The 2016 Local Government Elections

The 3 August local government elections come against the background of the worst crisis the ruling capitalist class has faced since the ANC came to power. On the one hand, the crisis in capitalist rule is reflected on the political front in the intensification of the struggle for control of the ANC and a realignment of the forces making up the different ANC factions. On the other hand, the crisis is reflected in the continuing decline in support for the ANC amongst the population in general. The openly corrupt presidency of Zuma has made it impossible to stop or even slow down this process (see the article Zuma & the ANC Must Fall).

The looming possibility that the ANC will be unable to form majority administrations in the key metros of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni causes fear amongst the strategists of capitalism. They are looking further down the road and see in the distance the loss of the ANC’s majority in parliament in 2019 and with it the weakening of its most important ally in the preservation of the post-apartheid capitalist order.

This crisis in the stability of capitalist rule is itself a reflection of the impasse of South African capitalism. On the economic front, growth is at its lowest since 1994. With the threat of a credit downgrade looming it is unlikely to recover for the foreseeable future. The economy, trapped in the quicksand of the world economic crisis, continues to sink and a new recession is likely. Poverty and inequality remain entrenched. Unemployment is going up not down, reaching a twelve year high of 8.9 million at the start of this year.

The crisis of capitalist rule is further reflected in the capitalist class’s lack of a convincing “Plan B” either on the economic or the political fronts. Even with the likely increase in votes for the DA and EFF on 3 August there is no credible replacement for the ANC that can both safeguard their system and simultaneously divert the anger and frustration of the masses into safe channels.


But the timing of the election cycle gives the capitalist class an opportunity to experiment at the local level with what, at this stage, looks like their only future option – the possibility of coalitions (two or more parties putting their seats together so that between them they have a majority).

Many pundits have started to warm to the idea of coalitions, pointing out that they are “normal” in the “mature democracies” of Europe. But coalitions have been forced upon the ruling class in these countries because the capitalists have been unable to create parties that can command the support of the majority of the electorate as in the past. This has particularly been the case as their traditional parties have lost mass support. Coalitions are not a sign of stability but of crisis. They have proved no more stable under the pressure of economic crises and the anger of the masses. But ultimately, the form of capitalist rule makes only secondary differences to the unfolding of the class struggle. For example, in Italy and Greece in recent years, the Eurozone economic crisis has led to one coalition government after another. An important consequence was to expose to the working class that they have no party of their own and in that sense coalitions further deepened the crisis of capitalist rule.

Publicly the ANC has stuck its head in the sand and refused to discuss coalitions, saying its only aim is winning outright majorities. But we can be certain that behind closed doors they are carefully looking at possible partners in the metros where they could fall below 50%. The Democratic Alliance has been more cautious and refused to answer whether or not they would enter coalitions, and if they did, with whom they would be willing to work. It is not the most likely scenario that the 2016 elections will result in any local ANC-DA coalitions. But in the future, if capitalism is seriously threatened by a mass movement of the working class, coalitions between these two parties on the basis of their shared support for the system are not ruled-out.

Covering all their bases, the strategists of the capitalist class are even prepared to contemplate what even a year ago would have been considered unthinkable, coalitions involving the EFF. Looking at the danger of the ANC, their main instrument of rule, being unable to continue commanding the votes of a majority by the 2019 election, or even suffering further splits, and the DA still unable to gain mass support amongst blacks, in desperation they have begun to make serious efforts to seduce the leadership of the EFF. But political courtship is one thing and marriage quite another. Any local coalitions emerging from these elections will allow the capitalist class to test out the role that the EFF leadership could play in the future to support capitalism when threatened by mass working class struggle.

The EFF and “Coalitions of a Special Type”

Unfortunately, the EFF leadership is falling into the coalition trap and putting forward an unprincipled and opportunistic policy of “coalitions of a special type”. Godrich Gardee, EFF secretary-general, has said that where the EFF is in a position to be ‘king-maker’ it will assist other parties to become an “absolute governing party”. This can only mean helping either the ANC or DA in to power to pursue anti-working class policies. Gardee continues: “By giving you our votes in the council to be a government in Tshwane, the condition is that you give us the votes to be a government in Johannesburg, and vice versa”.

