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20 December 2014 21:08 (South Africa)
South Africa

January by-elections: The DA’s pain is the ANC’s gain

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa
PaulJanuarybyelection.jpg

Sixteen wards were contested in Wednesday’s by-elections. Thirteen were ANC wards and three were DA incumbencies. Both of the parties lost wards (the ANC lost two and the DA one) but the DA’s losses included the entire municipality of Matzikama (Vredendal). Throw in a couple of debut performances from two new parties and some watchable cameo performances in the Eastern Cape from the UDM and COPE and you’ve got an interesting start to the year’s electioneering. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

The ANC defended 13 wards on Wednesday. Twelve of these were in just one municipality – Mbhashe (Idutywa) in the Eastern Cape.

The story behind Mbhashe has parallels with the developments in Tlokwe. In March 2013, the ANC expelled 16 of its councillors in the municipality for supporting a vote of no confidence in the (ANC-aligned) mayor. Just as in Tlokwe, the by-elections were triggered by ANC factionalism within the municipality. (Four of these councillors were PR councillors and were replaced by the party without the need for by-elections).

Unlike Tlokwe, the ANC had little risk of losing the municipality to any opposition parties. The party won 41 of the 61 council seats in the 2011 elections and would have had to lose more than ten of the 12 contested wards to lose the municipality. (The remaining 20 seats were allocated as follows: nine for COPE, seven for the UDM, two for independents, one each for the DA and the APC.)

The party successfully defended ten of the 12 seats, losing one seat to the UDM and one to an independent candidate.

The ANC won ward 1 in 2011 with 54% of the vote (COPE 19%, independent 19%) and retained its seat with 55% on Wednesday (UDM 23%, COPE 22%). Turnout fell from 44% to 31%.

The party retained ward 4 although support dropped from 73% in 2011 (COPE 21%) to 55% on Wednesday (COPE 44%). Turnout fell from 58% to 42%.

The ANC retained ward 5. The party had won the seat with 67% in 2011 (COPE 26%). Support fell slightly to 61% on Wednesday (DA 24% UDM 12%). Turnout fell from 58% to 47%.

Ward 10 was a close win for the ANC in 2011, with the party garnering only 48% of the vote (UDM 33%, COPE 15%). The party comfortably retained its seat, winning 76% (DA 14%, COPE 8%) on Wednesday. Turnout fell from 59% to 43%.

Ward 15 was another close ward that the ANC made safer on Wednesday. The party won the ward with just 39% in 2011 (independent 26%, COPE 21%, UDM 10%) and increased its share to 55% (UDM 34%, COPE 8%) on Wednesday. Turnout fell from 62% to 49%.

The ANC lost ward 17 to the UDM. The ward was originally won with 51% by the ANC (UDM 41%). On Wednesday the UDM candidate won 52% of the vote to the ANC’s 48%. Turnout fell from 55% to 48%.

The ANC did well in ward 21. The party originally won the ward with 69% of the vote (UDM 11%, independent 9%, COPE 9%) and increased its hold on Wednesday, receiving 91% of the vote (independent 9%). Turnout fell from 64% to 46%.

The party also improved its lot in ward 24. The ward had originally been won with 53% (independent 27%, COPE 13%) and was retained with 75% (COPE 22%). Turnout fell from 64% to 46%.

The ANC lost a bit of ground in ward 26. In 2011 the party had won the ward with 78% (COPE 14%, UDM 7%). This was whittled down to 61% on Wednesday (independent 39%). Voter turnout fell from 58% to 41%.

In ward 28, the ANC’s majority was little-changed. From 73% in 2011 (UDM 25%), the party’s share of the vote slipped a bit to 69% (UDM 31%) on Wednesday. Turnout fell from 58% to 52%.

Ward 29 was the second ward that the ANC lost, to an independent. In 2011 the party won the ward with 85% of the vote (COPE 10%). On Wednesday the independent candidate took 54% of the vote (UDM 13%) and the ANC could only manage 31% of the vote. Turnout fell marginally from 61% to 60%).

The ANC retained ward 30, increasing its share of the vote from 69% (COPE 17%, independent 8%, UDM 4%) to 72% on Wednesday (independent 19%, UC 6%). Turnout fell from 60% to 44%.

