South Africa


ANC passes by-election test, while DA sheds votes left and right

From left: GOOD leader Patricia de Lille (Photo: Leila Dougan) | DA leader John Steenhuisen | (Photo: Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas) | EFF leader Julius Malema (Photo: Leila Dougan) | FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lisa Hnatowicz) | ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Inkatha Freedom Party president Velenkosini Hlabisa (Photo: Sandile Ndlovu)

There was a theoretical possibility that 12 municipalities could have seen a change in leadership or a reconfiguration of their coalition governments in the Super Wednesday by-election bonanza. At the end of the day, only two of the 12 municipalities will welcome new leaders.

The African National Congress and its coalition partners have more secure control over the City of Johannesburg, and the Democratic Alliance will probably take over Knysna with the African Christian Democratic Party. The real story was the tectonic shifts which took place in many wards across the length and breadth of this country. Below is a scorecard of what each of the major parties has going for it after Wednesday and what will cause angst and concern.


ANC campaigners dance at a voting station for Ward 32 during the by-elections on November 11, 2020, in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

The ANC had to defend 71 wards yesterday. It also ran the risk of potentially losing outright control of Phokwane (Hartswater), Renosterberg (Petrusville), Walter Sisulu (Aliwal North), Tsantsabane (Postmasburg), Khai-Ma (Pofadder), JB Marks (Potchefstroom) and losing its coalition majority in Johannesburg, Rustenburg and Knysna. 

The ANC picked up six wards and lost two for a net gain of four. Its most impressive victories were winning Ward 1 (Philipstown) in Renosterberg after losing that ward in 2016 by 19 points. This ward result was key in aiding the party in retaining outright control of Renosterberg.

The most optimistic ANC supporter would have written off its chances in Ward 29 in Madibeng (Broederstroom Kosmos) when the VryheidsFront Plus (VF+) did not field a candidate and the ANC was denied a three-horse race and the chance of the big DA majority being split. The ANC lost here in 2016 by 32 points. The by-election saw the party scrape home by 15 votes. It got its voters from Schaumburg to the poll and hung on for a most unexpected victory.

An overlooked by-election pickup for the ANC was Ward 7 in uMvoti (Enhlalakahle Greytown). PG Mavundla, the former uMvoti mayor and Jacob Zuma ally won this ward for the National Freedom Party (NFP) in 2019. He soon outgrew the party and formed his own new party —the Abatho Bantu Congress (ABC). The ANC regained this ward and by extension prevented a new potential political player in the province gaining a foothold. 

The ANC’s by-election wins in Ward 16 in Emfuleni (Arcon Park Rust-Ter-Vaal) and Ward 120 (Lenasia South Unaville) were also impressive but it must be noted that there have been favourable demographic shifts in these two wards. The ANC also won Ward 6 (Hartswater) in Phokwane. The ANC was able to replicate its percentage vote share in 2016 (38%) and watch the VF+ eat into the DA majority and prevail in a three-horse race, ahead of the DA by 30 votes.

The ANC also handily beat the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in wards where the EFF gave the ANC a scare in 2016. These include Ward 2 (Chaneng) in Rustenburg, Ward 89 (Tembisa Winnie Mandela) in Ekurhuleni and Ward 14 (Seshego) in Polokwane. It shut out the red berets in all wards. 

In addition to retaining Renosterberg, it remains in outright control of Phokwane. 

The ANC will be concerned about its performances in much of KwaZulu-Natal. It was not able to energise voters in Umlazi where turnout was very low. It lost a safe seat to the IFP in Ward 13 (Mzwaneni Ntulwana) in Nkandla, where its vote share fell from 68% to 39%, and had a chance of picking up IFP wards in uPhongolo, Mtubatuba and Mthonjaneni and fell short in all.

It also had a dismal day in the Western Cape. Turnout in strongholds like Ward 51 (Langa) and Ward 88 (Philippi) was tepid and its percentage vote share declined from the 70% mark to receiving less than 50% of the vote in both wards. The party had a below-par performance in the George by-elections in traditional coloured wards, finishing behind the EFF in two of them. Another concern for the ANC was its performance in Walter Sisulu (Aliwal North) in the Eastern Cape. Its vote share in the three Dukathole wards of Aliwal North fell between 20-25 percentage points as the Maletswai Civic Association (MCA) and the EFF grew. It also lost a ward to the DA in Ward 11 (Jamestown Aliwal North). This was the second ward it has lost to the DA in Walter Sisulu since 2018.

The ANC still passed its first Covid-19 by-election test and it has a lot more to celebrate today then be lachrymose about. The party had comfortable holds in many of the 71 wards it defended and firmly remains the party of choice in so many communities. 


A DA poster outside a voting station during the by-elections on November 11, 2020 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

The map was always going to be tough for the DA. Usually, new party leaders get a honeymoon. John Steenhuisen’s honeymoon lasted a mere 10 days as his party lost all the wards it was defending in Gauteng, lost a relatively safe seat in George and two competitive seats in Phokwane and Renosterberg. The DA’s set of poor results in North West went from bad to morbidly grim. The party had a net deficit of seven as it lost nine seats and won two. 

