Nquthu, a sleepy town in Umzinyathi District Municipality, in KwaZulu-Natal, may be off the beaten track and not on your radar. But today’s local elections may give us a glimpse of the future of South Africa’s electoral dynamics.
The local council, situated 24km southwest of Barklieside and 53km east of Dundee, and deriving its name from ingqutu (‘flat-topped vessel’), describing a nearby hill, had to be dissolved by the provincial cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube in February.
This was after warring parties in the municipality failed to elect office bearers to constitute council since the outcome of August 3 local government election in 2016.
The relatively small municipality has 35 seats in its council. The inability to constitute council, a requirement in law after local election results are announced, was caused by cracks that occurred between the various alliances jostling for power.
Last year’s local elections results, predicted by most political analysts, appeared to have caught the ruling party off-guard, as it shed voters even in some of its traditional rural strongholds.
In this municipality, as the Independent Newspaper (IOL) reported at the time, the (IFP) formed a “loose” alliance with the DA and the EFF. This resulted in a one-seat majority over their rival alliance.
The rival alliance consisted of the ANC and other smaller parties. The IFP-lead alliance held 18 seats, while the ANC alliance obtained 17.
The council failed, after several attempts, to hold elections for the mayor, speaker, chief whip and MMCs due to what DA and IFP termed as “disruptions of council sittings by the ANC”. The ANC seemed to have never refuted this claim.
The hung council descended into a governance crisis when it could not appoint a municipal manager. This could not be done without first finalising the executive authority positions in the council.
What also compounded this situation was breakdown in service delivery as residents had no one to hold accountable for this dereliction of duty for almost 10 months.
Another difficulty, as The Sowetan outlined, was the repercussion the dysfunctional council was creating for the Umzinyathi municipality.
The district could not convene council meetings without Nquthu. In terms of local government legislation, all four local council have to elect officials before a district council is constituted.
The other three local municipalities in the councils are Msinga in Tugela Ferry and eNdumeni in Dundee (IFP-controlled) and uMvoti in Greytown (ANC-controlled).
This is when the provincial cooperative governance department placed the municipality under administration, and later the MEC used section 139 (1)(c) of the constitution to dissolve the council.
81 000 voters are today expected to unhinge their municipality. Provincial electoral officer Mawethu Mosery told the media this morning he received a “security breifing” that assured him all would be peaceful and orderly.
But The Sowetan reported that DA candidate Zanele Masondo “was allegedly attacked by a rival political supporter in her shop”, while Sphamandla Ngobese‚ an ANC activist, was killed. The Hawks also arrested IFP and EFF candidates “after allegations of a plot to assassinate some ANC councillors”.
Despite this, the rural town experienced an uncharacteristically robust campaigning generally associated with metro councils.
Political bigwigs were sent to woo voters. The ANC dispatched Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete Gwede Mantashe‚ Zweli Mkhize, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and other NEC members.
The opposition responded with their big guns too.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Mmusi Maimane canvassed in the area, while Juliu Malema, with Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in tow, pleaded with local voters to vote for whoever they wished for as long as “it is not the corrupt ANC”.