ZUMA HEADS FIGHTBACK IN EASTERN CAPE: BUSINESS DAY

President Jacob Zuma visits voters in Port Elizabeth and Graaff-Reinet where the ANC fears losing to the DA

PORT ELIZABETH — The African National Congress (ANC) mounted a desperate campaign at the weekend to try to ward off a coup by opposition parties it fears could join forces to wrestle control of crucial Eastern Cape municipalities, including the Nelson Mandela metro in Port Elizabeth.

President Jacob Zuma visited potential voters in Port Elizabeth and Graaff-Reinet, where the party fears losing to the Democratic Alliance (DA) and opposition coalitions.

Losing control of Nelson Mandela metro, a city with a rich history associated with the ANC, would add to Mr Zuma’s woes as he nears the end of his first term . ANC elections will be held in December next year, where a poor showing will reflect badly on Mr Zuma’s leadership.

In both towns, the ANC garnered just half the votes in the 2009 national elections. This has spurred the DA, which believes a lower turnout of ANC voters could sway things in its favour in Port Elizabeth and other Eastern Cape municipalities.

Eastern Cape ANC leaders in Port Elizabeth said Mr Zuma’s visit was necessitated by the threat posed by the DA. Mr Zuma told a rally in Graaff-Reinet on Saturday that the ANC needed hegemony at local government level — and then to regain its two-thirds majority to be able to govern without the “interruption of opposition parties”.

The ANC dropped from the 69% majority it got in the 2004 general election and obtained 65% in 2009, below the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution.

Mr Zuma also told the rally that voting for the opposition was a waste of time, and opposition votes were discarded. “You don’t want your vote to be useless,” he told a cheering crowd. This startling statement may be seen as a desperate ploy to hang on to voters increasingly unhappy with the pace of ANC delivery.

Camdeboo (Graaff-Reinet) mayor Daantjie Japhta said yesterday that there was a “real threat” coming from the DA’s stated intention to win the municipality and others in the district, “But we will fight till the end,” he said.

The DA has also put up a strong challenge for the municipalities that border Port Elizabeth. The district covers the western part of the province, from the Western Cape border to Grahamstown, and includes towns in the Little Karoo.

DA leader in the Eastern Cape legislature Bobby Stevenson said yesterday that deposing the ANC in Nelson Mandela metro was possible. This would need a differentiated turnout — where there would be a higher turnout of DA supporters accompanied by a lower turnout among the people who previously voted for the ANC. The DA would also need to persuade traditional ANC voters to vote for it, he said.

The Congress of the People (COPE ), which has been torn apart by a bitter feud between its national leaders, would need to play its part. The DA would need to combine its votes with whatever COPE received in order to be a ruling party.

Like its campaign for the City of Johannesburg, the DA is selling its successes in Cape Town in its Port Elizabeth campaign. Mr Stevenson said the DA could change the administration of Port Elizabeth, which is in dire financial straits. The city has not recovered from its contribution to 2010 Soccer World Cup infrastructure, including the building of a stadium , and maintaining the stadium continues to drain the municipality’s funds .

ANC leaders in Port Elizabeth fear that internal fights among regional leaders will discourage people who voted for the ANC in the past. Competition for councillor posts has created divisions among the party’s members.

mkokelis@bdfm.co.za