Local government party politics and ANC councillor representation: the dynamics of council decision-making in South Africa
Nzo, Thina Zamambo Lotia
Councillors serving as elected representatives of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa have increasingly gained a poor public reputation and decline in electoral support since 2006. Community perception surveys produced by research organisations have pointed to corruption, patronage, rent-seeking, gatekeeping and factions as the main contributors of ANC councillors’ failures to represent the development interests of the electorate. Moreover, the escalating protest action against the ‘lack of service delivery’ playing out in the public domain, have led scholars such as Atkinson (2007) and Southall (2007) to conclude that local government resembles a ‘dysfunctional’ South African state that is in a ‘crisis’. Apart from this analysis and conclusion, however, we know little about the decision-making practices and experiences of councillors representing the ANC ruling party. The contribution made by this thesis is that it offers an alternative approach to the study of local government by using organisational ethnography to examine the everyday practices and dynamics of representation from the perspective of ANC councillors. The thesis draws primarily on observations of Kalahari Municipality council and its executive committee; shadowing of the mayor; informal discussions and interviews with ANC ward councillors and committee chairpersons, senior managers, municipal union members, and ANC regional and branch party officials. Through the observation of councillors exercising their representational role in council and executive committee decision-making structures, this research will reveal that there are tensions between representing the interests of the ANC regional party, national government priorities and communities. The demands made by the ANC regional party at times constrain the power and autonomy of ANC councillors’ from representing the developmental interests of communities and the national government’s agenda of ‘building a capable and developmental state’(NDP, 2012:414-478). The ANC regional party’s dominating presence at local government level, is embedded within the practices of conflating the ANC party with the state (Booysen, 2015; Southall, 2013). Although the blurring of the party and state at local government level elucidates features of neopatrimonialism, however the complex power struggles of cooperation and resistance against patronage practices and gatekeeping amongst state actors needs to be understood within the partisan bureaucratic system which local government functions under. The conflict ridden relationship between ANC councillors and their ANC regional party structures explored in this thesis, demonstrates the ways in which ANC councillors are able to adopt strategies such as internal opposition to resist and challenge the manifestation of ‘state capture’ by the ANC regional party, which is propelled by particularistic interests, corruption and patronage. The shifting loyalties and defiance against towing party lines in the ANC caucus reproduce uneven terrains of ANC party cohesion and subordination in council decision-making. The organisational ethnographic in this thesis brings to light the short comings of the patronage analytical framework that has been used to homogenise local government, which often obscures the understanding of the heterogeneous practices of ANC councillors in local government decision-making. The thesis argues that beneath the surface of ANC patronage politics, corruption and popular protests against lack of local government’s capacity to deliver services brought forward by scholars and commentators who view local government as a homogenous entity; lays deeper and systematic tensions and contradictions of representative local democracy that needs to be understood from councillors’ perspective. As suggested by Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan (2014:14), the state should be seen not as an entity but a bundle of practices and processes in a field of complex powers. Practices which seek to strengthen and weaken the development of the state do coexist (ibid) and they vary in their intensity in their local context. Therefore, councillors’ representational autonomy and powers in practice should be understood within the politics of multiple state actors and the ANC’s struggle for control over local government.