There is not even a hint of an understanding from the EFF leadership that a revolutionary policy toward participation in the capitalist state must be based on strict independence from the capitalist parties. Further, elected positions must be linked to, and assist the building of, a mass movement in the workplaces, communities and on the campuses. The EFF leadership’s “coalitions of a special type” demonstrates that their aim is not to replace capitalism but simply to take over its management.

We call on EFF members to oppose this opportunism. A genuine revolutionary policy would do nothing to help stabilise the rule of the capitalist parties, let alone help them into power. We can already anticipate the cry, “but that is not practical politics!” But at this stage of the class struggle, refusal to help place capitalist parties in power would not mean a simplistic ‘non-cooperation’ policy. For example, where a new law is proposed, even by a capitalist party, that would improve the lives of workers, communities and young people, the law should be supported. But support must be on a case by case basis and not linked to any kind of ‘deal’ with the capitalist parties. To do so would mean the EFF taking political responsibility for capitalism and the attacks on the working class this requires.  On this principled, and we would argue ‘practical’ basis, reforms can be fought for without the need to trade principles. But even then, the key task remains the building of a mass movement outside of the capitalist state to support not just the struggle for reforms, but the replacement of capitalism with socialism.

EFF members should send a clear message to their leaders – no coalitions with capitalist parties, of a “special type” or otherwise!  A clear statement from the EFF refusing to do anything to support the formation of ANC-led or DA-led administrations would force the ANC, DA and other capitalist parties to either work together in coalitions and expose their shared big business agenda or to form minority administrations that would be more vulnerable to the pressure of a mass movement.

That the EFF leadership would rush head-long into an opportunistic policy is not a surprise. Since their formation, the capitalist class has been working to tame the leadership, unfortunately with success. On the fundamental questions of nationalisation, land and the privileges of office the EFF leadership has retreated. The continuing fiery rhetoric of Malema against “white monopoly capital” does not disprove this. Indeed, the capitalist class will turn a blind eye, effectively encouraging them to maintain that rhetoric, as an important reformist safety valve for the anger of the masses so as to act as barrier for any genuine anti-capitalist radicalisation. Leon Trotsky, in explaining the role of the reformist social democratic parties in Europe in the 1920s pointed out that if they “simply repeated everything said by the bourgeois parties, [they] would cease to be useful to the bourgeoisie. Upon secondary, intangible, or remote questions, the social democracy not only may but must play with all the colours of the rainbow, including bright red.”

Eastern Cape United Front

As we have warned previously, those hoping that the metalworkers’ union NUMSA would play a role in ensuring an alternative would be in place for this election have now been disappointed. However, the NUMSA initiated United Front’s (UF) Eastern Cape structure is reportedly standing candidates, with the main focus on Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB). Those communities and workers giving support to the campaign will see it as a step towards the building of a mass working class alternative and in that spirit it must be welcomed. A local NMB opinion poll showed that the United Front could poll up to 34%, demonstrating again the enormous support that would exist for a working class alternative.

However, the decision to stand in Eastern Cape appears to have by-passed the UF’s national structures which have so far distanced themselves from the campaign, which seems set to take place in ‘splendid isolation’ from the rest of the country. More worryingly, there is a danger that the UF is being used as a vehicle, either for the political ambitions of former ANC figures that left the ANC after losing factional battles, or for factional battles inside NUMSA itself linked to their upcoming congress. It remains to be seen on what programme the Eastern Cape UF will stand. All the ANC’s factions, current and former, were pro-capitalist and anti-working class when in office. If the Eastern Cape UF is serious about presenting a genuine alternative to the ANC, it will have to break with the pro-capitalist policies of all its factions and do nothing to help continue those factional wars outside the ANC.  WASP will support a vote for the Eastern Cape UF if it is clearly based on a working class socialist programme (see our draft socialist civic programme below).

This development underlines again the missed opportunity resulting from the passing of the “NUMSA moment” (see Has the “NUMSA moment” passed?). If the UF had developed over the two and a half years since NUMSA’s Special National Congress with an understanding of its role in assisting the creation of a socialist mass workers party, as WASP argued, it could have played an important role in linking up communities in an actual united front, preparing the ground for a wider electoral challenge in these elections. However, even now, it is not too late to use these elections to breath fresh life into that process. We encourage communities and workers supporting the Eastern Cape UF campaign to work to ensure that this electoral challenge lays foundations for the unification of working class struggle and a future socialist mass workers party.

