South Africa


How the parties shape up come 8 May, province by province

How the parties shape up come 8 May, province by province

Beneath the political noise and choreographed optics of the 8 May election campaign trail, there are some hard and unpalatable numbers. Various polls indicate the political party expected to gain the most will be the EFF. The 2019 elections are characterised by nine million eligible voters choosing not to register, according to the IEC, and a significant ‘don’t know’, ‘won’t say’ or ‘won’t vote’ segment of between 15% to 28% across polls, indicating voters’ disenchantment — and even trust deficit.

The national picture:

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has pushed a frenetic electioneering schedule as the face of the governing party’s renewal for better governance and economic growth. Many, including previously disenchanted ANC supporters critical of the scandal-ridden Jacob Zuma presidency, argue that giving Ramaphosa a “convincing mandate” through the ballot would allow him to continue cleaning up – both government and party. And it would avoid Ramaphosa being removed post 8 May as part of the pushback.

It’s misleading — and part of the creative narratives told in an effort to get voters out to cast their ballots in this, a fiercely competitive election as South Africa celebrates a quarter-century of democracy.

Zuma had stayed put despite a decade of declining election support, so starkly highlighted in the 2016 local government poll when ANC support was cut to 54% nationally — an 8% drop compared to 2014 — and it also lost control of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, while the ANC only stayed in charge in several other councils like Ekurhuleni and Rustenburg through coalitions. While the ANC under Thabo Mbeki in 2004 clinched a two-thirds majority, or 69,69% of the 2014 vote — 279 seats in the National Assembly — in the 2009 poll headlined by Zuma, support was reduced to 65,9%, and 264 parliamentary seats. ANC support was further cut in the 2014 elections to 62%, and 249 National Assembly seats.

And ANC factions will continue to battle it out regardless of polling support in the Byzantine manoeuvrings that have become the governing party’s institutional culture. The December 2017 Nasrec national conference delivered a finely balanced factional outcome, and very little if anything since has indicated that the call for unity is more than that – a call.

All the ANC needs to govern is 51%. That’s a majority and that will do very nicely, thank you very much, even if political egos would be left bruised.

And the governing party appears to have this kind of support in the bag: most polls, and assessments by self-confessed elections data cruncher Dawie Scholtz, who punts an ANC national win-win of between 55%- 61% depending on voter turn-out, and Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto, on Friday put the governing party at a showing between 56% to 60% nationally on an approximately 70% turn-out. The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) poll of 30 April that showed the ANC at 49,5%, immediately qualified this with voter turn-out scenarios that pushed up ANC numbers to 51% and 50% on turn-outs of 71,9% and 69,3% respectively.

That means the gap between the governing ANC and the opposition remains significant. In 2014 the DA obtained 22,23%, short of the 30% target then-national leader Helen Zille publicly touted, while the EFF scored 6,35% on its 2014 election debut.

Ipsos has the EFF at 11%, and the DA at 19% nationally. Attard Montalto earlier in May forecast the EFF with a 9% to 12% showing and the DA at 20% to 23% nationally. The IRR poll of 30 April has run similar numbers, with the EFF at 14,9% nationally and the DA at 24%, on a 71,9% turn-out.

The argument on the other side of the body politic has the DA maintaining the 8 May vote must be used to strengthen the opposition, by which it means itself, as a counterbalance to the ANC’s behemoth. And a vote for a smaller party would amount to splitting the opposition and thus giving the ANC power in turn. It’s the doom and gloom tactic the DA successfully used to whittle away support for parties like the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) or the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), particularly at local government level, into its own DA ranks.

But this trend seems to be reversing in 2019: both the ACDP and FF+ have gained support in recent by-elections countrywide, and are polling in the 30 April IRR survey at 1,6% and 1,8% — or three times and twice the 0,57% and 0,9% the ACDP and FF+ respectively achieved in the 2014 elections.

So those two opposition parties would disagree with that DA argument – as would undoubtedly also the EFF, which, after polling 6,35% support on its 2014 election debut over the past five, has years punched well above its weight on the national political scene.

If by-elections are anything to go by, South Africa on Thursday may not be such a radically different place – although there will be surprises. By-elections are signposts of the political mood, but due to local dynamics, make direct correlations to national polls tricky. But if there are takeaways from the past year’s by-elections it is this – with a few upsets, and increased support for the FF+ and ACDP, incumbents retained their seats, although the ANC with a reduced majority while the DA gained support.

Much of the 8 May election outcome arises from provincial dynamics – and, most importantly, the voters.


