South Africa

Analysis: January by-elections – ANC tastes first blood

By Paul Berkowitz 1 February 2013

Local politics in 2013 is promising to be very interesting. In the first round of by-elections for 2013 the DA lost a key ward to the ANC. This loss could trigger a change of government in the municipality if the DA and its partners aren’t able to work out a new deal. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

The first round of by-elections post-Mangaung had all the favourable conditions that the ANC could have wanted: only three wards to contest, all DA incumbencies. With such a focused, manageable target and the freedom that comes from being the challenger, this was the perfect time to knock the rust off the ANC party machinery and prepare for a long 15-month haul until the next general elections.

The ANC managed to make it count; the party won a critical ward from the DA in a critical Western Cape municipality. The changing of the guard in the ward might even see the DA and its coalition partners lose their control of the entire municipality.

Two of the three wards were won by the DA in the 2011 elections, with 81% of the vote in each ward, making it statistically likely that the party would defend them successfully. Ward 5 in uMngeni (Howick) (where the ANC received 17% and the IFP 1%) and Ward 22 in City of Cape Town (where the ANC received 12% and the ACDP 2%) were thought to be safe seats for the DA.

In the uMngeni ward, the resignation of the councillor triggered the by-election. The DA retained its seat with a slight increase in its share of the vote (83%) and the ANC took the rest (17%). Voter turnout fell from 78% to 62% of all eligible voters.

In the City of Cape Town ward the termination of the councillor’s party membership triggered the by-election. The DA experienced a slight drop in support, receiving 77% of the vote, retaining its seat comfortably. Voter turnout was less than half that of the 2011 elections, falling from 63% of eligible voters to just 30% on Wednesday. The ANC increased its share of the vote to 20% and COPE took what was left.

The third ward, Ward 10 in the Witzenberg (Ceres) municipality, was won by the DA, with just 48% of the vote in 2011, and the party is in power through a coalition with the narrowest of majorities. Before the by-election, the DA (holding ten out of 23 council seats) had a coalition with COPE (one seat) and an independent councillor (one seat).

The coalition held 12 out of 23 council seats and the independent and COPE councillors were duly and respectively rewarded with the positions of deputy mayor and speaker in the council. Such is the nature of coalition politics and horse-trading, more so in the Western Cape than in any other province. Along with the mayor and the four mayoral committee members (all DA councillors), the coalition held most of the levers of power in the municipality.

The DA received 48% of the vote in 2011 to the ANC’s 39% (COPE 9%; ACDP, NPP 1% each). Voter turnout was relatively low, and the by-election was triggered by the termination of the councillor’s membership by the DA. The erstwhile councillor, Piet Waterboer, ran under the ANC’s ticket in the by-election and retained his seat.

The ANC won the seat from the DA with just 42% of the vote in a byelection where an NFP candidate and three independents also competed. One of the independents, Neville Daniels, managed to split the vote down the middle, receiving 29%, while the DA candidate could only manage 23%. Voter turnout rose from 46% to 50% as all parties concerned lobbied their supporters to vote on the day.

Daniels is a prominent community leader who obviously enjoys the support of a significant portion of the ward. It is not clear why the DA couldn’t convince him to run under their banner. This might be symptomatic of the problems the party is currently experiencing in the area, along with the ongoing farmworker protests.

The municipality now faces a reshuffling of the deck. For the DA-led coalition to retain control of the municipality, it will need to co-opt at least one of the minority parties in the council to shore up its majority. It can approach the National People’s Party (NPP), the Democratic Christian Party (DCP) or the Voice of Independents Party (VOIP), each of whom have one seat in council.

The NPP will almost certainly side with the ANC, leaving the DCP or VOIP as potential partners. Sources suggest that the VOIP will probably side with the DA and the DCP are closer to the ANC. If this is correct, then the DA will be restored to its same slim majority in the municipality, but this is by no means guaranteed.

The DA will need to dig into its bag of goodies and have something worth offering to the VOIP councillor to entice him into its stable. There’s little to put on the table apart from a mayoral committee position. The ANC faces the same challenges in what it can offer its potential partners, but its job is made a bit easier by the fact that the NPP is in its pocket and it doesn’t have to dole out quite so many favours.

Even if the DA manages to cobble together a new coalition, its problems in the municipality are not over. There’s a possible legal challenge from another DA ward councillor which might lead to a second by-election in the near future. If this does come to pass and the DA loses another ward in the area, there will be almost no chance of the party retaining power in the municipality.

The win in Witzenberg will provide the ANC with some much-needed momentum at a time when the party remains under scrutiny for the events at Marikana and Nkandla. The DA itself is not having a great time of things; its leader is fighting a running battle with the New Age newspaper and it is putting out other fires in the Western Cape, both literally and figuratively.

The DA might want to ask itself if its current challenges in the rural municipalities of the province are all down to an ANC “dirty tricks” campaign, as it keeps alleging, or if the party’s approach to candidates and campaign strategies is also playing a part.

For all the problems the ANC is dealing with, it no longer has a divisive and time-consuming national conference to deal with, and its considerable resources will once again be focused on the business of winning external elections. 2013 has seen the ANC coming out of the starting blocks very strongly, and the DA will have to make up some lost ground in the race to 2014. DM

Photo by Reuters.

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