Years ago astronomers and Nasa scientists painstakingly put thousands of individual photographs of the Moon together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle to produce a final detailed image of Earth’s satellite. Tallying up the votes from Wednesday’s local government election is not dissimilar – and it’s only once all the pieces are in their right places that we will get a picture of the mind of South Africa. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The post-voting stage of elections is the fun part. Making an “X” is one thing, counting how many “Xs” is another. And then there’s the fact that counting votes is what gives you a snapshot of the country’s mind. It’s not about the map, it’s about the thinking of the country. It’s a fascinating experience to watch close up. Especially when we have such an interesting mind. It’s not easy to predict elections (yes, Stephen, but it’s fun watching you try – Ed), but there are some aspects that one should keep an eye out for. Some of it’s predictable, some of it’s deadly dull, and some of it’s going to be fascinating.
The first, and most obvious story in this election is going to be voter turnout. At the time of writing everyone’s claiming this has been a high-turnout election. In 2006 48% of those eligible voted, anything over that is going to be considered high. This impacts on the picture in different ways in different areas. If there was a mass stay-away in Soweto, for example, obviously the ANC would suffer, and the DA would be boosted in the rest of Johannesburg. Talk Radio 702’s helicopter didn’t spot any long queues there, but we’ll have to wait for the IEC’s figures. But if turnout is higher in the leafier suburbs then things change. So early on, watch this number. It should come out relatively quickly and it’ll give you an indication.
As more numbers come in, it’s the smaller councils that are declared first. By small we mean large geographically, but not a lot of voters. In short, Northern Cape – the one next to Western Cape that the DA used to claim would be “next”. So there’s something to look out for early on. If a couple of the smaller councils start to turn DA, well, that would be interesting.
Then we have the smallish council of Midvaal. You know, the one that keeps the ANC awake and the one that suddenly attracted its attention. You’ve probably never been there, but you’ll certainly have heard of it by now. It’s that odd place in Gauteng run by the DA. It’s going to matter. For the DA, there’s very little they’d rather give up instead of Midvaal. And the ANC has been obsessed with the council. It’s completely understandable, not only is it a blot on the Gauteng landscape for the party, but it’s also that blasted place that keeps winning all those provincial awards for best-run municipality.
The one thing the DA might consider trading for Midvaal is actually quite small. Tiny really. A single ward in Soweto. Think about it. Which would you prefer, to control a small place far away about which we all care very little, or to control (and improve) a tiny part of a place we all concentrate on all the time. It’s an interesting trade-off. The point we’re making here is that Midvaal is important, but watch for the symbolism of this election. There could be something that isn’t about numbers, but about history and our politics. If we were the Sunday Times, it would be the front page picture this weekend.
Then, of course, we have the big cities. The metros everyone is focusing on. You know what we think about most of them, but the one to watch will still be the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. It’s not about whether the DA will beat the ANC, it’s about whether people there are so annoyed that they’ll vote for someone else or not. It’s also interesting for the sidebar story of Cope, with one of its heaviest hitters Smuts Ngonyama a mayoral candidate there. He’s a former MEC of that province and well known there, so it was a clever choice. If he gets stuffed (and, if you push us, we think he will be) then that’s surely curtains for the party as a whole. Mbhazima Shilowa will be smiling. But if the ANC wins well, then the DA will be hugely disappointed.
As more and more results trickle in, we’ll start to look towards Joburg and Cape Town, just to watch the tussle between the two heavyweights in this election. The metros will obviously come in towards the end, there’s lots of counting, and then lots of number crunching to mash the ward counts and the proportional representation counts and to throw the whole bloody lot together and hope it looks kind of right. Bear in mind also that in the metros there’s been real contestation, which often results in higher polls. It’s about the size of the media market and how people listen to politicians argue on the radio and what they read and all that. But generally speaking, if you live in a smaller place, it seems in this election, the chances of you voting are probably less. Midvaal will probably buck that trend, because it’s been so heavily contested.
The real story in Joburg is will the DA have pushed past the 30% mark, and will the ANC drop below 60%. If the ANC does go below that level, it’ll still be comfortable, but the era of landslide victories could be over. This will also illuminate a worrying trend for the electoral maths wonks at Luthuli House. Basically, the trend since 2004 will be that of the ANC slowly losing ground. Could it turn out that it peaked then, and can’t get back to that point. It may not be so, but it’s a trend to follow.
And then we have Cape Town. It’s a massive metro in terms of numbers, and so could well come in after Joburg. While we’re not expecting a surprise, the story will be in how the DA does. Does it improve markedly. If so, it’s a mark of strong growth in support, and the idea that people prefer to live under the DA.
The last two months of fighting, shouting and general Malema-speak come down to cold hard numbers. Over the next 48 hours, those numbers will provide the playing-field for the next round of shouting. Which is why it’s all going to be so much fun. DM
Why Midvaal is important
A counter-point by Citydex’s PAUL BERKOWITZ
Stephen Grootes asks the question: Would the DA be happy to trade Midvaal for a single ward in Soweto. I say, at this time, a resounding No. Of course, I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in the minds of the DA strategists, but here’s my reasoning:
Gauteng is undergoing major surgery between now and 2016. Just as the district of Metsweding has been absorbed into Tshwane, the district of Emfuleni (which contains Midvaal) will probably be absorbed into Ekurhuleni (and maybe even bits of it will be absorbed into Joburg). Looking at the numbers game, this probably is good for the ANC. The West Rand district (Mogale City, Randfontein, Westonaria and Merafong) will become the province’s fourth metro. By 2016, Gauteng is expected to be wall-to-wall metros, a bit like Sandton will eventually be one big Sandton City, if the pace of construction near the Empowerdex offices is anything to go by.
Already there are loud voices of dissent about the Tshwane surgical augmentation process. Lots of people think smaller is better. There are accusations of gerrymandering by the ANC (I personally haven’t seen strong evidence of this). There is unhappiness about the whole process, which many people see as more centralisation and anathema to the idea of decentralised local government.
If there are going to be concerns about the enlargement process as it moves to the south of the province, you can be sure the DA will be in a much more powerful position to challenge it if Midvaal is retained (and at this point it looks like the DA has retained it). If the ANC was to win Midvaal, there would be fewer fingers pointing, fewer cries of gerrymandering and maybe fewer legal challenges.
Why is the ANC prioritising Midvaal so? Because it fears – legitimately too – that the DA in the province is a big thorn in its side and its vision of a new Gauteng. Interesting times lie ahead of our little province. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: Early morning voters wait to cast their votes during the South African municipal elections in Cape town May 18 2011. South Africa holds elections on Wednesday for its 278 municipalities in a race that will be seen as a barometer of the strength of President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress. REUTERS/Mark Wessels.
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