South Africa

August by-elections: A bad day for the ANC

By Paul Berkowitz 8 August 2013

OnWednesday South Africans went to the polls in the biggest, bumper-edition blowout of by-elections so far. 19 wards were contested at the polls, across five provinces. Almost all of these were ANC seats, and whether by the law of averages or the law of the market, the ANC ended up losing two of its wards and one of its municipalities. It almost lost a third ward, in Tlokwe. Bad day at the office, and it might get worse over the next couple of months. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

When you have to defend 16 wards across the country in one day it can get very messy, and messy it did get for the ANC. The party ended up losing two of these wards, one to the DA and one to an independent candidate. One of these wards was in a municipality that will now swing to the DA-COPE alliance.

In the Eastern Cape the ANC retained two wards. Ward 6 of Inxuba Yethmba (Cradock) was uncontested (the party had won the ward with 71% of the vote in 2011). In ward 15 of Engcobo, following the death of its councillor, the party increased its share of the vote from 91% to 92%. The party normally does very well in the rural parts of the province, so this came as no surprise.

In KwaZulu-Natal, in ward 11 of Maphumulo the ANC defended a ward that it had won with 59% of the vote in 2011 (IFP 37%). The by-election was triggered following the death of the councillor. This ward had the potential to give the party a headache but the voters returned the ANC to power in the ward with an increased majority of 69%.

Staying in the province, ward 22 in Abaqulusi (Vryheid) was supposed to be contested on Wednesday also but the election continues to be held up by legal proceedings that may not be resolved in time for next month’s by-elections.

In Mpumalanga, in ward 15 of Albert Luthuli (Carolina) the ANC defended its seat, but lost a chunk of the vote. The party won the ward in 2011 with 88% of the vote and retained it with 75% on Wednesday. The DA doubled its share of the vote, from 10% in 2011 to 20% in the by-election. The opposition party even won one of the smaller voting districts.

There were nine wards contested in the North-West, all of them ANC incumbencies. The party ended up losing one of these wards, and its support dropped significantly in another two. In many wards the opposition parties split the vote, removing some of the pressure from the ANC. The UCDP competed in many of these wards, but its poor showing confirms how much of a spent force the party is now.

In ward 19 in Rustenburg the ANC successfully defended its seat following the resignation of its councillor. The party polled 88% of the vote in 2011 and retained the ward with 86% of the vote on Wednesday. Voter turnout was very low despite the presence of a colourful group of challengers (UCDP, APC and an independent candidate).

The ANC successfully defended ward 14 in Ratlou (Setlagole), dropping slightly from 87% to 84% of the vote (UCDP 11%). However, ward 4 of Mafikeng was taken from the party by an independent candidate. The ANC won this ward with 60% in 2011 but could only muster 26% in the by-election. The seat was won by an independent candidate with 49% of the vote, and the ANC was almost beaten into third place by another independent who polled 24% of the vote (the UCDP won the remaining 1%).

The ANC defended a second ward in Mafikeng, ward 12, and its support rose strongly from 67% to 85% of the vote. The turnout of voters fell sharply from 44% to 13% of all registered voters. The district of Ngaka Modiri Molema (in which Mafikeng is found) has been the site of more tensions within the ANC. The mayor of the district was fired in June and the faultlines that have been exposed in Tlokwe may be present there as well.

The ANC defended ward 20 in Ditsobotla (Lichtenburg) following the resignation of its councillor, but its share of the vote fell sharply. The party had won the ward with 93% of the vote in 2011 but could only manage 70% on Wednesday. An independent candidate won 24%, while COPE and the UCDP shared the scraps.

The ANC defended two wards in Ramotshere Moiloa (Zeerust), losing support in both wards. The party also fired its mayor here in June. In ward 12 the party’s support slipped from 50% to 48% – if the opposition parties hadn’t split the vote here the ANC might have been under more pressure. The DA increased its share of the vote from 3% in 2011 to 22% on Wednesday. In ward 14 the ANC’s support dipped from 79% to 70%. The Working-Together Party won 9%, COPE won 9% and the UCDP won 6%.

