Zille: Young SA democracy’s acid test – will NW voters send ruinous ANC packing?

Last week DA Federal Chair Helen Zille spent three days campaigning in the rural North West province ahead of a forced re-run of the 2021 Local Election for the Ditsobotla municipality. This is a major test for South Africa’s young democracy, as it is scarcely imaginable how local voters could have been more obviously abused by those they put into power. How voters react will be a useful gauge of the state of voter education in SA – and whether citizens really understand that they alone have the power to effect change in the potentially watershed 2024 National Election. Zille spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.

Find Timestamps of Interview Below:

  • 00:28 Helen Zille on the upcoming municipal election
  • 01:38 On whether this is an unprecedented election or not
  • 05:27 On the high number of candidates in the election
  • 07:11 On what is to be looked out for, given that this is an important election ahead of 2024
  • 11:24 On whether Ditsobotla is an exception or not

Excerpts from the interview with Helen Zille

Helen Zille on the upcoming municipal election

It’s an entire municipality. It’s not just one ward. By-elections are normally just one ward. All by-elections are important to us. But when it is an entire municipality that has been disbanded because of dysfunctionality, then it is very important. So this obviously is a big municipality that covers the old Lichtenburg as well as places like Toseng and various other places. So it’s a reasonably big municipality in the Northwest Province and it’s been disbanded because of complete dysfunctionality there. There was such a war on the ground between the different ANC factions that they somehow managed to get two mayors, two speakers, two municipal managers, and the war was on. Eventually it became too much even for the ANC. And the ANC disbanded the municipality in terms of section 1391C of the Constitution. 

On whether this is an unprecedented election or not

No, municipalities have been disbanded in the past because of dysfunctionality. But this is an unusual event. And when service delivery has collapsed to the extent that it has, then, of course, it is an important barometer of public sentiment. People have their votes to change their life circumstances. And the big question is, with the ANC having really destroyed that municipality, when I say destroyed, I mean destroyed. And when it is so dysfunctional that they are at loggerheads with themselves to the point that they cannot agree on a mayor, speaker, a municipal manager, programme of action or anything. And when you see the collapse of service delivery, as there has been, then the big question is in a democracy like South Africa, will voters take that responsibility seriously? That is the issue. 

On the high number of candidates in the election

Yes, there are very many political parties, as I said, 13 on the ballot paper, 11 of which at least take votes from the DA and not from the ANC, which is absolutely senseless at a time when the most crying imperative is for us to take the ANC out of power. I do think the ANC will fall under 50% and that will be a very important milestone for that municipality because I do think that enough of the voters will realise that the future is in their hands and the vote is the way to do something about it. There are lots of independents as well. And many people think, oh, well, independents are going to be so wonderful, they’re going to be responsible, mature adults who are going to then represent their constituencies far more better than representatives of political parties. Well, not at all. The independents are in many cases, the local strong man, strong woman who can get up on a soapbox and make the best populist speech. Standing in an election as an independent, you’re one person, one person in an entire municipality. And all you can do is stand on a soapbox, in a little space and not make any major difference. So for people who think that independents are the solution to South Africa’s problems, I think they’re in for a very sad and rude awakening. 

On what is to be looked out for, given that this is an important election ahead of 2024

What you need to look out for is whether, when a municipality is so broken, we the voters actually realise that it is our responsibility to do something about it. The DA has got excellent councilors. In “Killiney” we’ve got Kobus Van Tonder. He has a very demographically mixed ward and on the demography, at least on a superficial demography, he should never have won that. But he did because he’s such an active citizen. He goes in with his gumboots. He fixes the sewerage, he fixes the water, he fixes the electricity. He brings in Jojo tanks. He does everything he can to make sure that the poorest people in his ward actually get the basic services, despite the fact that the ANC municipality is failing. So fundamentally, you must understand that in Ditsobotla, services have failed to the extent that 90% of South Africans don’t understand. Electricity outages are just one thing. And even when Eskom is generating and distributing electricity, it doesn’t get distributed in many parts of Ditsobotla because the infrastructure is so broken. I saw burnt out electricity boxes. I saw an absolute decay in the local reticulation system. So even when there is electricity from Eskom, they don’t have electricity. And when you don’t have electricity, the water pumps can’t work and they can’t pump water into certain suburbs. And so there are a large number of places in Ditsobotla that are lucky if they get 3 hours of water per day. The sewerage can’t function without the water running through the pipes. So the sewage becomes a strong sediment, it bursts the pipes, and then there is sewerage everywhere. The roads are so terrible that in places they are digging up what’s left of the tar on those roads so that they are passable. When roads get potholes to that extent, you can’t in any way fix those roads anymore. You can’t drive on them anymore because there’s such deep potholes. The only thing you can do is chop out the remaining tall and try and scrape them to get them more passable. That is what’s happening. I saw that with my own eyes. So you see piles of tar next to these gravel roads. So they’re going back to gravel roads because the infrastructure has deteriorated to such an extent. It is totally shocking. Forget about things like libraries and other things that we all take for granted in Cape Town. It is eye opening to see exactly how local government services can be brought down and can be destroyed. And then what’s even more shocking and even more tragic is that when the water infrastructure gets fixed and when it’s working, the contractors who run the water tankers that deliver water when people don’t have water in their taps, then try allegedly to sabotage the water infrastructure so that they’ll get contracts from the municipality and use it to run their tankers. So just like with Eskom, where there is alleged sabotage in the system by people who have a vested interest in sabotaging the system – the same holds true now for other services as well. The level of depravity and lack of Ubuntu is what I would call it. And corruption is just mind boggling. I went to clinics where there’s not a drop of water. I don’t know how you can run clinic without water. I walk past halls that are so vandalised that they are just skeleton carcasses on what were once schools. Everything else has been stolen from it. Everything has been stolen. It is just too shocking for speech. 

On whether Ditsobotla is an exception or not

There are other municipalities like this. When I drove through Butterworth, which was once a thriving little town, my heart sank. That was in the Eastern Cape. It is too shocking. And when I was a kid, we used to spend the holidays in East London. When you go there now, it’s just too heartbreaking. But they’re not quite at the level of Ditsobotla. I think there are a number of municipalities in the north west that are like that, I haven’t been to them all. But the voters would say, well, what are you going to do for us? And we say this, we can only do it for you if you vote us into office. You know, 15% is not enough to take over government. So if you kindly take your responsibility seriously, we can assure you that we will take our responsibility seriously. We put up candidates in every single ward in the country to give everybody a chance to vote for a better government. And we have this in every municipal election. We are there everywhere in the entire country. If people want a decent government and it’s not as if people don’t know that the DA runs better governments. Everywhere I went, they said, Oh, can’t you fix this place like you fix Cape Town? And I said, the difference is that voters in Cape Town voted us into office, and that gives us the opportunity to do something. The people don’t really understand that you’ve got to be in government to fix things. They think you can fix things as a political party. And then I explain, no, you need to be in government so that you have access to the revenue that comes with being in government because a political party doesn’t have the revenue to run a water reticulation system or a water purification system, for example, or fix the sewer lines or do anything like that, or fix the roads and the potholes. We can do one or two here and there. But the bottom line is that is what comes with being in government. And you can’t be in government unless enough people vote for you. You’ll be amazed how many people in South Africa don’t get that. 

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