Port Shepstone, South Africa (ViaNews) – Metsimaholo Municipality is in South Africa’s Free State province. This was the sovereign homeland of Afrikaner farmers from 1837 until Britain annexed it during the Anglo Boer War. The province continued under Afrikaner control after Union, until the birth of the new South African Republic in 1994. But the nation was still deeply divided, especially in terms of personal wealth.
The new government adopted a policy of enlarged municipalities, so rural poor could share the largesse of cities. Metsimaholo Municipality is a microcosm of this. It incorporates Deneysville, named for the son of the first Free State Republic president, Oranjeville established as a watering hole for itinerant traders, and Sasolburg, where the apartheid government hoped to establish energy-independence through oil from coal.
Eighty-two percent of the population of Metsimaholo Municipality is black, poor, and lives in rural areas, or in tiny houses and squatter camps on the edges of towns. They remained fiercely loyal to the ruling ANC until the November 2017 by-elections. Perhaps the electorate heard the Democratic Alliance’s call to “Kick the ANC out of power there once and for all.” They delivered an election result that may be a clear signpost to the ANC’s future downfall.
South Africa uses a system of proportional representation to allow smaller parties to influence national policies. National and provincial legislators are chosen every four years from party lists, based on the number of votes cast for each participating party. ANC power at national level has fallen since the 1994 elections when it garnered 62.65% of votes. It no longer has the support of opposition parties. Some polls suggest less than 50% support in the upcoming 2018 national/provincial elections.
Municipal elections use a combination of direct and proportional representation. They take place at the midpoint between national/provincial elections. Voters choose individual candidates put forward by parties, or standing as independents. An equal number of seats are allocated proportionally from party lists. The aim is to ensure overall proportionality, while still allowing voters to identify with results.
The 2016 municipal elections were a watershed for South African politics. The ANC lost control of several large provincial capitals to Democratic Alliance-led coalitions. The overall result was ANC 53.9%, Democratic Alliance 26.9%, and ANC rebels Economic Freedom Fighters 8.2%, in addition to a number of smaller parties. The next round of municipal elections takes place in 2020, but the national and provincial elections happen in 2018.
The results of the Metsimaholo Municipality by-elections gripped the nation’s attention, especially as the previous ANC-lead council disbanded after it was unable to agree on a budget. The results were as follows. The ANC won 16 of 21 directly contested seats, with the Democratic Alliance winning the rest. But the ANC won no proportional seats. The Economic Freedom Fighters won 8, the Democratic Alliance 6, and the South African Communist party 3. Three minor parties each won one seat.
The overall position is as follows. ANC 16 seats, Democratic Alliance 11 seats, the Economic Freedom Fighters 8, the South African Communist Party 3, plus three ‘independents’. The ANC has called for “a thorough investigation” into vote-rigging alleged by the South African Communist Party.
The media consensus is the ANC is bleeding power to opposition coalitions, and that the Democratic Alliance will lead Metsimaholo Municipality. Or for at least for as long as the Economic Freedom Fighters refuse to speak to the ANC while President Zuma is in power. Even though voter turnout was a low 40%, the numbers suggest the traditional ANC mass stayed away, while the opposition came out in force.
The Economic Freedom Fighter’s announced from its website, “Established political parties and civic organisations in the Metsimaholo Local Municipality in the Free State have given the ruling ANC the cold shoulder, turning down any possibility of forming a coalition to govern the municipality … we will consider any coalition with any opposition parties, except the ANC.”
If the trend continues and makes itself felt in the 2018 national elections, then the people of the Metsimaholo Municipality were harbingers of the day when a proud African liberation movement fell on its sword. The sword of democracy it fought for and died for, on behalf of a rainbow nation. Then historians may say it could perhaps not transition itself from a revolutionary movement to a well-oiled administration. Perhaps like Robert Mugabe and so many others before him, it no longer heeds the mind of the people.