South Africa

December by-elections: winning the Mangaung war and losing the battles

By Paul Berkowitz 6 December 2012

The final by-elections of 2012 were held on Wednesday in seven wards, spanning six municipalities and four provinces. It wouldn’t be the festive season without the promise of a few fireworks. Four swing wards and two potential shake-ups at the municipal level, just ten days from Mangaung, was a strong finish for the thrilling world of municipal by-elections. The results didn’t disappoint: the ANC lost one ward and could easily have lost another two. The IFP was the biggest winner. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

Seven wards were contested in by-elections on Wednesday (an eighth was retained by the ANC as its candidate was the only one contesting the election). Two of these wards looked to be cakewalks for the incumbent parties (one ANC, one DA). One ward looked safe-ish for the ANC, although the result was far closer than expected. Another four wards looked like they might swing. 

All of the four swing wards were in KwaZulu-Natal, where most of the closely-fought battles have been held this year. Two of these four wards are in the Ethekwini metro. The other two held the balance of power in Hlabisa (Somkele) and Nkandla. 

In the Eastern Cape, in ward 22 of Lukhanji (Queenstown) the ANC retained the ward it had won with 64% of the vote in 2011, but its lead on the DA shrank substantially. In 2011 the DA received 33% of the vote and there were 648 votes separating the two parties. In a reduced turnout the ANC’s share of the vote shrank to 55% and the DA’s rose to 44%. Only 135 votes separated the two parties. 

In the Western Cape, in ward 2 of Bitou (Greater Plettenberg Bay) the DA retained the ward it had won with 95% of the vote last year. Its share in these by-elections fell to 92%. Voter turnout fell from 75% to a still-respectable 56%. The DA has a majority of just one seat in the municipal council and the ANC would dearly love to take back the municipality it lost in last year’s elections, but this ward was never going to change hands. 

Similarly, ward 12 in Setsoto (Senekal), in the Free State was never going to leave the ANC. The party won the ward with 86% of the vote in 2011 (DA 9%, COPE 4%). The party retained the ward with 81% of the vote 

In ward 39 in Ethekwini (Durban Metro) the IFP kept out both the ANC and the NFP last year by a sliver of the lead. Both the IFP and the ANC received 34% of the vote (NFP 29%) with only 19 votes separating the two parties. This time around the IFP retained its ward in an unambiguous fashion, more than doubling its share of the vote to 70%. The ANC garnered 18% of the vote and the NFP received just 12%. 

In ward 72 of Ethekwini (Durban Metro) the ANC won the ward in 2011 with 46% of the vote to the MF’s 24% and the DA’s 21%. With the MF declining to field a candidate on Wednesday, the DA thought that they were in with a chance, and tried to get the vote out on the day in the hopes of picking up the ward. 

In the end it was voter apathy that did them in, with voter turnout tumbling from 53% to just 23%. The DA might have picked up a larger chunk of erstwhile Rajbansi supporters than the ANC did, but both parties lost votes overall. The ANC lost far more than the DA did – some 2,000, compared to about 340 for the DA – but the DA still didn’t have the numbers. The ANC retained the ward with 53% of the vote to the DA’s 41%.   

The last two wards in KwaZulu-Natal were another two races closely fought by the ANC, IFP and NFP. In both municipalities there is no party with an outright majority of council seats. One of the wards is held by the ANC and one by the NFP. A successful challenge in either ward by the IFP would give the party an outright majority in the respective municipality, and perhaps a chance to run the council without resorting to a coalition.  

In ward 2 of Hlabisa (Somkele) the NFP won the ward in 2011 with 37% of the vote to the IFP’s 33% and the ANC’s 29%. This is a small ward with few votes separating the parties. The IFP had 12 seats in the council, the ANC 11 and the NFP three. 

The IFP managed to win this ward with a handful of votes. Counting the vote went well into the night because there was almost nothing separating all three parties. In the end, the IFP received 749 votes (34% of the vote), the NFP 734 votes (33%) and the ANC 733 votes (33%). The ANC and NFP split the vote between them in the most dramatic way. 

In ward 4 of Nkandla the IFP won the ward from the ANC convincingly and with it an outright majority of council seats. The IFP now has eight council seats to the ANC’s three and the NFP’s four. In 2011 the ANC won the ward with just under 50% of the vote. The IFP had 40% and the NFP 10%. The IFP achieved 55% of the vote in the by-elections.

Although the turnout was slightly down, it was still a very healthy 51%, and the IFP increased the number of votes it received from 815 to 975. The ANC went from 1 002 votes to just 591 in these by-elections.

Without a doubt the ANC was the biggest loser on the night. Voter turnout was relatively low in most of the wards, perhaps signalling that the general public is fairly uninterested in the political fare being dished up, although Nkandla stands out like a sore thumb in this respect.

The DA were within touching distance of the ANC in two wards but could just not convince enough people to vote for them on the day. It was the IFP’s day, winning two wards and retaining one.

Internally the ANC has seen KwaZulu-Natal as its stronghold, but the last few months have seen the IFP successfully lob a few rocks over the parapets. The IFP has defended its wards with an increasingly firm grip and Wednesday’s voting saw it land a body blow in Nkandla. 

At this point the IFP is still just winning back some of the ground lost in 2011, which is better than the losing trend it’s been on for the last few years. But the province’s voters look increasingly tired of the ANC/NFP coalition and it’s hurting both parties. The Sunday papers have already called Mangaung for the Zuma camp. The ANC itself will have ample opportunity in next year’s by-elections to see if the general public endorses the outcomes of its conference. DM

Photo by Reuters.

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