Pravin Gordhan has sent a warning to politicians: no matter how poor, South Africans are not stupid and will use their vote to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s performance.
Gordhan, now the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, said politicians should know that they have to keep earning the trust of the people who vote them into power.
“We must understand that people are very intelligent, however poor they might be. They can see through you like they see through a glass. They can see through me like they can see through a glass.
”One of the things that we have learned as we grew as activists is always respect people’s wisdom,” he told a conference of ward councillors in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni yesterday.
The former finance minister said voters would keep quiet for years but “when the time comes, they will stand up and use their votes in the right way”.
He made the statements as speculation mounts that the ruling ANC is in danger of bleeding votes in the next local government elections, particularly in Gauteng, but also in centres such as Port Elizabeth, because of perceived poor performance by municipalities.
There has been a string of spectacular failures at local government level, most recently the virtual collapse of Grahamstown, home of the National Arts Festival.
According to the results of this year’s national elections in Ekurhuleni (formerly the East Rand), support for the ANC declined from 66.81% in 2009 to 55.07% in 2014. In Johannesburg, the party’s support declined from 62.35% in 2009 to 52.28% in 2014. It recorded a decline from 59.95% to 49.31% in Tshwane.
In contrast, the opposition DA registered an increase of 10% in each metro.
Gordhan issued his warning also as an e-toll review panel heard yesterday that residents of Gauteng were giving the government no choice but to scrap e-tolls.
Ali Gule, head of the Road Safety Campaign, told the panel: ”The 2016 local government elections are just around the corner. The sooner the e-tolls are done away with, the better for the ruling party, the better for the government.”
Over the past few years, the number of service delivery protests has increased rapidly.
According to Municipal IQ, there were 48 major service protests against local government in the first three months of the year, occurring roughly at a rate of a protest every second day.
Gauteng and Eastern Cape had been most protest-ridden.
And the auditor-general’s 2014 report found that only 22 municipalities and eight municipal public entities had received clean audits for the year under review.
Not a single municipality in Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo or North West obtained a clean audit.
The City of Cape Town is the only metropolitan municipality that obtained a clean audit.
Speaking to hundreds of councillors yesterday, Gordhan did not mince his words: “Today we have reached a position in politics where we think because we are political office bearers or senior officials, we are entitled to people’s trust . [But] we are not. Go out there and earn it.”
Gordhan said his department wanted to create a culture in municipalities where it was understood that “before you do the fancy stuff, [you] do the basic things right”.
To achieve this, it would in the next six months legislate a basket of basic services that municipalities would have to provide.
”We want every one of the 278 [municipalities] in the country to ensure that firstly a basic basket of services is provided. Do not pick up fancy stuff before you ensure that refuse is collected every week. Do not talk about the fancy stuff if you do not repair a burst water pipe within three hours,” he said.
Though Gordhan did not cite specific examples, the three big metros in Gauteng – Ekurhuleni, City of Johannesburg and Tshwane – have embarked on multibillion- rand broadband projects and use the latest technologies to communicate with citizens – but they struggle to deliver basic services such as repairs of potholes, traffic lights and burst water pipes and restoration of power quickly after outages.
Smaller municipalities also appear to have skewed priorities.
Last week, The Times revealed that the ANC-led Moretele municipality in North West has only one library, two clinics and poor roads, but wants to use R98-million of its infrastructure budget for funeral cover for past and present councillors, traditional leaders and citizens who contribute ”extraordinarily” to the community.
Gordhan is the second high-ranking ANC official to sound a warning to politicians.
In April last year, another former finance minister, Trevor Manuel, warned politicians to stop evading responsibility by blaming their failures on apartheid.
“We fail our people repeatedly. Nineteen years into democracy, our government has run out of excuses . We cannot continue to blame apartheid for our failings as a state. We cannot plead ignorance or inexperience,” Manuel told a government leadership summit.