The ANC has decisively won the March 1 local government elections. Celebrations have appropriately taken place in many parts of our country. Now the party is over and it is time to knuckle down to work to build better local government for our people, especiallyfor the workers and the poor.

It is therefore important that as we outline the key tasks and challenges for the next five years of local government, we seek to develop a common ANC and alliance understanding of the key perspectives underlying what we have referred to as developmental local government.

Before attempting to advance some of the SACP’s perspectives on developmental local government it is important to briefly deal with our analysis of the performance of the ANC and some of the other political parties in the elections.

Why has the ANC performed even better?

A number of commentators (mainly our detractors) have attempted to dismiss the ANC electoral victory as either a reflection of the continuation of racially based voting patterns in our country or loyalty to its liberation movement credentials or abuse of its control of government for party political purposes or a combination of all of these.

Let us briefly give some of the statistics to get a picture of the electoral performance of the ANC and other political parties. According to statistics in ANC Today (Vol 6 No. 9, 10 March 2006) nearly 1.3 million people more people voted for the ANC in 2006 compared to the 2000 local government elections. Whilst the Democratic Alliance (DA) lost a total of 330 000 votes nationally. ANC Today further points out that the largest absolute decline in DA support were in the large metropolitan areas, with a whopping loss in the Cape Town metro, where in the 2000 elections the DA had received about 52% of the vote, and in 2006 it wentdown to about 42%. Interestingly the DA is gloating about its electoral achievements in the Cape Metro as if it has actually not suffered a heavy decline!

The next largest political party in South Africa, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also continues to haemorrhage, including in its previous strongholds in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). For instance in KZN the IFP controlled 33 local councils in 2000, and has lost 10 of those in the 2006 elections and it now controls only 23.

The likes of Trevor Ngwane and their organisations and allies have also lost badly in this election, not even winning a single ward, and the call for a boycott by the organisation ‘Abahlali baseMjondolo’ (‘Shack Dwellers’), has not had any impact on the elections. It is ironic that some of these ‘leftist’ individuals and formations have travelled the length and breadth of the globe projecting themselves as the true representatives of South Africa’s workers and the poor, yet they have been roundly rejected by the same workers and the poor in a free and fair election. This should also be an instructive lesson to publications like ‘The Green Left Weekly’ and the much respected ‘Monthly Review’ should tread with caution in their projection of who represents the left in South Africa. The centre of the left in South Africa is still in the Tripartite Alliance! 

jost analysis in the media including by many much-vaunted commentators is either hopelessly out of touch with the realities in our country, or is simply refusing to accept that the ANC still remains the hope for the overwhelming majority of our people. Take for instance Rhoda Kadalie, writing in the Business Day newspaper of 9 March 2006, she unashamedly proclaims that “The ANC’s overwhelming victory in the local government election is a blow to our fragile democracy. Our one-party-dominant state is more entrenched…. The ANC won the elections only partly for its popularity. Its manipulation of pre-election conditions is the real reason for its success”. Yet these elections were declared by the IEC and all other local and international observers as free and fair. 

So why is an ANC victory in a free and fair election a blow to our democracy? Is it a blow to our democracy because the Democratic Alliance did not win the election and that it in fact lost too many votes compared to the last election? Or is it because for our democracy to be strong we need any other party to win other than the ANC? Kadalie also tries to resuscitate the right wing paradigm of a few years ago, projecting our democracy as some kind of ‘one party state of a special type’ simply because the people have freely voted for the ANC overwhelmingly. 

In her rather feeble attempts she throws out anecdotal evidence of the ANC dishing out food parcels to the poor on the eve of the elections, and the claimed defacing of DA posters in Cape Town. This is the kind of trash that a number of media commentators normally throw around to arouse emotions without any evidence towards a systematic abuse of power or disruptions of elections by the ANC. Kadalie then continues, in a cynical and opportunistic manner, to throw up the very serious challenges facing our country as proof of ANC incompetence, describing this as a reflection of the ANC’s ‘miserable’ record.

But what I find racially distasteful is Kadalie’s assertion that our electorate “is an electorate of low expectations, typical of post-colonial African societies that keep their corrupt governments in power in the hope that they might come to their senses after the transition period”. This reminds me of the apartheid regime’s infamous retort that ‘we only have to look at the north of our borders (at black-ruled governments) to see why we should not allow the ANC to take over the country’. One would have thought that no matter how much Kadalie feels that an ANC victory is ‘a blow to our fragile democracy’, she would realise how offensive these views are. Kadalie, and many other commentators write like this because in the run up to elections they were hoping for major advances for the DA and heavy losses for the ANC, and they were disappointed.

Kadalie betrays a complete lack of trust in the intelligence of the majority of South Africans (‘an electorate of low expectations’). Views like this display elitist arrogance by many of those who purport to be champions of ‘human rights’, whilst lacking basic respect for intelligent choices made by the very same ordinary people they claim to be speaking for.

The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of our people vote for the ANC both for what it has done in the past (leading the national liberation movement to defeat the apartheid regime) and what it has done, and continues to do, in government. The ANC-led government has literally led a programme to electrify millions of households, provided millions of houses, and connected millions to clean drinking water, built clinics that have benefited millions, equalised and increased social grants to the poor of our country, and consistently defended and advanced the democratic rights of all South Africans. There are indeed still many problems and challenges facing our country, but real achievements have been made. Perhaps to the elites of our country many of these things have been taken for granted, but they have not been enjoyed by millions of South Africans prior to 1994. These are the reasons why the ANC is being returned with an even bigger majority in 2006.

