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ANC returns, DA flat-lines – it's time both face fact...

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2019 Election Analysis

ANC returns, DA flat-lines – it’s time both face factional demons or risk missing voters’ message

Illustrative image. South African President Cyril Ramaphos during a campaign trail for the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 May 2019. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA / Background: The IEC results board at the National Results Operation Center (ROC) in Pretoria on Friday 10 May 2019. Photo: Leila Dougan

The ANC returns as governing party nationally, while the DA flat-lined and the EFF gained across the board. This was the state of play with just short of 95% of the votes counted on Friday evening at the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) national results centre in Tshwane. The results will not be declared officially until the completion of an audit into claims of double voting. But the take-out so far: existing patterns of political power have largely been maintained, but voters have sent their politicians and public representatives a clear message by staying away and forcing the voter turn-out to an unprecedented low of 65%.

This article was updated at 7.15pm on 10 May 2019, with the latest results. 

For the first time in a decade the ANC, at 57.72% on Friday evening’s undeclared results with 94.75% of ballots counted, has upped its election stake and reversed the slide that saw it end up with 54% overall support in the local government elections. That result then, together with a very low voter turn-out in traditional ANC support areas, was a local manifestation of anger with then-president Jacob Zuma and his scandal-ridden administration.

It was under Zuma that the ANC’s electoral decline unfolded: from 2004 when the governing party under Thabo Mbeki scored well into a two-thirds majority at 69.69%, the ANC in the 2009 elections headlined by Zuma obtained 65,9% support, which dropped to 62% in the 2014 elections. The 2016 municipal poll saw a further drop of eight percentage points to 54%.

The 2019 election ANC national result of 57.72% on the undeclared results on Friday evening may not match the political hype around “overwhelming victory” of the election campaign trail, but it’s important as it shows the impact of goodwill for Cyril Ramaphosa as both president of party and government.

But there are key take-aways for the ANC, requiring introspection.

Control for Gauteng came down to a hairbreadth for the ANC. By Friday evening the Gauteng vote count stood at 50,88% with 80% of the vote counted. However, on Friday morning with some 60% of the ballots counted, the ANC dipped under the 50% threshold – and the party was at pains to point out it expected another one-million votes as over 600 voting stations in township areas in Johannesburg and Pretoria were still outstanding.

A Gauteng ANC insider acknowledged it was probable that the party would lose, as Intellidex and Daily Maverick analyst Peter Attard Montalto forecast, three of its 40 seats in the provincial legislatures, but would still hold its 50 plus majority.

The tight result seemingly indicates middle-class voters in South Africa’s economic heartland appear not to have supported Ramaphosa’s New Dawn renewal message. It remains unclear how much the ANC benefited from the political miscalculations by Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba during the “Shut Down Alex” protest.

On Thursday an ANC insider to the election campaign had told Daily Maverick: “The intervention in Alex was important…” adding later there were also strategic moves in Tembisa and Ekurhuleni to put pressure on the EFF. All this had paid off, said the insider: “And our supporters came out for us. We did enough even if it was last minute”.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home turf, the ANC had dropped some 10 percentage points to 54.1% on the undeclared figures of Friday morning from about 70% of the count done. While the ANC still held KwaZulu-Natal, it was down ten percentage points from its 64.52% performance in 2014. By Friday evening with 95% of the provincial vote completed, that picture had not shifted even though earlier in the day an ANC insider remained confident support levels would move up.

In the provincial politicking, the IFP has returned stronger at just over 17%, displacing the DA as the official opposition after the DA did slightly better than its 12% of the 2104 elections at 14.5% on Friday’s undeclared count. With township and rural votes still coming in, the likelihood was the DA had hit its ceiling, but not the ANC and IFP.

The ANC must ask itself some hard questions. However, in the factional politicking of the governing party, some elements have already made it public that it would be Ramaphosa, who’s to face questions and possibly action if his ANC did not do better.