South Africa’s economic heartland with the most registered voters at 6,380,159 appears the most contested. If there is a coalition deal to be done, it’s most likely here as pollsters indicate a tight outcome.

The DA is hopeful of gains to up its current 23 seats in the provincial legislature obtained on 30,78% of the vote in 2014 when the ANC got 40 seats with 53,59% of the vote. The EFF scored just over 10%, or eight seats, in the province that EFF leader Julius Malema on 10 April proclaimed it would win come 8 May, alongside North West and Limpopo where the EFF already is the official opposition.

The ANC’s own poll maintains support levels similar to 2014 at 56%, according to News 24. But the ANC relies on supporters and sympathisers for its election showing, and on party membership numbers Gauteng is only the sixth-biggest province for the governing party.

The 30 April IRR poll shows no clear winner, regardless of voter turn-out, with the EFF potentially upping its polling to 13%. On a 70% voter turn-out, the IRR forecasts the ANC with a 47% poll, the DA at 37% and the EFF at 11%. Attard Montalto forecasts a range of 48% to 52% for the ANC, 13% to 16% for the EFF and for the DA, support ranging from 29% to 33%. Ipsos indicated the ANC would hold on. And on the back of disgruntled DA votes, the ACDP and FF+ have strengthened their polling.

Much will depend on turn-out on the day, particularly for the ANC that must get its disenchanted voters, and not only from the black middle class, to return to the party fold – and cast their ballots. If the governing party does that, it may yet clinch the province solo. Given the fluidity of voting sentiment, in Gauteng election day will not be done until it’s done.

If a coalition is to be made, the predictions do not foresee one of the DA and many other parties as the numbers don’t add up. And a DA-EFF pact is off as the bromance that started in Parliament in a joint anti-Zuma front, also with other opposition parties, has soured. And so the likelihood of an ANC-EFF coalition has been talked up, although the governing party is hoping there’ll be no need for that.

Western Cape

The DA is confident it will hold the province it has governed outright for the past decade on its internal polling of between 52% to 54% support. But that result does need a bit of spin: In 2014 the DA received just over 59% of the vote to secure 26 seats in the provincial legislature – the ANC was next with 14 seats- and in the 2016 local government election it romped home in Cape Town with a two thirds majority under then-mayor Patricia de Lille.

The Western Cape has the fourth most registered voters at 3,127,368, and it provides the DA with most of its numbers, alongside Gauteng.

But the DA has had a rough 18 months or so that has cast a shadow over its proclaimed good governance track record. After a long and bruising fight, De Lille left to establish her own party, Good, which is polling at 2,8% support, according to the 30 April IRR poll that shows the party also tracking at 0,2% nationally.

Notable, however, is the near doubling of support for the ACDP up to 7% in recent months and the FF+ coming in at 1,8% support, or effectively three times the 0,6% it achieved in 2014 elections. These poll numbers, also backed by recent by-election trends, indicate disgruntled voters are looking at options.

Between Good, the ACDP and FF+, they are taking just over 11% off the DA. And that shows in the IRR poll – the DA polled at 50% at best on a 71,9% voter turn-out. It’s just enough to cling on to power, but it would limit room to manoeuvre. Coalitions may be needed, and DA insiders claim the ACDP is deemed most likely.

Perhaps it’s because of this scenario that the ANC is talking up its chances even though it’s polling between 27,8% to 33,9%, according to the IRR. Ramaphosa, probably more than any other ANC president previously, has hit the provincial election campaign trail; Ace Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte have paid return visits.

The EFF seems to have gained in the province in which it scored one legislature seat against the 1,02% support in the 2014 elections. Malema in April publicly highlighted the numbers at the provincial manifesto launch. And the polling seems to bear that out: 5% is what the IRR pollsters give the EFF.


KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s largest province and the second largest in South Africa in terms of registered voters, with 5,521,804 on the provincial voters’ roll. In 2014 it notched up a voter turn-out of 75,98%, the highest of all provinces, and well over three percentage points over the national 73% turn-out. In many ways, the numbers here are important for the ANC.

Since the 2014 elections the ANC holds 52 seats in the provincial legislature on the back of 64,52% support, against the DA with 10 seats (12,76%), followed by the IFP’s nine seats (10,86%) and the six seats held by the National Freedom Party (NFP) given its 7,31% poll five years ago. The EFF holds two seats because of the 1,85% it obtained, and the Minority Front, one.

A difficult province, and not only because the SAPS believes conflict may erupt in the politically tense province, where ANC and IFP politicians continue to be killed. On Thursday Police Minister Bheki Cele announced election day “pre-stabilisation” deployment of SAPS officers.

