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18 December 2017 01:04 (South Africa)
Politics

Battleground Joburg: Tremors of Change could profoundly alter SA’s future

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics
Photo: Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau, DA’s Herman Mashaba and EFF's Floyd Shivambu during mayoral debate at The Gathering, moderates by Stephen Grootes, 10 June 2016. (Greg Nicolson)

Over the last few days the sorrow that is the SABC and the noise that is Nkandla have tended to exorcise the most important political story of the year from the headlines. We are just five weeks away from a set of elections that could fundamentally alter the politics of this country. Up until now it has been clear that the battleground is the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. Suddenly, last week, Tshwane was thrust into the spotlight, as the ANC appeared to turn on itself. But, almost unnoticed, something could be shifting in Joburg. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Johannesburg has been hidden behind other municipal battlegrounds for a valid set of reasons. The situation in Nelson Mandela Bay is fragile for the ANC, and Danny Jordaan provides a particularly tragic figure to focus on. Despite his denial of the FIFA bribery claims against him in an interview with EWN on Wednesday, it is clear that what happened in Zurich has hit him hard. And who could ignore the political comeback that could be Athol Trollip, the “last white male leader of the opposition in Parliament” who could become the city’s first non-ANC mayor since liberation.

Then there is Tshwane. Results from the national elections, where the ANC won just 49% of the vote there, suggest that it could be in serious trouble. But the real tensions within the ANC exploded in the type of violence that caught even Luthuli House by surprise. And the symbolism of losing the executive capital after already losing the legislative capital in Cape Town cannot be ignored.

But Johannesburg was different. There the ANC seemed relatively secure, and, as this writer once confidently claimed, it would be surely difficult for the ANC to “lose Soweto”. However, a closer examination of some of the data that is now available actually paints a slightly different picture. It is true that Soweto has a large number of people, and is surely the largest settlement within the municipality of Johannesburg. But, in fact, it only has roughly 700,000 voters. The total number of voters in the metro is about 2.2-million.

This figure could turn out to be of decisive importance. As a result, the suburbs, which tend to vote for the DA in higher numbers, may actually be the critical battleground. And this is where the DA has a huge advantage. It goes without saying that everyone votes in the way they do for different reasons, that individual voter behaviour is very difficult to predict and sometimes impossible for someone else to understand. And, as your vote is your secret, so is your reason for your vote.

But, it is possible to understand the behaviour of voting crowds. And, generally speaking, it may be that the biggest possible factor determining the voting behavior of minorities and suburbanites generally (who are, by virtue of the fact they are in Johannesburg, by definition “urban”) is President Jacob Zuma's behaviour. Middle-class anger against him is at an all-time high. Which is saying something, given his already rich history.

In these suburbs then, places that have historically voted DA could probably expect a very high turnout. You could argue that Zuma’s conduct since December; the firing of Nhlanhla Nene, the reinstatement of the corruption charges, the Nkandla ruling and the Gupta Scandal are almost designed to push these people to vote, and to vote against the ANC. One could presume that the turnout in these areas could even be as high as 80-90%.

Given who these voters are, we can probably also assume that these voters will cast their ballot in favour of the DA. This may be despite some of the shortcomings of their candidate, Herman Mashaba, but they are still unlikely to favour the EFF. Of course, other places, such as Diepsloot and Alexandra, could well be very important for Julius Malema, but they are smaller than Soweto.

Then we have the turnout in Soweto. It seems likely that the percentage of people who vote for the ANC in Soweto is likely to decline. The recent scandals affecting the ANC, the fact that the economy has slowed, thus slowing the improvements to their lives, is competing with the fact that services and infrastructure such as roads, homes and Parks (excuse the pun – Ed) have improved. So while obviously the ANC will still dominate, the question starts to revolve very much around turnout. And then you also have to factor in that it is possible that the DA makes some progress in these wards.

It is impossible at this stage to make any kind of hard prediction at all. Especially since the Gauteng ANC is going to campaign hard, even if it is distracted by events in Tshwane.

But the upshot of all of this maths means that we could have a combination where the DA-supporting suburbs see a turnout of above 80%, while the ANC-supporting Soweto sees a turnout of between 45-55%. And then we need to throw into the mix the fact that in the proportional representation side of the vote, the DA will pick up some votes in Soweto.

All of this, taken together, could make it possible that the DA actually does get more votes than the ANC. In fact, in some scenarios, it could actually mean that it does more than just beat the ANC.

That said, the issue becomes whether or not the DA can get over 50% in Joburg. That is probably a much higher ask; the total number of votes required is higher. So, even if the DA does get more votes than the ANC in Joburg (and it’s still a big “if”), the tally of the other parties becomes crucially important. Ideologically speaking, the DA would far rather do business with Cope or the IFP or the ACDP than the EFF. But it seems likely that it will be the EFF who it would have to deal with. That in itself poses many complex questions.

But those questions could in fact almost be quite minor compared to the shock of the result itself, and the message it would send to the Gauteng ANC, and the ANC nationally. It would have huge ramifications for the party in the province. Its opponents, President Jacob Zuma chief among them, would be emboldened to disband its Provincial Executive Committee. That would strengthen Zuma's dominance of the ANC, but would weaken it as a whole, and lead to the party possibly losing Gauteng in 2019. That, as previously explained, would be disastrous for the party as a whole. Or, perhaps, it could be a real sign to the ANC that it needs to change course.

Interestingly, for residents in the city itself, not much will change immediately. There are huge similarities between the ANC of Mayor Parks Tau and the DA of Herman Mashaba. Joburg does not appear to have much corruption (that comes to light, anyway), and services in suburbs have improved over the last 12 months. Anyone who lives in an area supplied by City Power will tell you it’s far from perfect, but service delivery issues like that will take some time to improve. And any new administration, especially one that is a coalition, will take some time to bed down.

This means the biggest significance would be the indication that the wind is changing direction, and that our politics could transform fundamentally. DM

Photo: Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau, DA's Herman Mashaba and EFF's Floyd Shivambu during mayoral debate at The Gathering, moderates by Stephen Grootes, 10 June 2016. (Greg Nicolson)

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • Politics

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