental role."
Literally hundreds of township "delivery" protests have occurred over the last few years, many directed at ANC local councilors. These protests are symptomatic of the imperative for a transformational agenda. Notice how these protests are typically turned inward - a community hall or a library is burnt, one faction of the ANC protests against another faction, local shop-keepers mobilize against foreigners, back-yard dwellers fight against shack-dwellers for a place on a housing list, there is rivalry over tenders and job-opportunities.
All of these, often negative and self-defeating actions, are nonetheless potentially positive manifestations of community aspirations and frustrations. Our role as the ANC and its Alliance partners is to mobilize these popular energies, not around competition for scraps of delivery into the same overcrowded dormitory townships - but to present a programme that addresses the transformation of the entire district, the entire town, the entire city.
The SACP has been heartened by the candidness of communities in expressing their views about the performance of our councillors. The majority of ANC councillors have been doing a good job and our people have pointed this out in many localities. They have also been forthright about councillors who have not been doing their work.
The challenge for our movement is to ensure that we pay closer attention to the performance of our councillors, and act timeously and decisively in instances of poor performance. Similarly we have to use government's turn-around strategy to pay closer attention to dysfunctional municipalities, either because of poor leadership or lack of a sound financial base.
As the SACP we commit ourselves to work closely with ANC branches and councillors to ensure that the legal requirement of quarterly report backs by councillors is strictly adhered to. In a number of instances tensions between communities and some of the councillors, do not arise out of lack of service delivery, but out of lack of effective interaction between councillors and communities.
The SACP commits itself, working together with ANC branches, to convene regular community meetings to ensure that interaction with our people is not left to councillors only, but that our own alliance structures actively engages with communities on issues of local governance. It is only mobilized communities that can drive people-centred local development.
Related to the above challenges, our people have also intensely engaged us around the quality of services in some areas, as well as the necessity for genuine community involvement in deciding on local priorities.
Our campaign has strongly underlined the fact that the majority of our people raise these matters, precisely because it is the ANC-led Alliance that is best capable of addressing these problems. That is why the SACP is in full support of an ANC overwhelming victory tomorrow, to strengthen and democratize local government and to connect our community struggles to the wider struggle to change our entire society and its economy.
All our cadres are using this last day of the campaign to deepen door-to-door work and to ensure that every ANC voter comes out to cast their vote tomorrow.
Communists, working together with the workers and the poor to build better communities! Victory is certain!
Tomorrow, every vote counts! Let us prove the anti-majoritarian cynics wrong!
Let us vote in our overwhelming numbers for an ANC-led TRANSFORMATION programme.
This article first appeared in the SACP's online journal, Umsebenzi Online.
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