The provincial ANC is run by a task team, and the factions remain alive. Ahead of the ANC birthday celebrations and manifesto launch in January, Ramaphosa went out of his way to showcase unity by including Zuma in and around eThekwini. The former president, unlike others, has remained visible in ANC matters, including regularly attending National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings in his capacity as an ex officio member.

Zuma has done much of his election campaigning in the province. And in the final electioneering push on Friday, he joined long-standing close ally Magashule, the ANC secretary-general who during his time as Free State premier made no bones about his support for then-president Zuma. While the reason is clearly to galvanise ANC voters, it cannot be divorced from the factional pushback within the governing party.

Across the province, there is some political fluidity: the NFP appears to have been haemorrhaging to both the ANC and IFP, which has seen an upsurge of support while the DA is understood to be confident about boosting its support.

Like in the Western Cape, the EFF in KwaZulu-Natal seems to have made inroads, if the party’s spin is to be believed. Much was made out of a claimed 10,000 participants in the EFF’s service delivery march in eThekwini at the end of April.

North West

The EFF is the official opposition with five seats in the provincial legislature – against the ANC’s 23 seats – on the back of its 13,21% of the 2014 vote. The DA holds four seats; the FF+ one.

But voter turn-out in this, the third smallest province with 1,701,471 registered voters in 2019, has been declining, down to 66,32% in 2014 when it was the second lowest among all provinces.

And support for the ANC has consistently dropped – from 73,84% in 2009 to 67,39% in 2014. In the 2016 municipal elections, the ANC only retained control of Rustenburg after a last-minute coalition deal with a community organisation that initially had been part of an opposition deal.

This comes in the wake of ANC factional twists and turns — and the lingering impact of the Marikana massacre, when police on 16 August 2012 killed 34 Lonmin miners.

The North West remains a tense province — like in KwaZulu-Natal, the SAPS have deployed well ahead of election day — with ANC factions entrenched as governance disintegrated.

Since May 2018, five provincial departments are under national administration, as are a total of eight councils in the province. In April 2018 Ramaphosa cut short his attendance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when violent protests erupted against the premiership of Supra Mahumapelo, also ANC provincial chairperson.

Ultimately, the provincial ANC structures were disbanded for a provincial task team under Job Mokgoro, who was sworn in as premier. But after a successful legal challenge, Mahumapelo returned to his ANC office in February 2019 while Mokgoro remained as premier in a factional compromise pending an ANC appeal.

Mokgoro’s a caretaker and Mahumapelo, who is at number 58 on the national ANC list, is headed to Parliament. At the top of the provincial election list is Kabelo Mataboge, an ex-ANC provincial secretary on the comeback trail after serving a three-year suspension for not having informed party bosses of a legal challenge ahead of the 2012 Mangaung conference. The ANC twists and turns are set to continue.

DA premier candidate Joe McGluwa has focused on Maphumapelo-related abuse of government resources like the purchase of a R1,1-million car. He was transferred to the province from Parliament after following then Independent Democrats leader Patricia De Lille into the DA. But with the ANC changes in the provinces, it appears the DA focus has gone somewhat off-kilter.


The breakdown of provincial legislature seats – 39 for the ANC, six to the EFF, which is the official opposition, three DA seats and one for Cope —hides that at 60,72% the province had the lowest voter turn-out of all provinces in 2014. It was almost 13% below the national average, although the vote overwhelmingly went to the ANC. At 78,6%, Limpopo is the top ANC-supporting province.

The reasons for the low voter turn-out are not clear — according to reports then the ANC fingered a tendency to leave the voting to the last minute — but the trend continued in the 2016 local government elections when voter turnout stood at 50,28%.

In 2019, Limpopo is the fifth largest province with 2,606,856 registered voters.

The EFF as the official opposition with 10,74% support may have benefited from Limpopo being EFF leader Julius Malema’s home turf. It replaced Cope as the official opposition in 2014.

But in 2019 the EFF is confronted by the consequences of the scandal of the looting of VBS Mutual Bank, which has drawn in EFF Deputy President Floyd Shivambu his brother, Brian. The EFF has dismissed claims of impropriety. Various declared legal challenges, also to the “The Great Bank Heist” report Advocate Terry Motau compiled for the South African Reserve Bank, do not seem not to have materialised yet.

In contrast, former Vhembe district mayor Florence Radzilani has issued summonses against Motau, according to the Mail & Guardian. Coincidentally, Radzilani, who resigned amid reports she had complained at receiving only R300,000 in the VBS saga, is headed to Parliament; she’s seventh on the ANC’s provincial-to-national election candidates list.