As the ANC itself has correctly said, victory should not be taken for granted as there are still many problems and challenges. To note the massive progress that has been made, is not to suggest that the ANC has not made mistakes, or that it has not sometimes taken too cautious a route towards transformation in some instances, as we will show below.

Some perspectives on developmental local government

As we pointed out in earlier editions of this online publication, our dominant perspectives of the role of local government thus far have tended to emphasise local government in terms of ‘delivery of (basic) services’ to local communities. Whilst this is an important role of local government, limiting our perspectives mainly around ‘delivery’ has a number of shortcomings:

• It tends to treat communities, or rather individualised households, primarily as recipient consumer-clients, rather than active and collective participants in local development, strengthening the developmental and class agenda of democratic local government;

• In this context Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) tend to be seen as adjuncts to the primary role of local government, instead of being the primary task of local government

• The tendency to focus on ‘delivery’ as the primary role of local government doesn’t adequately factor in the sustainability of that delivery; and sustainability then tends to be reduced to ‘cost recovery’ and payment for services, thus placing a huge burden on poor households. Sustainability of ‘delivery’ should principally derive from sustainable local growth and development strategies (including investment in infrastructure, developmental procurement policies, integration of land and agrarian transformation strategies in the locality, etc)

Our perspectives and strategies for developmental local government should principally derive from our 11th Congress Programme, supplemented by the resolutions of the NGC. In fact our 2006 PoA is directly informed by our 11th Congress Programme which amongst other things states that:

“Our approach to local economic development is guided by the strategic objectives of the NDR (which seeks to address the class, national and gender contradictions in their relationship) and, in particular, our commitment to a growth and development strategy that is both people-centred and people-driven. It is precisely at the local level that it is often jost possible to develop a people-centred and people-driven approach. Our neo-liberal strategic opponents like to limit discussion of economic policy options to an elitist and technocratic domain that is often disempowering of our political formations, not to mention our mass base. Local economic development is, potentially, one terrain on which we can seek to mobilise popular participation.”

Our 11th Congress Programme also underlines the importance of approaching this task from within the framework of an overarching growth and development strategy, thus emphasizing that:

“The centre of gravity of our broad socio-economic transformation must be implemented at the local level…. We seek to achieve this by contributing a transformative content to the development and implementation of Integrated Development Plans (IDPs)….”

In attaining the above, it is also important for the SACP to take forward the key resolutions of the ANC NGC on local economic development. The NGC consolidated report on the strategic context of the NDR and state of the organisation states that:

“The black working class and the rural masses remain the primary motive forces of the NDR, and our organisation and our programmes must be measured against this reality. The National Democratic Revolution and the ANC must remain biased towards these primary motive forces and should therefore ensure that social and economic programmes continue to be targeted at these forces.”

This is an important point of departure for developmental local government, its (class) character and orientation. The NGC also took some important resolutions on local economic development, perhaps the jost significant being that:

“ANC branches should actively mobilise communities to participate in the public hearings on municipal integrated development plans and budgets.”

In line with our 2006 PoA to engage and participate effectively in the branches of the ANC, it is important that the SACP plays an active role in taking forward the totality of the ANC NGC resolutions.

Our perspectives and programmes for developmental local government should, however, depart from our overarching developmental strategy. Since 1996 the government has adopted a somewhat bifurcated development strategy. With regards to the overall and mainstream capitalist economy, government’s economic policy has prioritised restoration of capitalist profitability as a basis for growing and developing our economy. This path has clearly failed to benefit the working class, it has seen the intensification of the exploitation of labour and benefited the capitalist class.

With regards to the poverty facing the overwhelming majority of our people, government, as pointed out above, has embarked on what can be called a ‘welfarist model’ of service delivery. This path has indeed gone a long way in addressing some of the worst poverty facing our people and indeed changed aspects of the lives of millions of our people for the better.

This bifurcated strategy has in practice tended to separate interventions in the mainstream capitalist economy and those in the poor sections of our population. It has therefore not been a transformational strategy but rather an ameliorative strategy, leaving the capitalist sector intact. It is for this reason that the characterisation of our economy into ‘first’ and ‘second’ economies is both a reflection of government’s strategy thus far, albeit with prospects for more radical interventions.

It is also for the above reasons that the SACP has argued that the latest government economic intervention, ASGI-SA, is a necessary but not sufficient intervention to transform the current accumulation regime in our country. A priority is the development of an overarching developmental strategy that is able to articulate with sectoral growth and development strategies as well as local growth and development strategies.

Whilst we acknowledge work done by government in improving inter-governmental relations, in the absence of an overarching industrial and development strategy, local economic development will always operate in a vacuum. Developmental local government needs to be informed, in an integrated manner, by both national developmental priorities and local development imperatives. The proposed local government growth and development summits are thus an important arena that requires special attention not only by local government but also by national government.

This integrated approach to developmental local government also requires much more serious attention to be paid to the IDPs. IDPs should ideally act as the local point of integration of all national, provincial and local government developmental programmes. IDPs should thus be seen as both local development programmes, but at the same time simultaneously be part of our overall national development effort. It is these perspectives and programmatic approaches that have been weak thus far in our effort to build developmental local government.

A key challenge for developmental local government is the repositioning of the working class to be the principal driver in this sphere of government. To be self-critical the working class and its formations have directed a lot of mobilisational energies and engaged in social dialogue at national level around our national growth and development strategies, but they have not paid similar attention to local growth and development strategies. As a result the question of linkages between national and local development strategies has been neglected. It is to these issues that the working class should increasingly pay attention and seek to harness its local strengths towards driving the local development effort.