In ward 4 of Ganyesa (Pomfret) the ANC retained its seat with an increased majority. The party polled 71% of the vote in 2011, and increased this to 74% on Wednesday. The DA increased its share of the vote from 3% to 22% while the UCDP saw its share fall from 12% to 4%.

In ward 9 of Tlokwe (Potchefstroom) the ANC came within an ace of losing the ward. The party won the ward with 91% of the vote in 2011 but could only manage 51% on Wednesday. The DA and an independent split the vote between them – the party won 13% (up from 5% in 2011) and the independent garnered 35%.

Voter turnout was 41% despite the heavy campaigning in the area and the controversial handing out of food parcels and blankets in the ward by the ANC. If this is any sign of voter apathy then the ANC will be worried – it has to defend up to nine more wards in the municipality in September.

Seven wards were contested in the Western Cape. Three of them were DA incumbencies, four of them ANC. In ward 5 of Bergrivier (Velddrif) the DA successfully defended a very marginal ward. The ward was won with just 51% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 40%, COPE 8%) and retained with a little over 50% of the vote on Wednesday in a two-horse race with the ANC. Only 22 votes separated the two parties.

The DA retained ward 3 of Overstrand (Greater Hermanus) with 84% of the vote. The party’s previous candidate had received 94% in 2011. An independent candidate won the remaining 16% of the vote.

The DA retained ward 1 of George but saw its majority whittled down from 69% to 56% (an independent won 29%, the George Independent Ratepayers’ Forum won 10% and the ANC won 5%). This was the third ward contested in George in as many months. The DA has 25 of the 49 council seats in the municipality and the loss of a ward would have forced the party to form a coalition government in the municipality.

Three wards were contested in Oudtshoorn, all of them ANC-held wards and all of them potential swings – the ANC won all three with less than 50% of the vote in 2011. The ANC and the DA both won 11 of the 25 council seats in 2011, and the ANC formed a coalition government with ICOSA and the NPP (one seat each), enjoying a majority of just one seat over the DA-COPE coalition.

A loss of one of the three wards to the DA would have handed the municipality to the DA-COPE alliance, while a loss of two or three wards to the DA would have handed the party outright control of the municipality.

In ward 5, the ANC’s share of the vote rose from 40% to 56%, and in ward 6 its share rose from 40% to 55%. That was the good news for the ANC: these two marginal wards were made safe for the party. The bad news is that ward 13 was lost to the DA, whose share of the vote rose from 34% in 2011 to 54% on Wednesday. The DA will probably form a coalition government with COPE now, and, with the loss of Oudtshoorn, the ANC has been pushed further back in the Western Cape.

Ward 4 of Bitou (Greater Plettenberg Bay) was defended successfully by the ANC. The party’s share of the vote remained unchanged from 2011, at 48%. The DA polled 43% in 2011 and increased this to 46% on Wednesday. The ANC will be relieved to have retained this seat and the DA will be disappointed not to increase its majority in this hotly-contested municipality.

It was an unambiguously good day for the DA and a pretty poor one for the ANC. The DA now controls another Western Cape municipality, further increasing its dominance in the province. The party came close to winning a second ward and made a strong showing in wards that have previously been ANC strongholds.

The ANC has the successful defence of its Tlokwe ward to comfort it, but not much else. It lost two wards and one municipality on Wednesday, also giving up ground in North-West and Mpumalanga to the DA. Next month it will have to defend up to nine wards in Tlokwe, and it will have to win six of these if it wants to retain the municipality.

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes during a campaign week and it’s fair to say that defending 16 wards in one week can take its toll on a party. The ANC threw a lot of resources at Tlokwe and it still almost lost the ward. Opposition parties and independent candidates are sure to campaign a lot harder in September for the municipality, and the ANC will still be plugging holes in the hull of the SS North-West. For the DA, it’s looking like good sailing weather. DM

Photo: Voters are seen standing in queue waiting to vote in Boksburg during the local government elections, Wednesday, 18 May 2011. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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