Voters in Maluti-a-Phofung in the eastern Free State decided to punish the ANC at the polls after it expelled their councillors whom the community returned to council, this time as independent candidates.
A political expert sees this as evidence of people’s disillusionment with the country’s party system and political party squabbles taking precedence over voters’ desires.
Political analyst and author on the Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa administrations, Ralph Mathekga, said the results meant people found independent candidates more trustworthy and perhaps even more reachable than candidates who came through parties that were troubled internally.
“It shows there is lower trust to political parties, people want direct accountability. The question is whether the independent candidates will live up to expectations,” Mathekga said.
The ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) were the biggest losers in the 15 municipal ward by-elections, while independents took centre stage on Wednesday.
The ANC won only five wards and the DA nothing.
The independents, all former councillors expelled from the ANC, won 10 seats from the former ANC wards.
The DA’s move to dispatch its leader Mmusi Maimane and the ANC’s decision to send ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini to the area did not work.
Despite heavy campaigning by Maimane over the weekend in the 15 wards that were up for grabs, the DA came away with nothing to show for it. The ANC lost five in a municipality that was always a stronghold for them.
The contests at the 15 wards involved 89 candidates from six political parties, and 16 independent candidates who were former councillors expelled by the ANC for defying the party.
They allegedly voted with the opposition to oust former mayor Vusi Tshabalala.
The councillors contested the election and the victory of the 10 out of 16 was seen as a vote of anger against the ANC.
Maluti-a-Phofung consisted of the former QwaQwa homeland areas and Harrismith which bordered the KwaZulu-Natal province.
Despite the advice of some ANC top brass, the Free State ANC leadership decided to expel the councillors.
Ousted mayor Tshabalala, an ally of former Free State premier and current ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, was replaced by Gilbert Mokotso when the majority of ANC councillors supported a DA-sponsored no-confidence motion on Tshabalala in an act of defiance against ANC wishes.
Under Tshabalala, the municipality collapsed after years of bankruptcy and political instability, while service delivery ground to a halt forcing the provincial cooperative governance MEC to place it under administration in terms of Section 139(1)b in February 2018.
The municipality was also stripped of its assets by the sheriff of the court when Eskom sued the municipality for owing R3 billion in unpaid electricity bills.
Eric Naki / The Citizen