It lost four seats in Gauteng to three different parties. That statement is emblematic of what the party is up against. It lost seats in Johannesburg to the unheralded Al Jama-ah party (Ward 9 in Lenasia) and to Gayton Mckenzie’s Patriotic Alliance (PA), and two seats to the ANC. In 2016 the DA had to worry itself with just the ANC. In 2019 it had to concern itself with the ANC and the VF+. In late 2020, the party has to keep its supporters away from the ANC, the VF+, the EFF, the PA, Al Jamah-ah, GOOD, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and local parties in George like the Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI). Anything but ideal. It is the stuff of nightmares. 

It defended three of the four George wards in the by-election, falling short to GOOD in Ward 27 (Pacaltsdorp). However, in every ward the party shed a lot of support to GOOD and PBI. The loss in percentage vote share for the DA fell between 20% and 33% in George. It will continue to run George until the next local government elections, but will be knocking on other parties’ doors after the 2021 local government elections to try to stay in government. The DA has a habit of losing wards to the ANC in the West Coast District of the Western Cape. GOOD almost won its second ward off the DA in the Western Cape during this round of by-elections by falling short in Saldanha Bay (Louwville Vredenburg). 

The DA lost competitive seats in Renosterberg and Phokwane to the ANC. It believed it had a chance of winning Renosterberg, but is today in a weaker position. In a place like Jan Kempdorp in Phokwane, the party saw its voters leave it for the VF+ and the EFF. The party striving to stand in the middle was fleeced from the right and the left. 

The DA’s performance in North West was a slow-motion car crash. It lost a safe seat to a rampant VF+ in JB Marks (Potchefstroom South) where its vote share fell from 78% to 38% and the VF+ went from 18% to 59%. Worse was to come. It lost Ward 29 (Broederstroom Kosmos) in Madibeng. It won here by 31 points in 2016. It had the luxury of the VF+ concentrating on Potchefstroom. The ANC saw 58% turnout in Schaumburg. The DA saw only 28-32% of registered voters in places like Broederstroom, Skeerpoort and Kosmos turn out and it resulted in the ANC prevailing in the ward.

It was not all doom and gloom for the party. The DA won two wards from other parties. It won wards in Matjhabeng (Hennenman Phomolong) off a local party and in Walter Sisulu (Aliwal North Jamestown) off the ANC. It is clear that the DA fielded two impressive candidates who have standing in the community and a record of service delivery. It should be compulsory for DA MPs to take a road trip in December to Henneman and Aliwal North and work out how these candidates were able to bring joy to the DA on a gloomy night. 

The DA also retained its seats in Knysna. This means it now has the numbers to take over Knysna again with the ACDP. This will be an important morale-booster for the party. 


EFF members at a voting station during the by-elections on November 11, 2020 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

The party came short in all four wards it would have targeted. These were in Mohokare (Smithfield), Polokwane (Seshego) Ekurhuleni (Tembisa Winnie Mandela) and Rustenburg (Chaneng). The party was not able to win any wards and nor was it successful in bringing down any ANC-led council. 

The party still had a strong showing in Phokwane. It is now the official opposition in Hartswater. It is also on the board in Renosterberg (Petrusville). The Bo-Karoo was too arid for red overalls in the last election, but the party is now in the council and will work to make its mark on Renosterberg politics. The party also grew in Soweto, Mogale City (Kagiso), Cape Town (Philippi) and beat the ANC in two traditionally coloured wards in George. The party also had welcome returns in places such as Walter Sisulu (Aliwal North). 


IFP campaigners at a voting station for Ward 32 during the by-elections on November 11, 2020 in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

Like the DA, The IFP had an unenviable task. It was defending three tossup seats and the odds were good on it losing all three to the ANC. There were no likely pickup opportunities as well. 

The party ended the night winning a safe ANC seat in Nkandla (Mzwaneni Ntulwana). This ward is very close to the Nkandla homestead of former president Jacob Zuma. The party retained all three toss-up seats, holding off the ANC in Mthonjaneni, uPhongolo and Mtubatuba. The IFP also showed decent growth in eThekwini (Umlazi). Things are looking good for the IFP elephant.

Freedom Front Plus 

A Freedom Front Plus supporter outside the Boschkop voting station. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Pieter Groenewald’s maize belt Midas touch continues in the North West. He is now 4/4 in North West by-elections against the DA since the 2019 elections. The trend began in Matlosana (Stilfontein) and moved on to JB Marks (Miederpark Potchefstroom) then to Mamusa (Schweizer-Reneke). The latest victory was in JB Marks (Potchefstroom South). The latest win is also arguably the most impressive — a 40%-plus gain in a ward where the DA humiliated it in 2016.

The VF+ now has more seats on the JB Marks council than the EFF. This and Hessequa (Riversdale) in the Western Cape are the two municipalities in the country where the VF+ has more public representatives than the red berets.