The ANC’s seats in the Mbhashe council have been reduced from 41 to 39, which still gives the party a very healthy eight-seat cushion. The party’s victories on Wednesday do not preclude any further internal divisions or stresses.

The ANC defended a further ward in the Eastern Cape, ward 7 in Elundini (Mount Fletcher). The party won the ward in 2011 with 87% of the vote (UDM 7%, DA 4%) and retained the ward with 84% on Wednesday (AIC 16%). Turnout fell from 58% to 45%.

The DA’s mixed fortunes

The DA only had to defend three wards on Wednesday to the ANC’s 13, but all three wards were close races in 2011 and the party stood a good chance of losing any or all of them on Wednesday. It ended up successfully defending two of the wards and losing the third, but it may have been the worst ward for the party to lose on the night, if not for a good few months.

In the Eastern Cape the DA retained ward 3 in the Buffalo City metro (East London). The party had won the ward with 54% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 40%) and strongly increased its share of the vote to 82% (ANC 18%) on Wednesday. Turnout fell from 38% to just 16%.

In ward 15 of Emfuleni (Vereeniging) the party had a similarly strong showing. In 2011 it won the ward with just 49% of the vote to the ANC’s 45%. On Wednesday it garnered 63% of the vote (ANC 37%). Turnout fell from 45% to 26%.

In ward 4 of Matzikama (Vredendal) in the Western Cape, however, the party stumbled. The ward had been won by the DA in 2011 with just 39% of the vote (ANC 37%, NGP 13%, PICO 8%). The DA’s candidate in 2011, Patric Bok, resigned from the party to run for the ANC. He retained his seat, winning 39% of the vote on Wednesday.

The DA could only manage 36% of the vote, while the Patriotic Alliance (the new, regional party of Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie) split the rest of the vote, taking 23%. Only 57 votes separated the ANC and DA candidates, while the PA candidate received 440 votes. Turnout was virtually unchanged from 2011, at 57%.

The ANC had only won six of the 15 council seats in the 2011 elections and the DA had governed in coalition with smaller parties (the NGP and PICO). The ANC has since won two seats off the DA, one in November 2012 and the second on Wednesday. The ANC now has an absolute majority in council and the other parties will have to cede power.

The municipality has been contested for years. A DA/ID coalition initially wrested control from the ANC back in 2007, and a coalition of the DA and other parties ran it from 2011. After almost seven years it is back in the hands of the ANC.

Strategies and successes of newer and smaller parties

Two parties contested elections for the first time on Wednesday. One is the aforementioned Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the other is the United Congress (UC), a party formed by COPE breakaway Mluleki George.

Both parties are only weeks old, and it’s interesting to contrast their strategy (of diving straight into elections and campaigns) with that of the EFF, or even Agang. The EFF hasn’t directly contested any elections, although there are claims that it has been supporting independent candidates across the North-West in recent by-elections.

The EFF’s campaign-by-proxy might be a more strategic approach than that of the PA and UC. At this early point, the latter parties don’t have that much to show for their efforts. The UC contested five of the Mbhashe wards, achieving a personal best of 6% of the vote in one ward (in another of the five wards it didn’t attract a single vote).

The PA acted as a spoiler in the Matzikama ward, which may or may not endear it to the ANC. The result will be a dash of cold water to the PA top brass, whose ambitious tweets didn’t match the party’s performance.

The EFF is playing a longer game, building its structures and keeping its powder dry until the national elections. The party is playing on the national stage, whereas the PA and UC only have a regional footprint at the moment – and not a very large footprint at that.

Conclusion

Although the ANC lost two wards, it gained a municipality that’s it’s been after for a while. Its defence of its wards was generally positive, with an increase in voting shares for the most part. While the DA did very well in the two wards it defended, its loss of Matzikama will be keenly felt.

The UC’s maiden voyage wasn’t much to write about, while the PA played a critical role in splitting the Matzikama vote. The UDM and COPE showed that they still have some fight left in them in the Eastern Cape, and the voters in that province’s rural areas may be more willing to switch their votes than was previously estimated.

In the build-up to the 2014 national/provincial elections, Wednesday’s events have given the ANC a boost and some timely momentum. The DA and many of the smaller parties will need to pick up the pace. DM

  • Paul Berkowitz
  • South Africa


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