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20 December 2014 10:26 (South Africa)
South Africa

November by-elections: heavy cloud but no rain

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa
C:\fakepath\berkowitz byelections

Following the red-and-blue data pyrotechnics of the US elections on Tuesday, the Wednesday by-elections in South Africa were a relatively sedate affair. There was both good and bad news for the ANC and DA in the 15 wards contested, but overall it was the ANC’s day. Given all the recent bad press that has dogged the party, they should be happy with what the day has brought them. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

On Wednesday South Africans cast their votes in 15 wards across the country. The ANC was the incumbent in 11 of the wards and the DA in the remaining four wards. In three of the four wards defended by the DA the original margin of victory was very thin, and there was a real chance of ANC victories. The ANC were defending only one marginal ward, in KZN, where there was a close three-way race with the IFP and NFP.

In the end it was generally a good day out for incumbent parties, with the DA and ANC mostly increasing their leads in the wards they were defending. It was also a good day for voter apathy, with turnout numbers in most wards down from their 2011 levels. The notable exceptions were in two potential swing wards in KZN and the Western Cape. Turnout levels in KZN were generally higher than the rest of the country.  

The ANC ended up losing a ward in Rustenburg that they had won convincingly in the 2011 general elections, but apart from this upset the party did very well, considering the context of the last two months. It increased its share of the vote in most of the wards it contested and won an important ward off the DA in the Western Cape. It also convincingly retained the marginal ward in KZN.

The DA fought off the ANC in the Gauteng wards it was defending but lost a key battle in the Western Cape, in a municipality which both parties have controlled at one point or another in the past year. 

In the Eastern Cape, in Intsika Yethu (Cofimvaba) the ANC successfully defended ward 21, increasing its share of the vote from 91% to 94%. The ANC’s increased share came at the expense of the APC and DA who did not contest the by-election. The UDM retained its share of the vote at 6%, with overall voter turnout falling from 62% to 47%. 

In Gauteng there were by-elections in four wards, three of which were defended by the DA. Two of these by-elections were closely-fought but in the end the DA retained all three wards.

In ward 28 of Mogale City (Krugersdorp) the DA was defending a ward it won with 87% of the vote (ANC 10%, FF+ 3%, COPE 1%). The DA retained the ward with 95% of the vote and the ACDP and ANC shared the scraps. Voter turnout fell from 68% to 29%.

In ward 10 in Randfontein the DA retained the ward with the same 52% of the vote it won in 2011. Voter turnout was down from 65% but remained at a healthy 53%. The ANC increased its share of the vote from 45% to 47% but was unable to completely close the gap – of just 86 votes – with the DA. 

Perhaps the most-publicised and one of the most closely-fought by-election battles was in ward 58 in the City of Johannesburg. The DA won the ward with 49% of the vote in 2011, compared to the ANC’s 42% of the vote. The DA increased its share to 50% while the ANC’s share remained unchanged. 

Both parties campaigned fairly hard, so the fall in voter turnout from 49% to just 25% is a probable sign of voter apathy and is hardly a ringing endorsement for any party. The Al Jama-ah candidate received 7% of the vote, up from 5% in 2011.

In ward 8 of Tshwane the ANC retained its seat with the same 73% share of the vote it received in 2011. The DA’s share of the vote rose from 4% to 18%, with the party more than doubling the number of votes it received in 2011. Voter turnout fell from 53% to 25%. 

In KwaZulu-Natal the ANC was defending four wards. One of these wards presented a potential upset for the party. The party successfully defended all four wards, increasing its share of the vote in all cases, easily shutting out the IFP and NFP. The NFP in particular lost ground in all cases, and the party will have to ask itself some tough questions ahead of its 2014 campaign; the bloom is off its rose and it can no longer trade on its novelty value. Any ambitions of expanding into the Eastern Cape and Gauteng must be checked while it shores up its support in KwaZulu-Natal. 

The ANC appears to have benefited from a combination of some good campaigning in the province and generally being less unappealing than its competitors. This good showing may provide a boost to the party’s provincial top brass in the build-up to Mangaung. 

In ward 4 of Hibiscus Coast (Port Shepstone), the ANC retained its seat, increasing its share of the vote from 74% to 80%. The IFP saw its share of the vote shrink from 19% to 15% and the NFP’s share fell from 6% to 4%. Voter turnout fell from 65% to 41%. 