It won a seat on the Phokwane Council and will now be able to represent its growing support base in Hartswater and Jan Kempdorp. It beat the DA in a number of wards in Phokwane.

The VF+ made big advances in Emalahleni (Reyno Ridge) in Mpumalanga, but could not trip up the DA there. The result will still motivate it. The party also gathered a decent share of votes in George. These are not wards the VF+ would have been spending resources on before the 2019 elections. 


Candidate for ward councillor Sucilla van Tura of the GOOD party with her supporters outside a voting station in Louwville, Western Cape. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Patricia De Lille came well short in her 2019 quest for Western Cape political disruption with the formation of Good. The party only got one seat in the Western Cape legislature and sent a pair of MPs to Parliament. De Lille and her two deputies Shaun August MP and Brett Herron MPL have had a laser focus on George and Saldanha Bay over the past few months.

The party produced a series of stellar results yesterday and now has a fourth public representative, a ward councillor, as it prevailed in Pacaltsdorp (Ward 27 in George). It got 39% of the vote in Saldanha Bay (Louwville Vredenburg), running the DA close in a safe DA seat. It also came a strong second in the other three George wards.

De Lille and August will now set up shop in a municipality where De Lille’s former party, the Independent Democrats (ID), did very well in 2006 — Oudtshoorn. The DA defends three very marginal seats there next month. GOOD will want that orange blanket to move inland and cover the Klein Karoo as well. 

The rest

Three local parties need an honourable mention. The Save Tsantsabane Coalition (STC) is the official opposition in Postmasburg. It came very close to upsetting the ANC in Boichoko township, falling short by 44 votes. The ANC won here in 2016 by 54 points. On 11 November it was a mere three points. Watch them here in 2021.

Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI) came third in every single George by-election on Super Wednesday. It easily outpaced the ANC and remains a viable choice for voters in many of the traditional coloured wards in George.

The Knysna Independent Movement (KIM) has a Knysna seahorse on its emblem. Like the animal on the emblem, KIM has had one eye focused on its food (disgruntled DA voters in the suburbs) and one eye focused on the predator (the DA election machine) in Knysna by-elections. It got 20% in Knysna (Central) on the 11 November and now has two solid second-place finishes in Knysna by-elections. Expect the party to be a factor on the Knysna council after the 2021 elections. 

One regional party also needs recognition. PG Mavundla’s Abatho Bantu Congress (ABC) might have not won back Mavundla’s uMvoti seat (won with the NFP in 2019), but it could win a few seats in KwaZulu-Natal in 2021. It came close in uMvoti and also came third in Nqutu. 

Visvin Reddy’s African Democratic Change (ADeC) won a large township voting district in Phomolong in the Matjhabeng by-election in the Free State. Can ADeC make more of a mark in Matjhabeng? It finished with 27% of the vote in the Matjhabeng by-election. 

The next round of by-elections will be on 9 December 2020. The parties will regroup and aim to end the year on a by-election high and take that momentum into a local government election year. DM

Wayne Sussman is an elections analyst.


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  • In summary, the ANC are not done yet but hobbled by service delivery incompetence. The voters may be put off by the long-coming EFF penchant towards violence – no one wants to see political parties calling militia onto the streets and blood flowing. The Dinosaur Alliance continues its zillerisation, and NKOTB Steenhuizen whilst young has advisors pushing him towards TonyLeonInc rhetoric and no one is convinced. Regional parties still have influence that can challenge the big three.

  • As an outsider without the right to vote in South Africa, I find SA politics absorbing spectator sport. I can not believe that those in poverty, many of them uneducated, repeatedly return to power the very corrupt political party that keeps them in poverty through their corrupt practices.
    On the other hand, many of the educated, will not acknowledge the success of the only political party that has demonstrated its ability to govern a large city and also a province. This denial defies logic. There is no doubt that this mindset is encouraged consistently by the mainstream media.
    From my spectator seat, I can not currently see how South Africans are ever going to elect a competent political party to govern them. Wake up, South Africa!

  • Well so much for the DA. Their smug new policies seem to have appealed only to their own leadership and neither to their previous black support nor to the white Afrikaner support. What they have left seems to be mostly the conservative English speakers. They have now destroyed their own chances of being a credible opposition party, the only party capable of inflicting any damage on the ANC thereby letting the ANC off the hook, and also putting their Western Cape stronghold at risk. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It seems their policies have been captured by members of the Institute of Race Relations, supported by Biznews and Politicsweb, bedfellows of the USA right wing think tanks. Time for (Hero to Zero Tweeter) Zille & her nonentity new puppet party leader to resign. How utterly depressing! Thanks a lot!

  • As a loyal subscriber of DM I am very disappointed with this article. What about the statistic facts of the total votes cast in all Voting Districts for the 95 by-elections, vs the exact same VDs in the 2019 election? By that measure, the ANC vote share declined by 7.8 percentage points and the DA by 0.8; the EFF increased by 0.3 and the FF+ by 2.4.
    The heading “ANC passes by-election test, while DA sheds votes left and right” is an insult to factual journalism

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