Social justice activists in the Eastern Cape who stood for election in the local government polls on 1 November say they are heartened by their results and aim to win the next round in 2026.
In the Makana local municipality, which is seated in Makhanda, the four-month-old Makana Citizens Front (MCF) beat two of the established political parties, the DA and the EFF, while the ANC retained power by winning just 50.65% of the vote, sharply down from 61.84% in the 2016 elections.
The MCF got 18.10%, the DA 17.11% and the EFF 5.91%. With 14 seats, the ANC has a majority of one seat on the 27-seat council, while the MCF and DA each have five and the EFF two. The voter turnout was low at 44.24%.
With the high court in Makhanda having dissolved the municipality in January 2020 for failing in its constitutional mandate to deliver municipal services, there was a sense of urgency about the MCF’s campaign. It said Makhanda and the surrounding towns would not survive another five years of ANC rule.
MCF secretary Sally Price-Smith described the party’s performance as “an amazing result”. “The MCF is the majority minority,” she said. “Just the beginning of rebuilding this wonderful town and community for everyone.”
MCF councillor candidate Nosicelo Mnana-Kolweni agreed. “What we did was genuine,” she said. “No fraud was done, everyone was great, we were all committed and all of us have learnt a thing or two. Come next elections, sizoba (we will be) stronger.”
Veteran Eastern Cape activists praised the MCF’s showing. Cala-based Lungisile Ntsebeza, interim director of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town and an activist in the Sakhisizwe Civil Society Structures Forum, said it was a “good performance under the circumstances. The MCF must see this as a platform to build on, the start of a protracted process.”
Eastern Cape housing and development activist Russel Grinker said the MCF had shown that it is possible for communities to organise successfully on their own without political organisation being “declared from above”. “This is the start of a fighting opposition,” Grinker added.
In Komani, the seat of the Enoch Mgijima local municipality, two members of the Independent Komani Residents’ Association (iKora), Thulani Bukani and Xolani Ngxathu, stood as independent candidates along with community activist Thina Nkepu. Although they received hundreds of votes, they did not win wards. This meant both Bukani and Ngxathu lost out on potential proportional representation councillor seats because iKora had not registered as a political party with electoral commission the IEC to contest the elections.
Ward demarcation also played a role in their defeat, said Bukani. He won the majority of the votes in his own community in ward 6, but voters elsewhere in the ward did not know him, which cost him votes. Unlike the members of major parties, independent candidates who are grassroots activists have no budget and mostly use public transport, leaving them unable to visit outlying voting districts and stations, which can be up to 30km away.
Bukani also blamed the IEC for problems with the voters’ roll. “In my ward and when I listened to others who were contesting in other wards, we experienced the same crisis. A lot of people have been turned away from the voting stations, all because of the mistakes done by IEC staff. We believe some of them were not properly trained as there were voters who had registered recently for the first time, but they did not appear on the voters’ roll,” Bukani said.
“Two people from my team were even turned away, but they fought until the IEC checked them on the manual list. That is how they finally got to vote. So those who did not fight, did not vote at all. Some of them even appeared on voting [rolls] where they have never even been before.”
Bukani’s experience was that many first-time voters who registered recently did not appear on the roll and could not vote. “And the problem is that those who are new are not traditional voters of the ANC. They were going to cast their votes in a different direction,” he said.
Denying residents’ wishes
In Bira village in the Ngqushwa local municipality, which includes the towns Peddie and Hamburg, independent candidate Phumeza Macwili was initially chosen by her community as the ANC candidate. This was after the ruling party decided earlier this year that all its councillor candidates had to be endorsed in meetings with local residents.
This should have allowed residents to choose ANC councillor candidates who are not members of the party, but Macwili said this didn’t work in her village.
“The community nominated me in the ANC process of selecting candidates, but the ANC rejected me. First they lied and said I was not on the voters’ roll. Then, when I objected, they said they would set up a new voting process. I then lost in two of the voting districts in my ward, so the ANC said I could not be their candidate. I felt their process was not fair and my community then told me to stand as an independent,” said Macwili.
Bira is one of dozens of water-scarce villages near Peddie, about 90km north of Makhanda, in the ANC-run Ngqushwa municipality. Macwili was arrested briefly last year after leading a protest next to the N2 highway against the municipality for failing to provide water.
Like Bukani, Macwili has been an activist for many years and says she will simply “continue working for the community”. Her manifesto centred around a complete crisis in municipal services delivery in Ngqushwa.
“Firstly, everyone in rural areas needs a job. So people focus on getting close to the ward councillor because the few jobs she can secure will go to people chosen by her. Our water shortages mean we walk miles to get water from rivers and women get raped along the way. There is so much land we cannot utilise here because we have no water, and we don’t have clinics or even mobile clinics,” Macwili said.
Her campaign was hampered by a belief, especially among older voters, that if they do not vote for the ANC their pensions and social grants will be taken away, said Macwili.
“We activists actually need to educate our people that this is not true and that it is the ANC that is making their lives so difficult. They are not even aware that they are entitled to things like public participation and to be considered for municipal contracts. It is frustrating and difficult.”