By-election trainspotting just became interesting again

By Paul Berkowitz 16 February 2012

There are one or two interesting results from Wednesday’s by-elections. The DA won a ward from the ANC in Polokwane and came extremely close to winning another. The margins of its success and failure are surprising. PAUL BERKOWITZ unpacks the results.

The preliminary results for the February by-elections were released by the IEC early on Thursday morning. Earlier analysis suggested that some of the wards up for grabs could be hard-fought and closely contested. Little did we know that one ward in particular would go right down to the wire.

Let’s first look at the wards where there was no controversy or excitement. The ANC retained Ward 9 in Metsimaholo (Sasolburg) in an uncontested race. ANC candidates also retained seats in Ward 28 in Tshwane and wards 17 and 36 in Polokwane with little fuss. In all three of these the party’s representatives received more than 80% of the vote.

In Ulundi, Ward 13 the IFP retained its seat, but with an even smaller share of the vote. The IFP’s share fell from 47% in the 2011 elections to 39% in this by-election. The NFP (which retained its candidate from the 2011 elections) increased its share from 32% to 34% of the vote. The ANC was the biggest loser, seeing its share of the vote fall from 21% to only 11%. Surprisingly, an independent candidate appeared to be the biggest beneficiary of the ANC’s losses.

Turnout for this poll was around 57%, which is an astonishingly high number. If the result of this by-election is any indication of voting sentiment in rural KwaZulu-Natal then the NFP’s stock is rising while the ANC’s is treading water at best. The NFP’s ambitions to win the province outright in future elections may not be completely realistic (particularly in the urban centres where the ANC is consolidating power), but it holds the balance of power in the areas where there’s no clear favourite.

In Ward 20 of Polokwane the DA staged a famous upset by taking the ward from the ANC. The DA polled 63% of the vote, well up from the 41% in the 2011 elections. The ANC’s share fell from 48% to 34%. The municipality remains firmly in the hands of the ANC, but the loss of this ward could not have come at a worse time.

The DA came within an ace of winning Ward 80 in Tshwane from the ANC. The party managed to increase its share of the vote from 28% in the 2011 elections to just under 50%. The ANC retained the ward by only nine votes – its candidate received 362 votes to the DA’s 353. There were four spoilt votes, six votes for the ACDP candidate and three for Cope.

What is extremely puzzling is that this ward saw less than 6% of registered voters going to the polls, despite the visible campaigning by both the ANC and the DA at the weekend. The DA will be thinking long and hard about what could have been done differently to convince just another 10 voters to go to the polls.

Overall the DA should be happy. It has won another ward from the ANC and it’s doubled its share of the vote in Tshwane Ward 28 from 6% to 12%. To have come so close to increasing its presence in the Tshwane metro, only to fall at the last hurdle, will surely stick in its throat and take some of the gloss off a successful by-election campaign. Its candidate in Ward 80, Phuti Kwenaite, is a rising star in the province and the odds are very good that she’ll campaign again. She has served as provincial secretary of the DA Youth in Gauteng and is surely part of the DA’s “Homegrown Forestry Project” Helen Zille has mentioned in the past.

If previous by-elections have not put the ANC on its guard, this one should deliver the clearest message to the ruling party that the DA is hungry and up for a fight. The public loves to support a winner and the ANC will need to redouble its efforts if it doesn’t want to keep losing by-elections. If you’re a trainspotting elections nerd, stock up on popcorn for the rest of the year. It’s going to be interesting. DM




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