What will 2011 hold for local government in KZN?

And now for some politics. 2011 is going to be a big year for local government, what with the elections taking place in April (or thereabouts). Check out the piece I wrote for the Sunday Tribune on what the year might hold.

This will be an important year for local government. Matthew Savides looks at the developments in 2010 that could shape what will happen in KZN

Have no doubt, 2011 will be a year to look out for in local government. Within the first few months of the year, local government elections will have taken place, ward boundaries will have been changed – significantly in some cases – and about 80 municipalities across the country will have ceased to exist.

This will also be a crucial year for the IFP and Cope, both of which will be fighting for their political survival after a year that has seen them stumble and crawl from one crisis to another.

KZN-based political commentator Nhlanhla Mtaka, executive director of politics and research agency the Ingabadi Group, believes 2010 gave rise to a new type of voter, which will make this year’s local government election campaigns tough.

“What we have seen this year is the rise of the intelligent voter, the voter who knows exactly what they want and will express their unhappiness if they don’t get it. They won’t just vote for anyone, as we have seen in the past. It is now up to the political parties to tap into what the voters want, and win their votes,” he said.

“This is the perfect thing, this is what we want as a democracy.”

Mtaka also believes that 2011 will be make-or-break for several political parties and partnerships.

“Nationally, we will see whether the DA-ID relationship was a strategically sound one. Particularly in the Western Cape, they will want to make sure they consolidate their power. It will be interesting to see what influence Patricia de Lille has in the DA.

“At a national level, we will also see whether Cope can survive the storm – whether they will have a presence at local level after the elections,” he said.

However, 2011 would be particularly crucial for the IFP, Mtaka said.

“For the IFP, this year is do-or-die. (They are) in a crisis. They could go into the election as a wounded animal, with the in-fighting hanging over their heads, or you might see Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi going it alone with a new party. There are a number of scenarios.

The IFP is in a "crisis" and 2011 will be a do-or-die year for the embattled party

“Last year was the worst year for them – worse than during apartheid, or in the 1990s. Everyone in the past has tried  to destabilise the IFP and put them in trouble. The government tried, their political opponents tried. But they have done it to themselves this year, and they are doing it so perfectly,” Mtaka said.

In all of this, he added, it was the ANC that was likely to benefit, despite the shambles in Msunduzi and some of the other councils.

“The people who benefit from these fiascos – whether it’s the IFP or Cope’s problems – are the ANC. There will be no pressure on them in KZN during the election. If it continues going as it is now, the ANC will benefit hugely, because the only other party that is organised enough to challenge them is the DA, and they don’t have a strong presence in rural or informal areas,” he said.

While “service delivery protest” became key across much of South Africa in 2010 as disgruntled voters took to the streets to complain about little or no delivery of services, very few of these took place in KZN. But this is exactly the sort of “new type of voter” that is being talked about.

And for the KZN Local Government and Traditional Affairs Department it is motivation to get things right at municipal level.

Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube

Late last year the MEC and  department promised to step up action to rectify problem areas like the long-term  suspension with pay of municipal managers and other senior  staffers and the overall financial health of councils, not just those already under administration because of mismanagement.

One of them, the Msunduzi Municipality, was placed under administration in March, after being described as an embarrassment to the ANC. The municipality – once touted as the country’s next metro – crumbled, with refuse piling up on the streets of the province’s capital city. Officials were fired and are currently facing criminal charges as administrator Johann Mettle tries to rectify the situation.

Local government MEC Nomusa Dube said the situation was improving, and vowed legal action would continue against all those found be to involved in fraudulent or corrupt activities.

It remains to be seen if 2011 will be the year of delivered promises.

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