Election 2021: Political panellists explain how they would run Johannesburg
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Johannesburg - In under a month’s time South Africans will go to the polls to decide who they want to run their municipalities in the 2021 local government elections. In Johannesburg, the ruling ANC, the opposition DA and newcomer ActionSA are all confident it will be them once the votes are counted.
Current Johannesburg mayor, Mpho Moerane; former Johannesburg mayor and now ActionSA head Herman Mashaba and DA mayoral candidate, Dr Mpho Phalatse, joined journalist Mandy Weiner at The Great Debate, the first of three webinars on the local government elections hosted by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to discuss the upcoming polls and what they would do if they get a chance to lead.
They were joined by Freedom Front Plus’s Franco de Lange, the ACDP’s Norman “Fana” Mkhonza and the IFP’s Mkululeko Hlengwa and welcomed by SAJBD Gauteng chair Professor Karen Milner, who explained that this was only one of the board’s projects around democracy, which range from encouraging voter participation to monitoring processes at the polling station and the counting of ballots afterwards.
All six of the political parties agree unequivocally that corruption is the greatest problem in a city that Weiner said was falling apart; “water, electricity and roads are all breaking down”. The audience attending the Great Debate agreed: 67% of them feel that corruption is the single biggest issue; followed by water and electricity (23%), inequality and job creation (6%) and then the maintenance of parks and roads (2%).
The key thing, as researcher Thembelani Mazibuko from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa pointed out, is that the November polls are not general elections on the country’s direction but rather hyper local, centred around the delivery of basic services and infrastructure. Voters in one of South Africa’s eight metros will receive two ballot forms on November 1; one for the ward councillor of their choice, the other for the party of their choice. In all other local municipalities, there will be a third paper; for the district municipality.
The panellists all agreed that infrastructure had to be maintained, the problem was who was to blame for its collapse. The ANC, said mayor Moerane, had a plan, which had been derailed by the DA in 2016 when they came to power for three years of their five-year term before Mashaba resigned. If the ANC was returned to power, it would would act firmly against corruption, which he said was orchestrated by officials not the elected representatives, as well as begin rolling out the ANC’s original infrastructure development and maintenance plan
Mashaba said in turn that the ANC was a criminal enterprise, riddled with nepotism and cadre deployment, and that it had been under his watch that the metro had instituted a special investigative unit to root out corruption. He said he was standing in these elections to win and complete the unfinished business that he’d left after being forced to resign on principle once he discovered his then party, the DA, had been conniving with the ANC to unseat him.
Phalatse said the DA had realised when it took office in 2016 that the problems that residents face today were historic, all the fault of the ANC for not maintaining that which it had. “We don’t want to see ourselves reliant on national entities (like Rand Water) that are failing, we need to see how functions can be devolved to lower tiers of government,” she said, vowing that the DA would institute proactive monitoring of leaks and institute quicker turnaround times for repairs on a problem that is currently losing 44% of the city’s water supply.
“There’s a relationship between load shedding and water shedding,” she said, promising the DA would push for water and electricity installations to be declared national key points to exempt them from load shedding and protect them from vandalism.
The ANC has a plan to introduce a mix of energy sources; taking back responsibility for Soweto, Orange Farm and Sandton from Eskom and introducing solar, gas and electricity, especially to poorer communities, said Moerane.
“We had a plan in 2016 for infrastructure,” he said, “Mashaba killed it. (The DA) took the City of Johannesburg back 10 years in the three years they were in charge.”
For Mashaba, the greatest problem was not his insourcing of services, but the bloated administration of 33 000 officials. Insourcing was vital to root out the tenderpreneurs.
“You can’t have clean government at the expense of the poor. When we take over in November, we are going to get rid of the cadres who got their jobs because of their connections and not their abilities.”
The FF Plus’s De Lange agreed that 33 000 officials were far too many for a city like Johannesburg. He blamed the officials too for sabotaging the administration when the DA took over in 2016. He also poured cold water on Moerane’s claims of a R120 billion infrastructure plan over the next 10 years, saying the city had only budgeted R7 billion a year in capital expenditure, which would only come to R70 billion after a decade.
“You can’t turn an oil tanker around in three years,” he said of the DA’s term of office, “it will take two terms.”
The key, he said, was to appoint the right officials, irrespective of creed or colour, only ability. The ACDP’s Mkhonza agreed, saying the scriptures exhorted the people to choose leaders who would be honest, capable and trustworthy: “Cadre deployment is part of the problem.”
The ACDP, FF Plus, IFP and ActionSA will all consider joining coalitions after November. Mashaba will even work with the DA “if they are prepared to work for the poor as well”, but he won’t work with the ANC. The IFP, said Hlengwa, had remained in the original coalition to date and would consider joining one in November, as long as it does not compromise the issues of the marginalised. The bottom line, he said, was “we want a government that works in Johannesburg”.
At the beginning of the webinar, attendees were asked how they felt about the local government elections. 10% were indifferent, 47% were excited and 43% didn’t know who they intended voting for and wanted to find out more. By the end, 44% had made up their minds about who they were voting for, 41% were still undecided, but those determined that no one deserved their vote had risen by five percentage points from the 10% who had been indifferent when the debate began.
Look out for the SAJBD’s next Great Debates on Cape Town livestreamed on Facebook tomorrow (Sunday) evening.