In a newsletter published by his foundation on Friday, Mbeki said having synchronised elections would mean local government would continue to be neglected and that crises in most municipalities across the country would persist, if not worsen.
“This would entrench processes according to which practically, local government would not be given the special focus it needs. Necessarily this would ‘legalise’ the counter-productive neglect which the ANC itself has visited on local government for two decades,” Mbeki said.
The former president wrote at length about the challenges in local government across the country, noting that the ANC had neglected the local government since 1994.
“As the country must move away from this position, the ANC NEC (national executive committee) must review the decision it has taken to ‘synchronise’ the elections,” Mbeki wrote.
This comes after the NEC agreed with an EFF call for synchronised elections – a decision that would need both parties to work together to amend the Constitution.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule previously noted that having synchronised elections would save costs and time and would ensure seamless governance.
Magashule told Newzroom Africa in an interview that while concerns were raised in the NEC, the predominant view was for elections to happen all at once.
Mbeki said this would mean less emphasis would be placed on local government and it would directly impact people’s lives.
“For one thing, this would mean that the ANC and, of course, all other parties contesting the elections, would present to the electorate one election manifesto. It is obvious that in this situation, national issues would take precedence, effectively marginalising matters which relate specifically to local government, contrary to the requirement to respect the particular role for this sphere of government as visualised in Ready to Government,” he said.
Reflecting on Magashule’s comments, Mbeki said it was obvious that “the core of the winning argument about an eminently political matter was administrative rather than political!”
He said the ANC top brass did not reflect on the ANC’s internal policy documents about the strategic role of local government.
He added that there was a “strange understanding” of what was needed to achieve seamless governance. The former president argued that the ANC had failed its own objectives for local government.
“Instead of the vibrant system of local government which would be characterised and driven by popular participation, genuinely serving the interests of the people and making a decisive contribution to the reconstruction and development of our country, we have an important sphere of government which in the majority of cases, has been and continues to be in crisis,” he said.
In bemoaning the crises in local government, Mbeki quoted a report by the Auditor-General that read: “There is not much to go around, yet the right hands are not at the till…”
That report noted that only 20 out of the 278 metropolitan, district and local municipalities in the country received clean audits in the past financial year.
“Of course, we all know the ‘devastating consequences’ the Auditor-General wrote about. They have been communicated for many years now by the persisting ‘service delivery’ protests!” Mbeki said.
“When we say that a post-Covid-19 South Africa must be radically different from what it was before the arrival of the coronavirus on our shores, this must also mean that the sphere of government closest to the people, local government, must also be radically different from what it has been for two decades.”