South Africa

October by-elections: Voter consolidation in a time of budget consolidation

By Paul Berkowitz 24 October 2013

For journalists, analysts and the mildly interested, Wednesday was an eventful day. Most of the country’s eyeballs and earholes were taking in the medium-term budget policy statement and the latest CPI numbers, but a few South Africans went to the polls to vote in municipal by-elections. Eight wards were contested. The ANC and DA successfully defended two wards each, while the remaining four wards saw a shift in support, under controversial circumstances. The IFP lost three of these wards to the ANC and NFP, and the DA snaffled another. By PAUL BERKOWITZ

Eight wards across five provinces were in need of new representatives on Wednesday. There are a number of other wards where elections have been postponed, particularly in Tlokwe, and a further ward (in Molemole municipality, in Limpopo) which the ANC retained unopposed.

The ANC and DA each had to defend two safe wards, and all four wards were returned to the incumbent parties without too much fuss. The IFP was unable to hold on to three hot wards in KwaZulu-Natal, losing two of them to the NFP and the third to the ANC. Another ward, in Limpopo, was successfully defended by an councillor who had resigned as an independent to campaign for the DA.

Business as usual for the ANC and DA in four wards

In the Eastern Cape, in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) ward 5, the DA defended a ward that it had won in 2011 with 85% of the vote (ANC 11%, COPE 2%). The ward became vacant upon the resignation of the councillor. Against a sharp fall in voter turnout (from 58% in 2011 to just 28% on Wednesday) the DA increased its share of the vote to 95%. The ANC saw its share fall to 4% while the UDM increased its absolute number of supporters from 13 to 24, winning 1% of the vote in the process.

The DA also retained a ward in the Free State municipality of Ngwathe (Parys) where another ward councillor resigned from the party. Ward 18 was won by the party with 83% in 2011 (ANC 10%, FF+ 6%) and retained with 97% of the vote on Wednesday. Turnout fell from 65% to 42% on the day.

In KwaZulu-Natal four wards were contested in two municipalities. Ward 29 in Hibiscus Coast (Port Shepstone) was previously represented by the ANC and became vacant following the death of the councillor. In 2011 the party had won the ward with 85% of the vote (IFP 11%, NFP 2%) and its share of the vote dropped slightly to 79% in a two-horse race with the IFP. Turnout fell from 69% to 52%.

In the North West, ward 5 in Tswaing (Delareyville) was won by the ANC in 2011 with 60% of the vote (DA 37%). The party improved strongly in Wednesday’s by-election, increasing its share of the vote to 81% and its absolute number of votes from 1 079 to 1 295. The DA’s share of the vote fell to 18% while the UCDP increased its share of the vote from 1.3% to 1.6%. While voter turnout fell from 53% to 46%, the absolute number of votes for the UCDP increased from 22 to 24. This should bring a smile to supporters of the party.

More ANC/IFP/NFP controversy in Nongoma

Three wards (5, 10 and 11) were contested in Nongoma, in KwaZulu-Natal. All three wards had been won in 2011 by IFP candidates who defected to the ANC two months ago.

Nongoma is part of the Zululand district municipality. The district has historically been part of the IFP’s stronghold, but more recently it birthed the NFP. Nongoma and the other local municipalities in Zululand have had more than their fair share of controversy since the 2011 municipal elections.

In those elections the IFP’s power appeared to have been completely vitiated. The party had controlled 20 local municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal before 2011, but lost control of all but one of them in the wake of the elections.

Most of the 19 municipalities were lost to an ANC-NFP coalition where the ANC has the majority of seats in the coalition. The NFP does control one municipality outright – eDumbe – and is the senior coalition partner in another municipality. That municipality is Nongoma. (The local municipality that the IFP retained in 2011, Ulundi, is also part of the Zululand district.)

Another IFP ward in Nongoma has been contested in the last year and a half – in fact it has been contested and defended by the IFP twice in this time. A by-election was first held in ward 12 in March 2012 following the expulsion of the IFP councillor. The new councillor died under ‘mysterious circumstances’, according to an IFP press release, and a new by-election was held in September 2012, also won by the IFP.

The NFP-ANC coalition has a comfortable majority in the Nongoma council. There are 42 council seats in the municipality. Before Wednesday’s by-elections the NFP held 19 of these (13 ward, 6 PR), the IFP held 17 seats (8 ward, 9 PR) and the ANC held six seats (all PR). After the ANC and NFP’s by-election victories, the coalition’s majority rose from 25 to 28 seats (NFP 21, ANC 7). The IFP went from 17 to 14 seats in council and the ANC can now boast its first ward seat in the municipality.

To say that there is some tension and animosity between the IFP and NFP in Zululand is an understatement. Both sides have been keen, even a bit desperate, to lay claim to the voters in the district. The ANC in turn is not accustomed to governing in coalition and will always look to increase its share of the vote.

Ward 5 in Nongoma was won by the IFP with 51% of the vote in 2011 (NFP 41%, ANC 8%). The incumbent councillor, Sithembiso Gumbi, resigned his seat to run for the ANC on Wednesday. He successfully retained it with 45% of the vote. The NFP candidate was only able to garner 33% of the vote, while the new IFP candidate received 22%. Turnout fell from 63% to 57%.

Ward 10 was won by the IFP in 2011 with 54% in 2011 (NFP 29%, ANC 17%). On Wednesday the three parties split the vote pretty much down the middle. Only three votes separated the NFP from the ANC – 906 votes to 903, with both parties receiving about 34% of the vote. The IFP limped into third place with 824 votes and 31% of the vote. Turnout fell from 70% to 63%.

Ward 11 changed hands under the same exciting conditions. The IFP had won the ward in 2011 with just 47% of the vote to the NFP’s 40% and the ANC’s 13%. Nine votes separated the NFP and IFP on Wednesday – the NFP won the ward with 889 votes (and just 36% of the total) to the IFP’s 880 votes (35%) and the ANC’s 710 votes (29%).

It would not be surprising if the IFP challenged the vote in this ward, at least in the popular press if not in the courts. The party has accused the ANC and IFP of underhanded tactics in the past, and in turn has faced similar accusations.

The DA wins a ward in Makhado

In Limpopo, ward 5 in Makhado [Louis Trichardt] was won by an independent councillor in 2011 in a narrow race. The independent candidate received 46% of the vote to the ANC’s 39%. The independent, Miringo Patrick Mazibuko, resigned his seat to run under the DA’s banner. He retained his seat on Wednesday with 39% of the vote to the ANC’s 33% (COPE won 27% of the vote). The DA’s power in the council has increased from five to six seats. The ANC still holds 64 of the 75 council seats and is unlikely to lose its majority in the near future.

DA supporters are understandable upbeat about the result, although the party’s detractors will point out that the victory doesn’t represent the party’s organic growth in the municipality. In the 2011 elections the DA was only able to win 1% of the vote.

While the finance minister was calling for collective responsibility and a ‘fiscal consolidation’ during his medium-term budget policy statement speech, the ANC and DA were ensuring that the voting public were contributing to consolidation of a different kind. On Wednesday, both parties increased their reach into local government, and the space for independent voices and IFP supporters became a little smaller. DM

Photo by Reuters.

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