NQUTHU – Voting got off to a peaceful start in Nquthu, northern KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday morning in a by-election that is expected to be a litmus test for the ANC's traditional rural support.
Political parties and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) have pinned their hopes on a high voter turnout for Nquthu Municipality by-elections today in order to avert a repeat of the ungovernability the municipality had experienced as results of the inconclusive outcome of last year’s local government elections.
Major parties in the KwaZulu-Natal political sphere – the ANC and IFP – would use the outcome of the election to test their strength in rural areas, especially in the north, while the DA hopes to test its currency among rural voters.
Over the past two months of campaigning political parties had brought their big guns to the northern KwaZulu-Natal municipality. The ANC’s President Jacob Zuma, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, the EFF’s Julius Malema and NFP’s Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi have all campaigned in the area.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesman Mdumiseni Ntuli said his party’s massive campaign was a message that “we are not looking for who is going to work with us in any kind of coalition.”
“The areas in the northern part is where there is so much potential for the ANC to grow.
“When we closed (the campaign) with Siyanqoba on Sunday with the president(Jacob Zuma) we were very certain that the ANC is going to emerge as the winning party,” he said.
Ntuli said the provincial executive committee had done its support analysis soon after last year’s elections, which showed that the ANC, has the support of the whole of southern KwaZulu-Natal and had prospects of conquering IFP’s traditional support base, northern KwaZulu-Natal.
“We need to grow our support is the north, and Nquthu is one of them, which is why when we campaigned we became very aggressive, very frontal and very clear with our intention.
“We brought the deputy president (Cyril Ramaphosa) to open our campaign, we closed it with the president. We had secretary-general (Gwede Mantashe), treasure-general (Zweli Mkhize) and national chairperson (Baleka Mbete) as a signal that we know what we are pursuing,” said Mdumiseni.
IFP national chairman Blessed Gwala said his party had put up an aggressive campaign but was “angered by the ANC who used their power in the province to dissolve the municipality.”
He said the IFP would win the by-elections to stop ANC from ruling Umzinyathi District.
“Umzinyathi's budget is huge, and the issue of water is big. If the ANC takes over Umzinyathi they will be in charge of the whole of the district’s resources, and we must stop that,” he said.
He said even if the IFP wins the municipality overwhelmingly it will keep its partnership with the DA and EFF.
KwaZulu-Natal DA leader Zwakele Mncwango said although his party had won only one seat last year it hoped this time, “people of Nquthu want change.”
“We cannot go to elections aiming for coalition government. We are aiming to win,” he said.
He said the by-election was the DA’s preparations for the 2019 general elections.
“It is a test of whether people of rural areas have received a message from the DA because we want to be in government,” he said.
Political analyst Bheki Mngomezulu said the by-elections should break the balance of power between the IFP and the ANC.
“The other parties, DA and EFF, want to prove a point that they can unseat the ANC in a number of municipalities,” said Mngomezulu.
He said whoever wins Nquthu had the potential of growing massively in northern KZN.
Meanwhile, IEC provincial commissioner Mawethu Mosery said the special votes targeting elderly and disabled had started smoothly yesterday, except challenges to reach homesteads where there were no access roads.
He said a higher voter turnout would help to avert another hung municipality in Nquthu.
“Therefore we are encouraging people to come out in numbers to vote, so that they can break the stalemate that we had August. So high voter turnout would give us a different result,” he said.
He said participating parties had increased from last year's five to 14. Among the new ones are Andile Mgxithama's Black First Land First and IFP's breakaway National Democratic Convention (Nadeco).