South Africa

Curiouser and curiouser: surprises in the August by-elections

By Paul Berkowitz 2 August 2012

The August by-elections were a fairly busy affair that threw up few surprises. Eleven wards actively contested, ten retained by the incumbents, one ward changing hands. This time the ANC vs DA story was not the main event, but rather the curious three-hand bridge game in KZN between the IFP, NFP and ANC. While the ANC and DA easily defended their patches in other provinces and generally increased their share of the vote, the campaigning in the Kingdom has seen the parties there sweat blood. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

The by-elections held on Wednesday were a full day’s outing, with 11 wards across eight provinces being actively contested and another two wards where ANC councillors were elected unopposed. Only one ward changed hands and the hand-over involved neither the ANC nor the DA.

In the Eastern Cape, in Mhlontlo (Qumbu) three wards were made vacant, all of them won by the ANC in the 2011 elections. All three wards had been won with an overwhelming majority (in excess of 93% of the vote) and in all three the by-election was triggered by the resignation of the ward councillor. Wards 11 and 23 were retained by the ANC, which even managed to increase its unassailable lead in the two by-elections. In ward 19 the ANC candidate stood unopposed.

In the Free State ward 18 in Ngwathe (Parys) the DA-held ward was made available on the termination of the councillor’s party membership. The DA retained this ward and increased its share of the vote from 82% in 2011 to 90%. In Gauteng the ANC retained ward 12 of Lesedi (Heidelberg) uncontested after the death of the councillor.

In KwaZulu-Natal there were four by-elections in four different municipalities with four different incumbent parties. In ward 5 of Umtshezi (Estcourt), following the death of the councillor, the IFP was defending a seat it won with only 46% of the vote in 2011. The party retained the seat with only 40% of the vote in a very tight three-horse race with the ANC and NFP. Voter turnout was a very high 68%. 

Ward 8 of uPhongolo was the only ward that changed hands in these by-elections. Following the resignation of its councillor the NFP was defending a ward that was originally won with only 41% of the vote (in that election the IFP scooped 37% of the vote). The margin of victory was even narrower this time: the IFP wrenched the ward from the NFP by a margin of just 18 votes (628 to 610). The IFP won 36% of the vote with the NFP were right behind on 35%. The ANC played the role of potential spoiler (and how often does a person get an opportunity to say that) with 28% of the vote.

In ward 9 of Abaqulusi (Vryheid) the DA was defending a ward it won in 2011 with 57% of the vote (the ANC received 21%). It successfully retained the ward in these by-elections with 75% of the vote. 

In Ward 2 of Ntambana the ANC successfully defended a ward that it won by only 15 votes in 2011, with the IFP close on its heels. In that election both parties received 41% of the vote and the NFP received 18%. In these by-elections the ANC increased its share of the vote to 46% while the IFP dropped a cog, taking 40% of the vote.

In Limpopo, ward 27 of the Greater Tubatse municipality (the Burgersfort/Ohrigstad area) was contested. The ANC won the ward with 75% of the vote (Cope 21%) in 2011 and retained the ward with 80% in these by-elections. In Mpumalanga, ward 2 of the Govan Mbeki (Highveld Ridge) municipality was contested following the death of the ANC councillor. The ANC originally won the ward with 87% of the vote. It retained the ward with 69% – its only real drop in support in any of the wards contested in this by-election. The DA made a strong showing here, increasing its share of the vote from 11% in 2011 to 30%. 

In the Northern Cape, ward 1 in Phokwane (Hartswater) was contested following the death of the ANC incumbent. The ANC retained the ward with 79% of the vote (76% in 2011 elections). In the Western Cape, ward 6 of Swartland (Malmesbury) was available following the death of the DA councillor. The DA won the ward with 68% of the vote (ANC 24%) in 2011 and retained the ward with 71%.

It’s not completely clear at this point what to make of the ongoing events in KwaZulu-Natal – both the official party campaigning and the ugly behind-the-scenes deaths of party members. There are claims that many of the murders of party officials are motivated by greed within a party’s ranks rather than by internecine warfare between parties. The truth is that nobody has a complete picture at the moment. 

There are no serious suggestions that the ANC-NFP coalition is under threat of dissolution but recent by-election results in the province paint the picture of an electorate that is not sure whether it made the right decision by leaving the party of Buthelezi to join Ms Magwaza-Msibi. The few successful IFP ward retentions and victories we’ve seen in recent months may not be the most representative sample, but it does appear as if the party, having lost so much in the last five years, is not going to give up what it still holds without a proper fight. DM

File photo by Reuters


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