Build the Movement

So, despite a possible new situation in some of the metros, important because of their decisive position in the life of the country and as centres of working class struggle, the vast majority of people will wake-up on 4 August with the same ANC-run or DA-run administrations that they had before. For the working class, the dominant feature of the 2016 local government elections will be the absence of a mass socialist alternative. In the 2014 national and provincial elections the largest constituency was the 14 million who did not vote. In 2016, this is again likely to be the largest constituency.

But the likely increase in votes for the EFF compared with their 2014 result, not to mention the NMB opinion poll referred to above, are a reflection of the search for an alternative amongst important sections of the masses and the youth in particular. It is also likely that the trend towards increasing numbers of independent and community candidates will continue, reflecting the desire of communities to take democratic control of their own destinies. This entire situation underlines once against the crying need for a socialist mass workers party to unite the struggles of workers, communities and youth, and organise, alongside the mobilisation of mass struggle to raise living standards, a decisive challenge to the capitalist parties at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, the Workers and Socialist Party will not be standing candidates under its own banner. Whilst we were able to stand in the 2014 national elections, straining every resource we had to do so, the demands of a local government election are – counter-intuitively – even greater. Submitting one central list of candidates in the national elections that everyone in the country can vote for is straightforward compared to the logistics involved in contesting over 250 councils and metros and finding candidates for the 10,000+ councillors positions that will be contested. We have ruled-out contesting even a handful of municipalities so that we can continue to concentrate on consolidating our position in the #OutsourcingMustFall movement and supporting the Socialist Youth Movement to consolidate their hard-won positions on the campuses following the #FeesMustFall movement of last year.

To our members, supporters and sympathisers who are understandably disappointed by this decision we appeal to you to help us build the party so that we do not find ourselves in this position again; help us found branches, recruit members, raise financial subscriptions and first and foremost organise and lead struggle.

Even though WASP will not be on the ballot paper, we are not abstaining from the political processes that will develop around the elections. The local election’s focus on communities and service delivery is an opportunity to take forward the vital work of building a country-wide socialist civic federation. We call on community organisations to register with the Independent Electoral Commission so that they can stand their own candidates as important preparatory work not only for such a federation but for a future socialist mass workers party. The election offers the opportunity to develop a programme of struggle addressing demands for service delivery and the accountability of elected representative (below is WASP’s draft socialist civic programme).

In Ekurhuleni WASP is supporting the Palmridge Community Forum. We can add others to this list on the basis of discussions, for example the Bolsheviks Party of SA and the Operation Khanyisa Movement. But we can already say that it will be impossible for WASP to produce a comprehensive central list of all the independent and community organisation candidates that we could recommend a principled vote for. Rather, our members and supporters should be guided by a candidate’s willingness to (1) commit to a programme of struggle, inside and outside of the council chamber, to meet the needs of the community, and a willingness to (2) commit to be accountable to a genuine mass and democratic community structure. Communities should consider requiring candidates standing in the election to adopt WASP’s policy of election subject to the right of recall and limiting the income of elected representative to the average of a skilled worker.

Where community organisations do not have the time to register they should organise mass meetings where the different ward candidates can listen to the demands and needs of the community. But whoever is elected, the task of building mass independent community organisations must not be postponed. Based on the development of this work a conference could be called later in the year to begin the work of uniting in one democratic federation all genuine community organisations. This will be a far more significant contribution to the struggle for service delivery and accountability in local government than everything that is likely to take place in the run-up to the 3 August ballot.

Draft Socialist Civic Programme

Organise our communities for struggle

  • Build democratic, accountable mass community organisations in every community.
  • For accountability and complete transparency in our community organisations. Leaders to be accountable and recallable. Mass community meetings to decide on all major issues.
  • Link-up all community organisations in a country-wide socialist civic beginning at local, municipal and provincial level.
  • Organise disciplined community struggles and begin to coordinate those struggles through the civic federation.
  • Build up to a community general strike and national service delivery day of action including a national march, reaching out to other sections of the working class for support – the trade unions, the youth etc.
  • Nothing for communities, without communities. Scrutinise the work of local councillors and local councils. Delegates from community structures to observe all council meetings and report back; organise lobbies and protests outside meetings where this is refused.
  • Oppose tenders, outsourcing and privatisation in public works; demand that councils open the books on all tenders to inspections by representative of community structures.
  • Organise a mass challenge to corrupt and ineffective councillors in the 2016 local elections.

