South Africa

The Marikana effect: A sharp drop for the ANC in September’s by-elections

By Paul Berkowitz 21 September 2012

The latest by-elections were held on Wednesday, and there is fairly strong evidence that the events of the last month have hurt the ANC at the polls – admittedly only enough at this point to knock its overwhelming majorities down to mere simple majorities. The blows it has suffered are not mortal and the party can probably recover some of the lost ground in the future. But it might not. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

On Wednesday, six by-elections were held across six provinces. All six by-elections were called as a result of the deaths of ward councillors in the respective wards. In five of the wards, the incumbent councillors were from the ANC. The sixth ward was defended by the IFP.

The ANC retained four of its five wards, losing one ward to the DA in Mitchells Plain. The IFP retained its ward and even increased its share of the vote. In five of the six wards it contested the ANC lost ‘market share’ – in at least two of these wards the losses were significant. 

In the Eastern Cape, in Ward 7 in Senqu (Lady Grey), the ANC originally won the ward in the 2011 elections with 87% of the vote. The voters returned the seat to the party with an even greater majority of 93% of the vote. However, in 2011 the ANC faced four other parties at the polls, while on Wednesday the only opposition was the PAC. 

In Gauteng, in Ward 64 of the Ekurhuleni metro (East Rand) the ANC won the ward in 2011 with 90% of the vote. It retained the ward with 67% of the vote in a poll with a sharply reduced voter turnout; just 25% of registered voters turned up on the day, compared with 61% in 2011. The actual votes won by the party fell from 7,665 in 2011 to just 2,410 votes on Wednesday. The DA increased its votes from 279 to 535 and its share of the vote from 3% to 15%. 

In KwaZulu-Natal, in Ward 12 in Nongoma, the IFP won in 2011 with 46% of the vote. The NFP was a close second with 37% of the vote. This is a small ward and only 214 votes separated the two parties in the municipal elections. In the by-election, the IFP retained its seat with an increased 52% share of the vote. The NFP dropped slightly to take 36% of the vote while the ANC saw its share of the vote shrink from 17% to 12%. The IFP’s gains were basically the ANC’s losses. 

In Limpopo, in Ward 13 in Polokwane, the ANC originally took the ward with 87% of the vote. The party retained its seat with 72% of the vote in a by-election where voter turnout almost halved (from 46% in 2011 to just 24%). The DA saw its share of the vote more than triple, from 5% to 17%. 

The actual number of votes garnered by the ANC fell from 2,677 to 1,172. This ward contains Seshego, Julius Malema’s home town, and at least one of the 1,172 votes for the ANC was probably cast by him on Wednesday. The number of votes for the DA increased from 151 in 2011 to 281 in this by-election. 

In North-West, in Ward 10 in Ditsobotla (Lichtenburg), the ANC won the ward with 91% of the vote in 2011. It retained its seat on Wednesday, but its share of the vote plummeted to 62%. The actual number of votes for the party fell from 1,973 in 2011 to just 936 – a loss of more than half of the votes. The party with the second-largest share of the vote, Cope, saw its share rise from 5% to 22% (100 votes in 2011 to 341 votes) in what clearly appears to be a protest vote. 

In the Western Cape, in Ward 88 of the City of Cape Town, the ANC was defending a ward that they won with only 43% of the vote in 2011. Then, the DA received 41% of the vote and only 177 votes separated the two parties. 

This ward, in Mitchell’s Plain, was very much up for grabs and the DA did, after some solid campaigning, take it from the ANC with a convincing 52% of the vote to the ANC’s 45%. The DA now controls the entire area of Mitchell’s Plain, and will no doubt herald this as evidence that it has the overwhelming support of the poor and working class in the metro. 

Apart from the ward in Senqu, where the only opposition was the PAC, the ANC lost a ward and saw its share of the vote fall by 15%, 23% and 28% in another three wards where it enjoys incumbency. The drops in voter turnout also seemed higher than similar drops in previous by-elections. 

The changes in the voting patterns suggest that more of the erstwhile ANC voters chose to stay away from the polls than to vote for opposition parties, but the increase in absolute vote numbers for the DA in Polokwane and Ekurhuleni (and votes for Cope in Ditsobotla) against a backdrop of lower voter turnouts suggests that quite a few voters are actively sending a message to the ANC. Whether the ANC is in any state to receive the message at the moment is another matter altogether. DM

Photo by Reuters


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