South Africa

South Africa

May by-elections: Sleepless in Soshanguve

May by-elections: Sleepless in Soshanguve

On Wednesday, South Africans went to the polls in six wards across four provinces. All of the seats were successfully defended by the incumbents: four by the DA and two by the ANC. It looks like local politics is pretty much back to business as usual. By PAUL BERKOWITZ and WAYNE SUSSMAN.

The 2014 national / provincial elections are over and the new parliament has been sworn in. South Africa is in a sweet spot now, in terms of productivity, stuck between the April holidays and the World Cup Final in June. After the disastrous contraction of the economy in the first quarter, it’s hoped that the country will engage in some rolling-up of sleeves and actually do a bit of work.

There was some evidence in the May by-elections of politicians having to sing a bit more lustily for their supper. Although the wards were all retained by the 2011 winners, there were one or two near-upsets and high voter turnouts in two potential swing wards.

In Gauteng, two wards were contested in the Tshwane metro. In ward 27 the ANC defended a ward that became vacant when the party’s councillor was imprisoned. The ANC won the ward with 93% of the vote in 2011 (DA 4%) and retained the ward with 59% on Wednesday (DA 40%). Turnout fell from 56% to 38%.

This ward is in Soshanguve and the DA’s growth must be evaluated against this backdrop. The party increased its votes in the ward from just 241 in 2011 to 1,759 on Wednesday, even with a decrease in the overall number of votes cast. The party will see this result as a success.

In ward 58 the DA defended a ward it had won with just 53% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 39%, FF+ 3%) after its councillor resigned and ran under the ANC banner in the by-elections. The party increased its share of the vote to 62% on Wednesday (ANC 37%) as voter turnout fell from 39% to just 19%. This ward’s constituency has a mixed background, both in terms of income and race. The DA will be relieved by the result.

In KwaZulu-Natal the ANC successfully defended ward 2 in Umvoti (Greytown) following the resignation of its councillor. The party had won the ward in 2011 with 54% of the vote (IFP 39%, NFP 5%). The party retained the seat with an increased majority of 63% (IFP 33%, NFP 4%). Voter turnout remained very high, dipping from 65% to 56%. This ward was the last one to confirm results last night, underlining the ongoing contestation of the province’s municipalities by the three parties (ANC, IFP, NFP). The IFP slipped a little bit further in the ward.

In Limpopo the DA defended a ward in Lephalale (Ellisras) following the death of its councillor. The party won the ward with 61% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 35%, COPE 3%) and increased its majority to 80% on Wednesday (ANC 18%, COPE 2%). Turnout fell from 48% to 29%.

Two wards were defended by the DA in the Western Cape. In ward 25 of Cape Town the party’s councillor resigned and joined the Patriotic Alliance, triggering the by-election. The DA won the ward with 83% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 8%, ACDP 2%, COPE 2%). The party increased its share of the vote to 88% on Wednesday (ANC 8%, Patriotic Alliance and First Nation Liberation Alliance 2% each). The ward includes parts of Ravensmead, home of Vernon Philander. Turnout in the ward fell from 61% to 25%.

In ward 6 of Matzikama (Vredendal) the DA faced a stiff challenge from the ANC. The DA has already lost two wards in the municipality to the ANC and subsequently the municipality itself. The party had won the ward with 53% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 37%, COPE 4%).

On Wednesday the DA shaved its share of the vote very fine, edging the ANC out by 1,094 votes to 1,073. Both parties received around 48% of the vote and it was left to the Patriotic Alliance to frustrate the ANC’s ambitions – the party won 90 votes and may have split the opposition vote. Turnout barely fell, moving from 65% in 2011 to 63% on Wednesday.

In summary, the ANC and DA defended their turf, although the DA arguably had a better day out, cutting into the ANC’s share in Soshanguve and staunching the bloodletting in Matzikama. The ANC did well in a tough Umvoti ward but may have concerns over its showing in Tshwane.

Yesterday, social media was atwitter with the news that Herman Mashaba had joined the DA. The popular narrative was that the party was a good home for rich black industrialists who made money off their poorer brethren. The DA’s successes in Soshanguve could go some way to refuting these assertions, but this success could just be the corollary of a ward that is fed up by an underperforming ANC councillor.

The Patriotic Alliance continues to underwhelm, although the DA is probably grateful for the party’s appearance on the Matzikama ballot. The EFF continues to absent itself from local politics. Unlike some other parties, the EFF seems to be picking its battles carefully and doesn’t want to enter any races that it’s not confident of winning.

The near future might see the party enter the fray. There are some 20 by-elections scheduled for July, including wards in North-West, where the EFF is the official opposition. The party will need to maintain its presence in the area or risk being branded a movement that only shows up for the big events. After this palate-cleanser of by-elections the rest of the year might prove to be more exciting. DM

Photo by SAPA.


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