The political irony is Ramaphosa supporters had opened the door to their factional opponents by advocating a 60% threshold for Ramaphosa to get the mandate to continue the clean-up in government, and party. Those wanting to get rid of Ramaphosa may now well take this argument – and also argue the ANC came in short of the 62% achieved in 2014 by disingenuously ignoring that Zuma had cost the party just short of four percentage points.

These debates are set to play out at the upcoming ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) that will discuss, among others, who would be the ANC premiers, with a discussion on a possible Cabinet also anticipated.

But already the opposition DA is taking that anti-Ramaphosa spin. “Indeed the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa is at its weakest ever today dropping well below a 60% support level. Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered the ANC a worse result than Jacob Zuma,” DA national election manager Jonathan Moakes wrote to party structures on Thursday in a letter seen by Daily Maverick.

Further analysis must happen around the voter turn-out in 2019, which appears to have rocked the long-standing home truths of ANC voters stay away while the DA is good at getting its voters to the polls. And every political party needs to ask itself hard questions about its appeal and messaging, given the eight percentage point drop of voter turn-out from 73.48% in 2014 to around just 65% on 8 May, on the undeclared results at Friday lunchtime.

This time around it seemed the DA did not quite get the turn-out at the hustings it anticipated – and then it lost a significant number of votes to the Freedom Front Plus nationally and to the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) specifically in the Western Cape.

And while the DA in the Western Cape it has governed in the past decade still came out tops, its showing at 54.67% by Friday on the unofficial results is some five percentage points down from its 2014 election score of just over 59%.

However, it is a better performance of 47% in the Western Cape, and also down nationally, that had been forecast by the DA’s own internal pollsters late last year. That performance only appeared to change, according to the party’s internal tracking, earlier in 2019.

It’s understood the DA will do a deep dive on its election performance nationally, and in the provinces. At 20.64% of the undeclared results on Friday evening with just short of 95% of the count done, that’s less than the 23.2% obtained in 2014. And this could set the cats among the pigeons in the largest opposition party, which is battling with its own internal divisions.

In the run-up to the 8 May election, a seemingly concerted push by free-market fundamentalists put pressure on DA national leader Mmusi Maimane to depart. Ructions erupted in public over the DA’s attitude to race and its continued impact on poverty and inequality, or race as a legitimate proxy for disadvantage, in DA jargon, and black economic empowerment. At the time it became clear there was a push back against the more national orientation towards true blue liberalism, and libertarianism. While rejecting racial quotas as a means to measure and assess redress, the DA’s compromise of “constitutional blacks” has been widely criticised.

A replay could be on the cards, particularly as the DA senior national officials have conceded the election didn’t go as planned in boosting DA numbers.

One senior DA insider shrugged off what is set to be a tough meeting, saying those with factional interests would in any case not be satisfied with what the DA under Maimane had achieved in this election. “It would be unfair to blame Maimane. Even if the party did better (than before) it would not have been enough for some,” said the insider in what is a clear reference to the DA’s internal battles.

As the results trickled in on Thursday night, EFF national leaders put on a brave face insisting it was too early to say as the township votes and the metros. But that was perhaps the disjunct between reality and believing one’s own hype about being “the government in waiting”.

Actually, the EFF, widely predicted by pollsters to be the best performers, lived up to that proposition. The low voter turn-out in 2019 is working in the EFF’s favour. It scored into the double figures at 10,51% on the unofficial results on Friday morning. On actual votes, that’s 1,266,239 against the 1,169,259 it obtained on its 2014 debut when it scored 6,35% of polling support.

As the election results tally board at the IEC national results centre ticked over, it became clear that on the opposition benches, it was the Freedom Front Plus and IFP that gained. The ACDP and United Democratic Movement (UDM) formed the back line of also-rans. The possibility still exists for a single parliamentary seat for GOOD, the party Patricia De Lille formed after leaving the DA in the wake of a bruising battle, and perhaps the African Transformation Movement (ATM) on the back of complex calculations to determine the top lot of the best losers.

The 2019 elections have been brutal in many ways, shattering political noise and spectacle. It must be a wake-up call across South Africa’s body politic. DM


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