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17 March 2018 22:16 (South Africa)
South Africa

Lies and damn lies: The Eastern Cape and the change that isn’t on the horizon

  • Paul Berkowitz
    Paul Berkowitz

    Paul Berkowitz: studied economics, maths stats. Worked at Econometrix, FNB, Wits. Interested in South African politics, economics.

  • South Africa

‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’, or so claimed Rudyard Kipling 125 years ago. The rest of his poem goes on to subvert a trite truth with something deeper – geography is immutable but people can transcend their circumstance. The Eastern Cape has become a symbol of stagnation, unfortunately, where nothing changes for the better. Those that have migrated westwards, in their hundreds of thousands, have been labelled refugees for their troubles. What will happen to the place they have left behind? By PAUL BERKOWITZ.

The Eastern Cape is, in many ways, the spiritual home of the ANC. The province gave the party (and the world) names like Mandela, Mbeki and Tambo. Of course, the party is more than the province, having been born in the Free State and having had great leaders from that province and from KwaZulu-Natal. The province is also more than the party; it has a long and proud history of black consciousness that predates the ANC.

The ANC does remain the only game in town. The party has dominated provincial politics for the past 20 years, only falling below the 70% support level in the 2009 elections.































*based on the percentage of the national/PR vote cast in the province

**municipal election

The UDM was the official opposition in the province in 1999 and 2004 but the party has fallen on hard times and fell to third place in 2009, behind COPE and the DA. As in the Northern Cape, COPE is still the official opposition in the province but the DA should take on that mantle after 7 May if the 2011 election results are any indication.

In contrast with its relative robustness in the Northern Cape, COPE’s fortunes in the Eastern Cape haven’t been good. The party polled less than 5% in the 2011 municipal elections and it’s likely to slip a little further in the upcoming elections following new splits in the party. Mluleki George left COPE in December 2013 to form the United Congress (UC). The UC has contested a couple of by-elections in the province and has performed quite poorly – its best result was 6% in a ward in Mbhashe.

The DA has made inroads in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro (Port Elizabeth). In the 2011 elections the party won over 40% of the vote in the metro (ANC 52%, COPE 5%), thanks to some hard campaigning and an ANC that has been distracted by factionalism in the province. Over half of the DA’s votes in the province came from the metro.

Unfortunately for the DA, the metro only provides a fifth of the total votes in the province. In the densely populated rural east of the province, bordering on KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC enjoys overwhelming support. The party also received about 70% of the vote in the other metro, Buffalo City (East London).

For most of 2011 and 2012 the DA chose not to contest many by-elections where there was an ANC incumbent, making it more difficult to analyse the party’s trajectory in the province. Perhaps the absence of any contestation during this time is evidence enough that the party had no traction in the rural ANC strongholds.

From mid-2012 onwards the DA had more of a showing in municipal by-elections. It didn’t win any wards but it did pick up a few percentage points of the vote here and there – rising from 4% to 27% in a ward in June 2012, from 33% to 44% in another in December 2012. In January 2014 the ANC lost by-elections in the province for the first time since the 2011 elections – two wards in Mbhashe in (Idutywa) one day, in fact. The losses were to an independent candidate and a UDM candidate.

It’s true that the ANC was defending 12 wards in the municipality and retained the other ten successfully. It’s also risky to extrapolate from a busy by-election period at a time when the ruling party’s attention was divided. Finally, it’s true that the DA hasn’t won any by-elections in the province since 2011. The result does suggest that the ANC could be a bit vulnerable in the province.

The DA’s provincial leader, Athol Trollip, is confident that the party will do well in the province come 7 May – exactly how well, he won’t say. This is a province where the party campaigned hard in 2011 and has sustained its focus well after the municipal elections.

The party has welcomed King Dalindyebo into its fold and has spent April campaigning across Port Elizabeth and Mthatha. The DA should be ambitious enough in the province to aim for a result closer to its 2011 showing, and maybe even higher than the 16.4% it achieved in that election.

Whether the DA can capitalise on the ANC’s weaker position in the province remains to be seen. Recent by-election results suggest that there are votes to be taken off the ANC. That doesn’t mean that the DA is going to be the party to do this. Maybe the UDM (or PAC) will be boosted by the frustration with ANC infighting. Maybe the EFF could appeal to those voters who are tired of the ANC but who don’t trust the DA.

The ANC is expected to retain the province without any real threat to its incumbency. Many in the province may have been frustrated by the mismanagement of healthcare and education but they’re more likely to have trekked west in search of a better life: according to official statistics the provincial population was virtually unchanged between 2001 and 2011.

Nor are those left behind likely to turn out to vote the incumbent out if past numbers are anything to go by. Voter turnout fell from 89% in 1999 to 80% in 2004 to just 76% in 2009. Of course, a lower turnout should play into the opposition’s hands but there’s a limit to the growth of the DA’s support in the short term.

In two years’ time the DA will have another shot at taking the Nelson Mandela Bay metro off the ANC’s hands. They might just do it, given the demographics of the metro and the endemic ANC in-fighting in the province. For now, however, the province remains sealed to the opposition. The divide will not be crossed; the twain shall not meet in these elections. DM

Photo: A women is surrounded by dogs as she prepares food  in Mqanduli outside Mthata in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, Septe

  • Paul Berkowitz
    Paul Berkowitz

    Paul Berkowitz: studied economics, maths stats. Worked at Econometrix, FNB, Wits. Interested in South African politics, economics.

  • South Africa

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