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Government Warned Against ‘Corrupt’ Councillors Using COVID-19 Food Parcels To Campaign For 2021 Municipal Elections

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Sandile Motha

Political analysts have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could help rogue elements gain votes, elevated or retained as councillors in next year’s scheduled municipal elections.

This is due to a new wave of ‘poverty politics’ which has dominated the political space through the distribution of food parcels as a campaigning strategy to garner votes ahead of the much-anticipated local government elections.

The Studies in Poverty and Equality, a non profit research and think tank has already warned that should the government fail to mitigate the social impact of the Corona virus it would lead to mass starvation and food security.

The institute also predicts that many people will become destitute and homeless due to wide scale retrenchments as companies lay off workers because of  bleak economic outlook.

Xolani Dube, KwaZulu-Natal based political analyst and senior researcher at Xubera Research Institute said food parcels were a new gold for households without any source of income and those who have lost their jobs.

“Now politicians are exploiting people’s suffering and hunger to gain political mileage. This will result in many discredited councillors and incompetent councillors to re-emerge as candidates in their wards,” said Dube.

He pointed to the fact that different political parties were pretending to be noble and generous in their gesture and assisting the needy, when in fact the end goal was to gain politically.

“Many desperate and poverty stricken families  particularly from the far -flung areas are alienated because they are not regarded as a potential voter. If the distribution of food parcels by politicians is not a political gimmick, why are they targeting areas which are mostly their voter base and strongholds. We have entered a new political landscape in South Africa which I call poverty politics,” said Dube.

In one of the most publicised incidents of ‘poverty politics’ last week, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) said it was investigating one of its directors in Mpumalanga who is alleged to have unduly authorised the distribution of food parcels to ANC Gauteng Legislature members. 

The SA Local Government Association (SALGA) called on communities to partner with municipalities and report any councillors or municipal officials who are seen to be acting in a manner that violates the COVID-19 enforcement regulations, to the relevant authorities including mayors and speakers of municipalities.

SALGA said it noted with utmost concern and disappointment the reports of some councillors acting in direct contravention of the regulations issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act, the code of conduct of councillors and “the values upon which our democratic state is founded.”

Dube said this new trajectory will see the reinvigoration of parties which were facing election decline and incompetent public representatives being re-elected.

“For instance, the IFP has realised that the ANC has neglected hostel dwellers when it come to the distribution of food parcels. So now the IFP is targeting these places. Historically, the party has massive voter share in hostels particularly in Gauteng and KZN,” he said.

The electioneering through food parcels meant for social relief has dominated the public discourse and recently came under scrutiny when it emerged that ANC councillors in KZN were suspected of distributing food parcels to their political sympathisers, friends and those connected to the party’s different factions.

In the aftermath of the revelations, ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli publicly condemned those implicated. Ntuli subsequently said they had escalated the matter, saying members who were found to have transgressed would be hauled before the party’s disciplinary structures.

He said various sanctions would be imposed such as suspending their membership or facing expulsion. The call was further supported by Jessie Duarte, ANC’s deputy secretary, who said party members found to have diverted food parcels meant for the vulnerable groups should be arrested.

Ricardo Mthembu, KZN ANC’s spokesperson, said the party had taken a hard line against anyone bringing the party into disrepute.

“The reports that surfaced on media and social networks of uneven distribution of food parcels will be investigated as a matter of urgency. The ANC has also resolved to impose harsh penalties to our members who are responsible. We view this in serious light and tantamount to sabotaging the ANC,” said Mthembu at the weekend. 

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