On Wednesday, South Africans went to the polls in six by-elections – and just last week there was a single, lone by-election. The local electioneering process has been a bit chaotic this month, and the DA has lost a fair bit of ground. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.
There was just one by-election last Wednesday, on 15 May. It took place in ward 18 of Umzimkulu municipality.
Umzimkulu is a municipality in the south end of KwazZulu-Natal, near the Eastern Cape border. Following the 2011 elections, the ANC had an overwhelming majority in the municipality, holding 19 of the 20 ward seats and a further 17 of the 20 PR seats for a total of 36 of the 40 council seats. Its coalition partner, the NFP, holds two of the remaining four seats. One is held by the IFP (PR seat).
The last seat, the final ward, was held by an independent councillor who decided to resign his seat and run in the by-election under the DA banner. The councillor had won his seat in 2011 with 61% of the vote to the ANC’s 38%. The DA had only won 1% of the vote.
The DA was banking on their councillor’s popularity with the voters but campaigned heavily in the ward, as did the ANC (the DA accused the ANC of bring in portable toilets and other services to sway voters a week before the by-election). Although confidence in the DA was running high on election day, few neutral parties believed that the party would win the ward.
The ANC ended up winning the ward with 72% of the vote to the DA’s 28%. Both parties put whatever spin they could on the result, but all that the DA could claim is that they’d increased their share of the vote from 1% to 28%. Given that their candidate had polled 61% previously, a neutral bystander could conclude that the voters clearly preferred the ANC to the DA, even if the DA’s candidate was their first choice two years ago.
The win could also send a message to other independent candidates who might be tempted by the DA or other opposition parties: there’s a good chance you will end up worse than you are now.
As bad as the result was for the DA, there were threats of even bigger pain to come a week hence.
The main event
Seven wards were originally supposed to be contested on Wednesday, but just a few days before the IEC had announced a postponement in the by-election that was to be held in ward 4 of Jozini municipality (KwaZulu-Natal). The announcement confirms that the delay is due to alleged voting irregularities. There will an investigation into the allegations.
One other by-election was held in KwaZulu-Natal. In ward 2 of Impendle the ANC successfully defended a ward following the resignation of its councillor. It had won the ward with 75% in 2011 (IFP 10%, NFP 8%, DA 6%) and retained the ward with 73% (IFP 19%, NFP 8%)
In Mpumalanga there were two by-elections. Ward 7 of Albert Luthuli (Elukwatini/Carolina) had been won by the ANC with 96% in 2011 (COPE, DA 2% each). Following the resignation of its councillor, the ANC campaigned against COPE and IFP candidates in the by-election.
By Thursday morning the results of the by-election were still not public, but it is a reasonable assumption that the party retained its seat with an overwhelming majority.
The ANC defended ward 6 of Thaba Chweu (Sabie) following the resignation of its councillor. The erstwhile councillor ran again under the ANC banner, suggesting that this by-election may have been another clean-up of previous registration irregularities.
The ANC had polled 94% of the vote in 2011 (DA 4%, APC 1%) and retained the seat with 89% of the vote (an independent won the remaining 11%). In a by-election where the turn-out was half of 2011, there’s not too much that can be extrapolated.
In the Northern Cape, the ANC and DA fought over ward 1 of Nama Khoi (Springbok). Following a bruising fight in April which saw the ANC lose the !Kheis (Groblershoop) municipality, there was a chance for the ANC to exact revenge.
The Nama Khoi municipality has been run by a DA-COPE coalition since the 2011 elections. There are 17 seats in the council: the ANC has eight, the DA six and COPE has three. The coalition’s majority is just one seat.
In this particular ward the DA won with just 50% of the vote to the ANC’s 47%. The remaining 3% won by COPE translated into just 61 votes – and only 52 votes separated the DA from the ANC. It goes without saying that both parties rolled up to canvass voters, but they didn’t stop there. There are reports of the DA transporting their activists by donkey-cart to the edges of the municipality in an effort to bring out the vote.
The results of the vote were not known until Thursday morning, but when the shouting was over the ANC had won the municipality with 58% of the vote to the DA’s 42%. Turnout increased from 62% to 72% and both parties ended up with more votes for their candidate, compared with 2011. The ANC now hold a majority of council seats and will run the municipality going forward.
In the Western Cape the DA defended two wards. The first, ward 105 in the City of Cape Town, was relatively straightforward. The party had won the ward with 79% in 2011 (ANC 17%, FF+ 1%) and retained its seat with 83% (ANC 17%) in a sharply-reduced turnout.
The second ward, ward 6 in George, was a closer affair. The DA won the ward with just 49% in 2011 to the ANC’s 36% (ICOSA 4%, COPE and independent, 3% each). The DA had 25 of the 49-seat council before the by-election to the ANC’s 19. If it lost this ward it would lose its absolute majority in the council, and might have to cut a deal with COPE or another party.
The DA retained its seat with an increased share of the vote, taking 53%. The ANC’s share of the vote dropped to 23% while ICOSA managed to grow its share to 17%. With very little fall in voter turnout, the DA increased its absolute number of votes by a little over 100, while ICOSA’s votes rose from 100 to 422.
The retention of the George seat is the best news for the DA in this month’s by-election. The party has lost a critical ward and municipality in the Northern Cape, suffering its first setback in the province since the elections. Last week it also saw its candidate embarrassed by the loss of a safe ward seat in Unzimkulu.
This month was a very good one for the ANC, apart from the erosion of its share in the George ward, and very small drops in its majorities in Thaba Chweu and Impendle. If any further proof was needed that the party’s activists can bring out the vote even as it is fighting many high-profile scandals, Wednesday’s results should suffice.
There are likely to be more by-election irregularities and late-night vote counts in the lead-up to the 2014 elections. Many of the wards up for voting are not there by accident, but appear to be the results of one party wooing another’s incumbent councillors. There will be more high-profile by-elections in the months to come, and that is something you can safely bet on. DM
Photo by Reuters.
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