Create jobs, share out the work fairly

  • Country-wide civic federation to campaign and fight for a fully-enforced national minimum wage; mass job creation programmes so that everyone who wants a job can have one; labour registers that can match job vacancies with workers; and a mass apprenticeship programme with a guaranteed jobs at the end to tackle youth unemployment. Campaign and fight for a basic income grant.
  • Community organisations to establish labour desks and build links with trade unions.
  • Community labour desks to draw up registers of the unemployed and their skills; all local businesses, including foreign businesses, must employ a quota of workers from these registers, the number depending on the circumstances of the business. These registers to be regularly inspected by representatives of the community to protect against corruption.
  • Community labour desks to organise rotas for casual workers, South African and foreign, to ensure all have a fair chance to earn a regular wage.
  • Community labour desks to campaign for compliance with anti-labour broking legislation.
  • Stop greedy bosses abusing foreign workers and undercutting wages! Trade unions to organise foreign workers. Community organisations and local businesses must agree community-wide minimum wages enforced by community organisations.

Business Competition

  • Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for state supported cooperatives of small farmers and small businesses; a public wholesale goods network to provide cheap bulk supplies; provision of affordable credit to existing small businesses and those wishing to open a small business; price controls and guaranteed markets.
  • Community organisations to create forums to encourage cooperation between local and foreign business networks in defence of their common interests against big business.

Housing Allocation

  • Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for a mass house building programme to provide everyone with a decent home with adequate and cheap electricity, water and sanitation; build tar roads to replace every gravel road.
  • Housing waiting lists to be under the democratic control of community organisations. Kick out corrupt councillors and gangster building developers!
  • Fair and objective criteria to be used to prioritise housing allocation, including current housing situation, number of dependents and length of time on waiting list. Need must determine allocation. Housing waiting lists to be regularly inspected by representatives of the community to protect against corruption.
  • Fight evictions and forced removals. Campaign for cancellation of all rent and rates arrears for working class communities.

Environment & Health

  • Community organisations to campaign for full involvement in the design of houses and the planning of communities. Communities should have the final say on the implementation of all development plans.
  • Integration of community health care workers into a holistic health care system.
  • Community organisations to campaign for oversight of environmental planning to combat pollution, the dumping of toxic wastes and the health impact of industrial activity.


  • Community struggle to fight electricity cut-offs! Campaign for cancellation of all electricity arrears for working class communities.
  • Country-wide socialist civic to campaign for massive investment in renewable energy to address the ESKOM electricity crisis.
  • No to pre-paid electricity meters. For a sliding-scale of tariffs – the more you earn the more you pay. Adequate and free basic electricity provision for unemployed and pensioners.


  • Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for free, high-quality and accessible public education including programmes to eradicate illiteracy and to support out of school youth and adults to access community, further and higher education
  • Community structures to re-establish parent-teacher-learner committees to place education under democratic community control; mobilise to block School Governing Bodies being used as rubber stamps for anti-working class policies.

Crime & Xenophobia

  • No to crime and drugs. Campaign and fight for high quality, free, drug rehabilitation programmes including centres staffed by competent professionals for addicts. Community organisations to exercise oversight and review drug-policing policies to combat corruption and the waste of resources. Report all drug dealers and other criminals to the police and campaign for their removal from the community.
  • Participate in the Community Policing Forums and fight for community oversight of policing to combat corruption, harassment and the waste of resources; organise community-watch programmes under the democratic control of community organisations with the mass participation of the community.
  • Organise mass community mobilisations against gangsterism and organised crime.
  • Organise to stop xenophobic violence. Organise community-watch programmes under the democratic control of community organisations with the mass participation of the community to protect foreign residents and foreign businesses against xenophobic violence.

Women and Gender Rights

  • Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for equal pay for equal work; fight for paid parental leave for all workers (men and women); fight for free, state-funded and high-quality pre-school education for all. Link up to the trade union movement.
  • Campaign for training on gender-based violence for all law enforcement and court officials.
  • Community organisations to campaign against domestic violence and rape in communities; community-watch programmes to take up defence of women with the full participation of women; campaign for shelters and housing to give everyone the freedom to leave abusive relationships.
  • Community organisations to campaign against hate crimes against LGBTI people, including corrective rape; community-watch programmes to take up defence of LGBTI people with the full participation of LGBTI people.

Originally published as a WASP Executive Committee statement.