WHILE there may yet be some 16 months before the 2016 local government election, next year will see political parties gearing up for the poll and starting what is potentially the most divisive aspect of the process – the selection of ward candidates (60 in Nelson Mandela Bay) and those who will be on the proportional representation (PR) list.
Essentially, the selection process provides a test of the degree of unity within a party and the extent to which it is a riven by factionalism.
The first step in the process of preparing for the election as far as the ANC is concerned will be the return of party president Jacob Zuma to the Bay next month, along with other national and provincial leaders, something he undertook to do when he was in the metro earlier this month.
Re-establishing unity, cohesion and discipline within the party in the region is a critical first step as the ANC strives to retain control of Nelson Mandela Bay and the ANC hierarchy will no doubt have devoted considerable time and effort in seeking the best manner in which to achieve this.
Whether that involves disbanding the regional executive committee and appointing an interim task team or some other initiative remains to be seen.
Certainly, Zuma’s visit and any decisions that are announced with regard to future direction will be the focus of attention next month.
As time is not exactly on the party’s side, one suspects that Zuma will return early in the month, perhaps close to the time of the annual January 8 statement, to be delivered in Cape Town on January 10.
Given that the divisions within the party have been evident for some years, the ANC may yet regret the fact that it has allowed this unhealthy situation to exist for so long.
As part of its early preparations, the DA, in turn, has issued an invitation on its website to people wishing to become candidates in the 2016 poll who will then join others in the internal selection process. This is something it has done before all elections recently.
Political parties will also be identifying their mayoral candidates over the coming months and providing some indication of who might serve on the mayoral committee – the team they feel is best equipped to preside over the fortunes of the Bay for the five years from 2016.
That will be another matter Zuma addresses as, while it is acknowledged that mayor Ben Fihla has brought a measure of stability since his deployment, privately he is believed to have expressed his desire to retire.
The major area of focus, however, may well be on possible coalitions post-elections as the past three elections – national and provincial in 2009 and this year and municipal in 2011 – indicate that it is unlikely that any party will win Nelson Mandela Bay outright.
The results of the last three elections show that the ANC won 50.14% of the vote in 2009, 51.91% in 2011 and 49.17% earlier this year.
Over the same period, the DA took 29.60% (this includes the votes of the Independent Democrats, the party with which it later merged), 40.13% and 40.16% respectively.
The 51.91% won by the ANC in 2011 perhaps needs to be seen within the context of voting in the this year’s poll when the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 4.35% of the vote, ballots that almost certainly came from the ANC. Coalition talk has already been sparked by the statement of DA provincial leader Athol Trollip that he would be prepared to enter into a coalition with the United Front, which is backed by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) on the basis of a commitment to good governance.
The United Front earlier this month held a Peoples’ Assembly at which a 25-member national working committee was put in place to chart the way forward.
Included in the 25 were former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Zanoxolo Wayile as well as Ronnie Kasrils, who has held a number of portfolios in various ANC administrations.
Wayile will very likely be the face of the United Front in the metro and will work with Trollip, as DA provincial leader, should the possibility of a coalition post-2016 be pursued.
Even the possibility of such a coalition will generate considerable interest over the next few months, particularly as it will bring together two parties, one of which has proven support at the polls and the other which, at the very least, will draw considerable support from Numsa members in the automotive industry.
In the immediate future, however, the focus will almost exclusively be on the ANC and specifically the return of Zuma and the way the party plans to ensure that it does not lose control of the Bay in 2016.
This would be a massive blow, considering that it is the heartland of the party and bears the name of one of its most revered leaders.