Stanley Mathabatha, Limpopo premier and ANC chairperson, has had to manage the fall out of the VBS scandal which has impacted across the province and sparked renewed flare-ups of ANC infighting. But Ramaphosa’s electioneering charm offensive has, according to EWN, won the ANC the Moletjie Traditional Council’s endorsement.

The DA premier candidate, Jacques Smalle, appears to have run a fairly low-key campaign in the province where its co-operation with the EFF in at least two councils is on the rocks because the DA is driving home its anti-corruption message in the VBS saga.

The Freedom Front Plus believes its “Fight Back” election campaign is the opportunity to clinch a seat.


Although only the sixth largest in terms of registered voters with a total of 1,950,782, Mpumalanga is a decidedly ANC province. In 2014 the governing party scored 78,23% support, second only to Limpopo. Voter turnout then was 72,85%.

The ANC holds 24 of the 30 seats in the provincial legislature, with the DA three on the back its 10,4% support in 2014 and the EFF two seats. The Bushbuckridge Residents’ Association (BRA) – it contests in 2019 as the Better Residents Associations – has one seat in the provincial legislature.

Mpumalanga is the second-largest ANC province and was the key to Ramaphosa’s narrowest win by 179 votes at the ANC 2017 Nasrec national conference. But it appears that since David “DD” Mabuza swapped the premier’s office for the deputy presidency, tight control on the province has eased, leading to renewed factional fissures.

Mabuza has campaigned often in the province. Bushbuckridge has featured prominently in the ANC’s provincial campaign trail, perhaps intentionally given BRA’s independent streak. Mabuza has been confident about the ANC showing with a “huge turn-out” in Mpumalanga despite some infighting over positions, according to EWN.

The DA premier candidate, Jane Sithole – one of the two women the DA has amid its nine premier candidates – was elected unopposed as DA provincial leader in March 2018 after some 20 years as a member. Her campaign has been tough on corruption and pro-service delivery, on point with the overall DA messaging. But in a province where the ANC is this dominant, Sithole realistically can really only try chip away with a credible campaign-showing.

The EFF has not been trouble-free. Internal tensions led to Alfred Skhosana’s dismissal as provincial secretary in May 2018. He was replaced in the Mpumalanga legislature in July 2018 by Sam Zandamela, his one-time rival. When the EFF finally held its elective gathering in September 2018, Collen Sedibe was re-elected as provincial chairperson, with Zandamela as his deputy.

Addressing that meeting, Malema told disgruntled members to fall in line: “These people are elected, you have to accept that. Tomorrow it will be you elected and they have to support you the same way you have to support those elected. Fighters we must build a strong EFF in Mpumalanga, there’s too much potential here,” Malema is quoted by the SABC as saying. Whether that’s the case will emerge on 8 May.

Free State

The ANC’s election fortunes have waned from 71,1% in 2009 to 69,85% in 2014, although this still secured the governing party 22 provincial legislature seats. Then the DA and EFF each clinched five seats in the provincial legislature, and the FF+ one on the back of 2,1%, or more than double its national showing.

Over the past decade, fewer voters turned up to cast their ballots: from 76,9% in 2009, voter turnout dropped to 71,01% in 2014 and even lower to just 56,24% in the 2016 local government elections. In 2019 the Free State is the second smallest in South Africa in terms of registered voters, 1,461,490.

Free State strongman Ace Magashule — the ANC provincial chairperson who after a 15-year wait was finally appointed premier by Zuma in 2009 — is now at the ANC’s organisational heart at its ANC Luthuli House head offices, but his influence continues to be felt, according to those who lost out to his faction.

On the 2019 campaign trail, Magashule returned to the province, including addressing a Freedom Day rally in Parys, the town that has hosted several ANC provincial conferences since 2012.

Coincidentally, it has been the push to suppress dissent, and resistance to that, which saw the Free State excluded from full participation in both the 2012 Mangaung and 2017 Nasrec ANC national conferences.

All the while the province seemed to play a central role in State Capture, including the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm corruption saga that has seen one whistleblower killed and another isolated and threatened. Recently, amaBhungane reported a company with links to Magashule gained R1,47-billion from contracts by the provincial police, roads and transport department.

The EFF may not have had the easiest time in the province amid tactics like community halls mysteriously never being available, but at the end of April, it marched for service delivery in Mangaung and Matijhabeng.

