Guest Writer: Dr Sithembile Mbete
We are less than a month away from what, I think, will be South Africa’s most fascinating election since 1994. The campaign for the 2021 local government elections is in full swing with the three biggest parties having launched their campaign manifestos. Notably, there are also hundreds of smaller parties and independent candidates campaigning on the issues affecting their communities and municipalities.
On 29 September the IEC released its list of candidates contesting in the election, including the largest number of independents than ever before. There are over 60000 people standing for election, either in wards or on proportional representation (PR) party lists. Ward councillors can either contest as independent candidates or as representatives of a political party. Since the first local government election in 2000, the majority of ward candidates have come from political parties. For example in 2016, there were 855 independents contesting, compared to 36120 party candidates.
This year, there are 1471 independents contesting in all nine provinces. Independent candidates must be nominated by someone and endorsed by at least 50 registered voters in their ward. Independents register as individuals without a party or other organisation backing them.
KwaZulu-Natal has the highest number of independents with 316. Gauteng has 158 independents contesting in wards in every municipality in the province. Unsurprisingly, the metros have the highest number of independent candidates – 36 in Ekhurhuleni, 41 in Johannesburg and 36 in Tshwane. Emfuleni local municipality has 18 independent candidates contesting in 15 wards.
Independent candidates are often community activists who promise to provide better service delivery without political interference or party faction fighting. Other independents are party activists who have fallen out with their political parties and decide to run for election on their own. The risk with these independents is that they will go back to supporting their former party’s interests in the Council if they are elected.
The increase in civic and social movements running in these elections points to the dissatisfaction with established party politics. Many of these like the New Horizon Movement in Emfuleni, consider themselves alliances of independent people, who are not tainted by the politics of the bigger parties. This is especially attractive in a municipality like Emfuleni that has been placed under administration because of corruption and maladministration.
It remains to be seen whether these smaller parties and independents will attract voters on voting day. They first must surmount the obstacle of campaigning with far fewer financial resources and media coverage than the bigger parties. One thing a voter can do is to find out who is contesting for election in their wards and contact them directly to get more information about them. Ward elections are the only time that you can vote directly for an individual and be able to hold them accountable for what is happening in your community.
Find out who is contesting in your ward here: Updated LGE2021 Candidate Lists – 5 Oct 2021