The ‘double agents’ of the local government elections

The ‘double agents’ of the local government elections

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Muzonjani Zulu is so determined to change South Africa and to free it from what he describes is a government of non-intellectuals incapable of running the country, that he decided to contest the local government elections. Zulu is one of thousands of “double-agents” – candidates running for multiple wards and/or multiple parties – who stand to get more seats on the council by getting more votes.

But what sets Zulu apart from the other ‘double agents” is that he is running for 108 of 110 wards in the eThekwini Local Municipality – more wards than any other candidate in the country.

Another “double agent” is Kempen Nel, a farmer from Jacobsdal, a small town in the Free State, who appears to be caught up in intra-party politics. He is standing in two different wards for the Congress of the People (Cope) and is on the DA’s party list, but he says that this is an error.

Over 5,000 double agents

But Zulu and Nel are just two out of over 5,000 “double agents”, with the majority of parties fielding candidates standing in more than one ward.

Zulu was a senior figure in the National Freedom Party (NFP) resigned from the NFP on May 25 and set up a new party, the Academic Congress Union (ACU), three days later. With just five days left before the cut-off date to register a party for the upcoming local government elections, and to submit a candidate list to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Zulu decided to contest all but two of the wards in his municipality. He is also on the party’s proportional representation (PR) list.

The “double agent” strategy is being used by nearly 15% of party-affiliated candidates.

Parties are allocated PR seats according to a formula based on the percentage of the vote they get. And votes that double garner in every ward they contest is counts. A predetermined process is then followed to allocate seats. So, when it comes to getting a seat, the underlying principle is simple: the more votes you get, the more seats you get.

Zulu could force 107 by-elections

Although this is completely in line with election legislation and regulations, the strategy is an opportunistic one, with some of these candidates running for dozens of wards within their municipalities. If a candidate wins in more than one ward they can only take up one – and by-elections must be held in the other wards they took.

For example, if Zulu wins every ward he runs in – which is unlikely due to the small size and newness of the party – then 107 by-elections would have to take place.

This strategy, however, will add to an already existing problem, “with the mounting number of candidates being killed”, according to Ebrahim Fakir of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). With the candidate list already finalised, even deceased candidates cannot be removed from it, which means that in some cases, wards will find the anomaly of dead candidates being elected and by-elections will have to take place.

So, is allowing candidates to run in as many wards as they like enabling parties to take advantage of the entire system, at a cost to the IEC and to the public?
On the surface it appears unethical, but is merely “incentive to use every available opportunity, no matter the cost”, says Fakir.

When voters arrive to cast their votes on August 3, there are two aspects they will have to consider: a list of possible ward councillors and a list of parties, which is the PR list. Together, the results of these will be used to determine who will be the ward councillors for the next five years and how many seats a party gets on a local council.

“The purpose, for me, is to get PR votes,” says Zulu. “Our intention is to contest as a party in the 2019 elections.” But first, people need to know who the ACU actually are, and what better way than to run in as many wards as possible?
Zulu’s purpose, therefore, is twofold: he wants to increase his party’s chances of getting a seat on local council and to advertise the party across three different provinces – the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – where the NFP has always had support. But what about the costs that will be incurred if he wins in more than one ward?

“You can’t equate democracy to how much money it’s going to cost,” says Western Cape IEC spokesperson, Trevor Davids.

Mowethu Mosery, a provincial electoral officer of the KwaZulu-Natal branch, agrees. “It’s all part of the democratic process,” he says. “[Our job as the IEC] is to facilitate the will and choice of the voters.”

Besides, Mosery is confident that Zulu won’t win in that many wards. “I just don’t think it will happen,” he insists, laughing at the strategy the party has chosen to take. Regardless, if he does land up winning in more than one ward, by-elections will have to take place.

For Zulu, beyond hoping to increase support for his new party, it is about countrywide intellectual growth. South Africa, he says, is “running short of intellectuals who are politicians”.

“For us to change our country, we need intellectuals to take the country forward,” he explains. “Zuma does not have enough skills to lead the country because of his level of education.”

Zulu provides a detailed history of his education, from a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate degree at the University of South Africa, to having just submitted his PhD. He also does not show concern over the possibility of – hypothetically – 107 by-elections taking place. “We need to grow, grow, grow,” he says.

Fired or resigned?

Nel, whose irrigation farm is in Letsemeng in the Xhariep municipality. Since before 2000, Nel has sat on and headed up various community committees and has remained heavily involved. The municipality is small, consisting of only six wards and covers a vast rural area. This, he says, is why he is running for more than one ward.

On June 20 this year, Nel wrote a letter to the DA, resigning from the party. He received no response and was surprised to see his name on the party list when it was released.

Patricia Kopane, a Member of Parliament for the DA tells the story quite differently. When the party received the candidate list, a day after Nel had begun the resignation process, they realised that he was running for Cope and subsequently fired him. She cannot, however, explain why the party did not use the opportunity available to rectify the double-partied candidate. She also says he was also fired for “being a racist”.

Although Nel is one of the only DA candidates running for multiple parties, more than half (54,9%) of the party’s ward candidate list is running for multiple wards. And they aren’t the only ones, with hundreds of candidates from the ANC and EFF in the same situation.

He explains that he felt “pushed out” by provincial DA leadership due to incidences of nepotism, inequality and the unwillingness to engage the long-time rural councilors and bring in new, inexperienced ones instead. So in May, when he was approached by Cope to run as a representative in two wards, he quickly agreed.

Nel says that he is not running because of politics, but rather for his community, who “are all behind me in these elections”.

Kopane does not believe that Nel will be voted in at all: “Cope doesn’t exist in the Free State, and the people are not supporting him,” she says. “Cope is dead, they are immaterial, I don’t even consider them competition.”

Fakir, who is manager of the EISA’s Political Parties and Parliamentary Programme, says that although we can point to examples like Zulu and Nel, this is the “system we chose”.

“The reason we have this system is because we don’t want peoples’ votes to go to waste,” he says.

INFOGRAPHIC: Candidates can only take up one seat or ward councilor position, even if they win multiple wards. There are 5, 572 of these “double agents” in the upcoming elections.

 

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