The DA in the Free State is run by remote: Patricia Kopane, provincial leader and now also premier candidate, is an MP at Parliament. However, when DA leader Mmusi Maimane handed the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) a “dossier” of corruption claims against Magashule in line with the DA electioneering of hitting on ANC corruption, Kopane came along. And she also issued a statement: “The DA is ready to bring Change that Builds One South Africa for All”.

Northern Cape

It’s the smallest voting province with just 626,167 registered voters. In 2014 the ANC received 20 provincial legislature seats for 64,4% of the vote on a 71,29% voter turn-out. The DA clinched seven seats on the back of 23,89% support and the EFF two seats after polling 4,96%. Cope clung on to one seat of the five it had after the 2009 elections when it was the official opposition.

The ANC has had a topsy-turvy time since October 2015 when long-standing ANC chairperson John Block resigned after being found guilty of fraud and money laundering related to Trifecta leases between 2006 and 2010. Although Block only started the jail sentence in late November 2018 after running out of appeals, his 2015 resignation took him largely out of the party political picture. The Northern Cape came out in the CR2017 camp ahead of the party’s 2017 Nasrec national conference.

That’s not to say the ANC in the Northern Cape has been at ease. Factional battles regularly erupted and tensions remained between the party and Premier Sylvia Lucas, whom Zuma had appointed, like previous Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane, without also being party chairperson. Both these premier appointments ran counter to the ANC’s preference to avoid two centres of power, or different people being party chairperson and premier. Lucas is now headed to Parliament; she’s placed 76th on the ANC’s national election list.

The DA believes the Northern Cape is up for grabs, possibly through a coalition. Its premier candidate Andrew Louw is a longstanding leader in the province where he was transferred in September 2010 after a brief stint in Parliament after the 2009 elections. But it’s not that clear-cut.

The ANC may be in a state of disorder, but it continues to hold the line. That emerged in the February 2019 by-elections in Galeshewe township in Kimberley, the Sol Plaatjie municipality. Seven ANC ward councillors were expelled after voting in September 2018 with the opposition for their candidate to replace mayor Mangaliso Matika, whose position became untenable after widespread community protests. When the by-elections were held in February, with only one exception – one of the expelled ANC councillors stood as independent and won – the ANC held on to six of the seven wards, although it’s support was reduced by between 9% to 17% across the respective wards.

Still, the province could hold surprises.

Eastern Cape

The ANC holds 45 seats in the provincial legislature with 70,09% of the 2014 vote, followed by the DA with 10 seats from its 16,2% support. Four seats are held by the United Democratic Movement (UDM), two by the EFF and one went to the African Independent Congress, the former Matatiele Residents’ Association. Cope clung on to one of the nine seats it gained in the 2009 elections when it became the official opposition.

In 2019, the Eastern Cape is the third biggest province in terms of registered voters, with 3,360,563. But voter turn-out has been dipping: at 68,3% in 2014 it was five percentage points below the national average, and well down from the 76,69% voter turn-out in 2009. It dropped further to 56,43% in the 2016 municipal poll that saw Nelson Mandela Bay Metro land under control of a DA-led opposition coalition.

ANC factional battles have been rife. The October 2017 provincial ANC conference first erupted into violence and legal challenges against its outcome. The legal action dragged on for months after the ANC’s highest decision-making structure, the National Executive Committee (NEC), in March 2018 upheld the conference outcome.

Former provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane was elected chairperson, a post held by Phumulo Masualle, who is headed to Parliament being ranked 39 on the ANC national election list. And while factional tensions still simmer – the province has fallen firmly behind Ramaphosa since before the 2017 Nasrec ANC national conference – it appears from some accounts that Mabuyane has galvanised the Eastern Cape with a sense of purpose.

Historically, the Eastern Cape has played a central role in the ANC as the birthplace of many leaders aside from Nelson Mandela, and intellectuals like ANC founding member Dr Walter Benson Rubusana, an educator, politician, journalist and linguist, whose “Zemk’inkomo magwalandini”, loosely translated as “The cows are being stolen, you cowards”, resounded as a call at Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile’s August 2016 funeral.

In 2019 the DA believes it is making gains in the Eastern Cape, beyond having led the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro opposition coalition for some two years before it disintegrated. But the party comes up against the UDM and the EFF.

DA premier candidate Nqaba Bhanga, elected provincial party leader in May 2017, joined the DA as MP in 2014 from Cope and left Parliament for the Eastern Cape ahead of the 2016 local government election. On 2 May 2019 Bhanga introduced as new DA member the former Cope Eastern Cape secretary Lindela Dyani. It is on this kind of manoeuvre which the DA bases its anticipation of a better showing, organising and influence in the province. DM


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