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Southern Africa Report Archive

David Pottie reports on Kwazulu-Natal where, for various bad reasons, the local elections did not take place. Indeed, in that province the continuing escalation of violence suggests that, for many South Africans, southern Africa's tragedy is now.

vol 11 no 2

South Africa: The local elections: II - but not in KwaZulu Natal (KZN)
David Pottie

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 11, No 2, January 1996
Page 21
"South Africa"



David Pottie is a long time member of the SAR editorial working group currently based in Durban.

Most communities in South Africa went to the polls to vote in the first democratic local elections on November 1 (see preceding article). But not in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) where we didn't even get a public holiday.

Instead, more than 3,000 Cosatu, ANC/SACP supporters and others marched on Durban City Hall to protest against the non-elections and called for an end to violence in the province. In a memorandum to Mandela, the ANC provincial secretary said, "We blame the IFP for the failure to hold local government elections in KZN. The people of this province intended to vote on this day, and the fact that they have not is reprehensible. We demand democracy and delivery of services to communities now."

Moreover, however accurate such statements may be, the sad fact is that matters are rarely left at the level of mere words in KZN. For the "debate" is also punctuated - even defined - by automatic gunfire, by house burnings and by largely ineffectual governance at the provincial level. In 14 months, the KwaZulu-Natal legislature has approved only nine laws, including two Acts relating to horse racing. The remainder of the 1995 session only had four items. It's plain to see that politicians in KZN must spend much of their time engaged in other activities.

In the meantime, the national government has dedicated some R400 million (including R61 million to encourage voters to register) to the local government elections. These elections mark the establishment of single municipalities, integrated staff and line functions, the demarcation of new electoral wards, and new budgets. But the interim structures, established in June 1995 throughout KZN, will have to live on a little, and maybe a lot, longer than anticipated.

Without local elections rates go uncollected in many regions of the province, RDP funds are withheld from infrastructure projects and people remain cut-off from the level of government that is supposed to represent their daily interests. According to Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary-general of the ANC, the campaign was "about the delivery of affordable services and the democratic participation of people in decision-making at the local level." Three main interrelated reasons can be cited for the delay in local elections to the new target date of March 31, 1996: political/criminal violence, local demarcation disputes and disagreement over the provincial constitution. Taken together, these factors are the most important among the range of forces that have delayed not only the elections, but have further jeopardized the prospects of getting KZN onto the road to development promised by the April 1994 elections.

Crime and punishment

In the minds of most observers, violence and KZN have become synonymous. The crime figures are a daily staple of local news in KZN. Car hijackings, theft, rape, murder (over 70 members of the South African Police were killed in KZN during the first 9 months of 1995, and police say at least 2,500 people were killed in the first six months of this year) and the ANC's repeal of the death penalty have combined to make getting tough on crime the main platform of both the National Party and the Democratic Party. Judging by letters to the editors of both black and white newspapers crime is a top priority of most voters as well. Violence is cited as an obstacle to investor confidence, rising insurance premiums, falling property values and the slow pace of development in the province. Less often mentioned, but also of crucial importance, is the impact of other kinds of violence - often much more politically rooted - in the former townships: violence which sees houses burned, children kept away from school and families forced to keep on the move.

Yet speaking at a recent Institute for Multiparty Democracy Forum on the impact of violence on democracy, IFP MP and leader of the IFP Women's brigade, Faith Gasa, tried to sidestep the issue of violence, opting instead for the platitudinous advice that "We need to find each other," and, speaking to the women in the audience (many of them clearly IFP supporters bussed in for the occasion), "Women must build, we must not destroy." Such calls for solidarity seemed vague and imprecise when juxtaposed to the hard reality of "hit squad" charges currently being laid against the KZN public works and social welfare ministers and national IFP MP Themba Khoza, and other charges, linked in part to their erstwhile "dirty work" in KwaZulu, laid against former defence minister Magnus Malan and 10 former security officers.

Still, even if the IFP has been at the root of continued violence in KZN, it is perhaps not so easy to define all politically-related violence in KZN as IFP-led. As University of Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas notes, the ANC and the IFP both contribute to the violence that straddles political and criminal motives. Each of them share similar objectives: securing territorial control prior to elections and attempting to win political concessions at the negotiating table. Both IFP Self Protection Units (SPUs) and ANC Self-Defence Units (SDUs) have effectively created no-go areas for security forces. Although the identity of the attackers remains unknown, a November ambush of a SANDF patrol in Maphumulo by between 60 and 80 men armed with automatic weapons gives some indication of the level of antagonism that exists in the province. Yet the fact is that most voters simply want a stop to such violence, and calls for more police, greater powers of detention and the return of the death penalty receive a responsive audience in embattled KZN.

As regards the prospect of solving things by merely putting more police on the streets, de Haas charges that the criminal justice system itself is bankrupt - police still beat witnesses in criminal cases, for example, and bail conditions enable multiple murder suspects to go free. Yet any possible resolution of the crime problem points to the need for political solutions, in this case a political initiative that could underwrite substantive reform of the justice system. And political solutions are not easy to come by in KZN.

Local demarcation and traditional leaders

The ANC sticks to its core position: that much of the violence in KZN is itself deeply rooted politically - in the activities of the IFP. It also argues that political violence is unlikely to be halted unless effective local government and a resolution of the constitutional impasse at the provincial level create a new political dispensation in KZN. But even laying the administrative groundwork to enable local elections to take place has become the centre of more dispute among all the political parties. Durban's demarcation process, like such processes in other provinces, was governed by the guidelines of the Local Government Transition Act. Of course, the disputes that arose over the new local authority boundaries, their breakdown into wards, and the allocation of eligible voters amongst them, did not distinguish KZN's experience from that of other provinces. And yet the demarcation process has dragged on longer here than anywhere else in the country, thereby possibly placing even the new March deadline for province-wide elections quite out of reach.

