If ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial chair Sihle Zikalala is feeling the heat, he gave no sign of it on the sidelines of the province’s final campaign rally on Sunday.
“I’m definitely confident that we have done well and I’m convinced the ANC is going to emerge victorious. We have reached all four corners of the province and have had a positive response,” Zikalala told Daily Maverick.
Over the past decade, KwaZulu-Natal has come to be viewed as one of the ANC’s easy wins.
In the 2014 general elections, the ANC captured 64.52% of the vote. Its closest contender, the DA, could manage just 12.76%. Even the most fanciful pollster would not readily suggest that the ANC is in serious danger of surrendering its grip on the province, or even of having to contemplate a coalition scenario as may be the case in Gauteng.
Yet one significant factor has changed since the last general elections: “100% Zulu boy” Jacob Zuma is no longer at the helm of the party.
Zikalala, a steadfast Zuma ally, is quick to deny any anxiety resulting from this.
“People are still appreciating and love former President Zuma, but that doesn’t mean they believe that he is lost, and therefore they still support the ANC,” Zikalala says.
“They still love him, they will still want to see him. But it does not mean they are not in support of the ANC.”
That is, at least, what the party is banking on. And indeed, some KwaZulu-Natal voters interviewed by Daily Maverick in recent days have expressed a similar perspective.
“Zuma was the former president of the ANC and Ramaphosa is the current president, but they are all members of the ANC,” said Mauris Ndlangisa, a Lamontville hostel-dweller who had turned out to watch Zuma present Struggle veteran Amos Ndalwane with a house on Friday.
“Whoever is elected by the ANC, we must rally and support. We’ll vote ANC, we won’t change. Where I stay there is ANC, IFP, EFF, but the backbone of political parties is the ANC.”
At other KwaZulu-Natal campaign events, however, it has been clear that Zuma continues to be viewed with greater warmth in pockets of this province than his successor.
The impact of a Zuma presidency on previous polls has been undeniable here. In the 2009 general elections, shortly after Zuma had taken power, the ANC surged by a staggering 17% in KwaZulu Natal — leaping from 47% provincially in 2004 to 64% in 2009. This result came in an election where the ANC saw an average drop in support of 6% across other provinces.
It was the election of the ANC’s first post-apartheid isiZulu-speaking president that is generally credited with playing a major role in the decline of the IFP in the province. The IFP’s historical appeal to Zulu voters was its claim that it alone was the defender of Zulu culture and tradition in the political sphere.
But in Zuma, the ANC had a president who became a Zulu cultural figurehead in his own right: One who had no problem donning traditional attire, who cultivated strong ties to traditional leaders in the province and who had, during his 2005 rape trial, mounted what was effectively a Zulu cultural defence (albeit a highly controversial one).
With such a man at the helm of the ANC, it was inevitable that the IFP’s appeals to Zulu ethno-nationalism would lose some of their singular resonance.
And with Zuma gone from the presidency now, the IFP will be hoping to recapture some of the support that saw the party govern the province until 2004. On its side, the IFP also has the fact that the National Freedom Party, formed as a breakaway from the IFP by Zanele Magwaza-Msibi in 2011, has virtually imploded since its initially strong entry into provincial politics.
In 2011 the NFP won 10.4% of votes in the province, believed largely to be from disenchanted former IFP voters, but by 2016 the party did not even contest the local government elections after failing to pay the registration fee in time. This saw the IFP almost double its provincial support in that poll, to 20.22%, and from 2016 to around November 2018 the IFP recorded a number of promising by-election results.
But Zikalala says the ANC is not spooked by a potential IFP resurgence this time around.
“In the (2016) local government elections, they only managed to pull back people who had left to the NFP,” he told Daily Maverick.
“That time the NFP was not contesting elections. This time the NFP is contesting on its own.”
The NFP is highly unlikely to be heading for a successful election, however, having seen an exodus of high-profile party leaders in recent months — including the exit of deputy president Sindi Maphumulo-Mashinini to the UDM in February 2019.
The DA, meanwhile, is hoping to improve on its 12.76% showing in the province in the 2011 elections by drawing attention to a string of governance failures in both ANC and IFP-led municipalities in the province, as well as the violent protests which have broken out in central Durban over the past week in response to the perceived favouritism shown to MK veterans in the city’s water and sanitation department.
“The ANC has failed eThekwini like all other municipalities it governs, comrades are still prioritised over regular South Africans,” DA KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango said in a recent statement.
“People should put an end to this patronage system, it has collapsed eThekwini and other areas. People of eThekwini must go and peacefully protest against the ANC government on 8 May.”
One of the biggest unknowns in the province’s politics is what the performance of the EFF is likely to be.
Since its inception, the EFF has struggled to get a foothold in KwaZulu-Natal — attributed at least partly to EFF leader Julius Malema’s vocal antagonism towards Zuma. In the 2014 elections, KwaZulu-Natal was the EFF’s second worst-performing province, after the Western Cape, with the Fighters managing to win just 1.85% of the provincial vote.
Something that might make a difference this time around is the fact that KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of new voter registrations in the country before the 8 May elections, of whom the majority are under 30.
With the EFF having won Student Representative Council (SRC) elections at four higher education institutions in the province, it is possible that youth support may see its vote-share increase in these elections. A South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) poll in December 2018 projected a potential provincial result of 10.3% for the party, which would be a significant leap.
“The EFF was trying to focus on students and the youth,” acknowledged Zikalala. “But I don’t think they will be a threat, because we are working on the ground to mobilise the people.”
Yet notoriously mercurial KwaZulu-Natal remains one of only two South African provinces since democracy — the other being the Western Cape — to switch political hands to date.
Seismic political shifts have happened in this province before, and a series of tumultuous events over the past months — not least the catastrophic recent floods — have left KwaZulu-Natal feeling even more on edge than usual.
For all Zikalala’s bravado, it’s unlikely that the ANC’s provincial leaders will be sleeping restfully in the week to come. DM
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