In ward 1 of Umtshezi (Estcourt) the ANC’s share of the vote rose from 85% to 88% while voter turnout fell from 74% to 47%. The IFP retained its 6% share of the vote while the NFP lost a bit of ground, seeing its share of the vote fall from 8% to 6%.

In the second ward contested in Umtshezi, ward 8, the ANC was defending a ward it had won with just 38% in the 2011 elections, to the IFP’s 31% and the NFP’s 27%. Any talk of an upset in the ward was premature: the ANC increased its share of the vote to a convincing 53% while the IFP’s share fell to 28% and the NFP’s to just 19%. Voter turnout fell slightly from 71% to a very respectable 60%.

In Ward 14 of Nqutu, the ANC increased its share of the vote from 52% to 55%, while voter turnout fell from 53% to 34%. The IFP increased its share of the vote from 27% to 41%. The NFP was the loser in the ward, seeing its share of the vote fall from 18% to just 4%. 

In Limpopo, in ward 9 of Aganang (Moletji/Matlala) the ANC retained its seat with an increased share of the vote (90% compared with 86% in 2011). However the voter turnout fell from 49% to 26% and the actual number of votes for the incumbent fell from 1,257 to 739. The ANC had to fend off just the COPE candidate in the byelection; last year the competition included challengers from the ACDP, AZAPO, DA and UDM.

In Mpumalanga the ANC’s share of the vote fell in both wards it defended, but it retained both wards by a convincing majority. In ward 4 of Mkhondo (Piet Retief) the party’s share of the vote fell from 92% to 87%, while voter turnout fell from 64% to 29%. In ward 1 of Mbombela (Nelspruit) the ANC’s share of the vote fell from 78% to 72%, while the DA’s share rose from 20% to 25%. Voter turnout fell from 58% to 37%. 

In the North-West, the ANC suffered an upset in ward 33 of Rustenburg, a place not too far removed geographically from the events of Marikana. The ANC won the ward with 77% of the vote in 2011 only to lose the seat to an independent in this by-election. The independent candidate only received 41% of the vote to the ANC’s 37%, while the DA received 15% (down from 21%) and COPE 7%. 

In the Northern Cape, in Ga-Segonyana (Kuruman) the ANC successfully defended ward 10. Its share of the vote was unchanged at 90%. The DA increased its share of the vote from 2% to 5%, mainly at the expense of COPE (which didn’t contest this by-election). 

In the Western Cape in Matzikama (Vredendal) the ANC managed to take ward 2 from the DA in a hard-fought by-election that saw voter turnout rise from 64% in 2011 to 67%, testament to the campaigning from both parties and the very delicate balance of power in the municipality. The DA originally won the ward with 52% of the vote to the ANC’s 42%. In the by-election the ANC received 53% of the vote to the DA’s 47%, with only 160 votes separating the two parties.

The DA won seven of the 15 council seats in 2011 to the ANC’s six. With neither party receiving an outright mandate the DA originally governed in coalition with the New Generation Party (NGP) and the People’s Independent Civic Organisation (PICO), each party holding one seat. These two parties later formed a coalition with the ANC in January 2012. 

The ANC’s victory on Wednesday means the party will govern with a slightly firmer grip, although the battle for the municipality is sure to continue. On paper the ANC only needs one of the two minority parties for a majority coalition. While the ANC is unlikely to give notice to either of its two partners, its increased mandate will keep both of them on their toes. 

Neither the ANC nor the DA has sufficient reason to crow about Wednesday’s results. On balance the ANC should be the happier of the two parties; it won a key ward in a front-line Western Cape municipality and its control of the Rustenburg municipality is still solid. The clear rejection by the voters in Rusterburg will be a slap in the face for the party but it must be relieved that the fall-out from Marikana hasn’t spread beyond the immediate area.

The DA will be happy with their defence of the Johannesburg ward, the generally strong performance in Gauteng and a larger bite of the Mbombela vote, but the loss of the ward in Matzikama will rankle. There wasn’t much potential upside for the party this time around.

Wednesday’s elections gave the impression that most of the actors were going through the motions. Apart from one or two important ward battles, the incumbents benefited from their incumbencies, the enthusiasm of the voting public was muted and the upsets were few. If there is a storm out there, somewhere on the horizon, it isn’t going to break before Mangaung. DM

Photo by Reuters.

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa


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