At the centre of the demarcation dispute is the role of traditional leaders and their control over land. Of importance here is the status of the Ingonyama Trust Lands, an area that comprises all of the former KwaZulu homelands (93% of land in KZN, including state land), now held in a trust in the name of King Goodwill Zwelithini by virtue of last minute sleight of hand legislation, courtesy of F.W. de Klerk in the dying days prior to last April's elections. This land is currently under the control of tribal chiefs, who are not elected representatives of the population. The status of the chiefs, and the land they control, has not been resolved as the ANC and the IFP continue to offer proposals and counter-proposals for the degree to which the chiefs can be included in local government structures. (The ANC professes its willingness, for example, to include tribal chiefs in the transitional local councils - but only as ex-officio members. The IFP wants 50% of all rural structures to be comprised of chiefs and 50% to be elected.)

Equally fraught is the case of the Durban Transitional Metropolitan Council (the interim structure provided for by the Local Government Transition Act). This Council's very establishment was delayed after an IFP-ANC dispute over the projected inclusion of 14 surrounding tribal areas. This was argued for on the grounds that Durban is the economic base for those areas, the ANC thus seeking a broader definition of the metropolitan region and advocating the inclusion of tribal areas that clearly straddled urban areas. In the end, the ANC compromised, agreeing to include only five of the areas.

Nor was this the end of the story. The Demarcation Board's eventual recommendations on the outer and inner boundaries of metropolitan Durban sought to accommodate these differing views of local government but ran into opposition from the MEC for Local Government and Housing, Peter Miller. Miller and the IFP wanted all tribal areas to be excluded from the metro boundaries. In the end, a Special Electoral Court sat in Durban on November 27-30 to resolve the dispute between Miller and the Demarcation Board's recommendations. The court ruled that tribal areas would NOT be included in the outer boundary of metropolitan Durban on the basis that the tribal chiefs had been "improperly consulted." This ruling is a definite setback for the ANC's goal of securing uniform local government elections throughout KZN. Residents of the excluded areas will now be served by the proposed Regional Councils, although these structures themselves remain in dispute.

It's a constitutional thing

In the end, then, what links these various activities is the control of land and the issue of how the people on that land are to be represented. And it is by this route that disputes over local authority demarcation bubble up, inevitably, to the provincial level. Yet the fact is that they appear even less likely to be resolved easily at that level - for it is precisely there that the IFP and the ANC are now engaged in a high stakes politics, a politics that threatens to unravel even many aspects of the national compromise that allowed the 1994 elections to occur. The IFP's last minute participation in those national elections and its April 1995 walkout from the constitutional assembly have ensured that the province itself has become the chief focus of political attention here, and it is to such politics - and the jockeying for position of provincial politicians - that local electoral contests are now being held hostage. This often means, from the IFP, merely a strategy of non-compliance and withdrawal: for example, some commentators have argued that the IFP rejected the Demarcation Board's proposals precisely because they don't want to see a strong metropolitan government emerge as a counterweight to the IFP's provincial power!

In addition, the IFP is now seeking to re-enact the Ingonyama Trust Act as a provincial act - even as National Land Affairs minister, Derek Hanekom plans to amend the original act, but with the aim of excising all townships and state land from the trust. Buthelezi's motive: a call to "seize once and for all the exclusive competence of our kingdom on matters which relate to land."

And finally the IFP's recent constitutional proposals - although these change almost every week - infringe upon all manners of national competencies, calling for provincial control of territorial waters, for example, while placing the judiciary under the premier's control and proposing a provincial constitutional court. Although the IFP recently sacked its own moderate chairperson (one more sign of a growing rift between moderates and hardliners within the organization) of the provincial constitutional committee and redrafted the composition of the committee to ensure IFP dominance, they will still require a two-thirds majority in the provincial legislature to pass their constitution (which, in any case would be subjected to numerous challenges in the national constitutional court). The IFP therefore requires the support of all of the smaller parties in KZN - the National Party, the Democratic Party, the PAC, African Christian Democratic Party and the Minority Front. If it fails, it promises to call a provincial elections in the hopes of securing its own two-thirds majority at the polls.

Local government essential for development

And yet, whatever their political leanings, what is uppermost in the minds of many new voters is the belief that the local authorities are meant to be the point of delivery for much of the RDP. Thus, the Sunday Times recently echoed this popular conception of local government when it wrote that "without effective local government, it is difficult to see how the delivery of bulk infrastructure - water, sewerage and roads - can take place."

Moreover, such a perception is an accurate one, with this in turn meaning that, in KZN, stakeholders in every sphere of developmental activity, ranging from interim government councillors to bureaucrats to civics to private developers, are currently operating under conditions of great uncertainty. Clearly, a successful holding of the local elections is a crucial precondition to building a climate of development.

And yet the people of KZN can probably not expect these elections to take place any time soon. As the preceding discussion indicates, the really divisive issues of local politics - those that are crucial in holding up the elections, for example - are not merely local ones: they overlap decisively with provincial and national issues. The IFP's poor showing in local elections elsewhere in the country only reinforces their desire to hold on in KZN and at the moment, holding on in KZN means securing the maximum degree of political power at the provincial level itself. Thus, as the IFP has pulled out of most national coordinating structures as it presses for more and more concessions to provincial competence.

To be sure, the ANC claims to be ready for any fresh provincial election that might be forthcoming, professing itself confident that it can secure a majority of its own. In the meantime, though, it appears that politics as usual will rule the day in KZN. Unfortunately "politics as usual" in KZN is also the politics of the gun and the spear. The prospects of any more satisfactory kind of political solution appear to be remote in the near future.

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