SUPER WEDNESDAY BY-ELECTIONS
ANC holds most of the pieces of the political puzzle ahead of 27 October local government polls
A cold, early-winter day played host to 40 by-elections across South Africa in six of the nine provinces on Wednesday. The ANC’s support was like an immovable object in many of the wards across South Africa, while it was another difficult day at the office for the Democratic Alliance. This was the second-last round of by-elections before voters are set to go to the polls on 27 October 2021.
The African National Congress — Give me the best you have got
The ANC might be spending a lot of time dealing with an errant secretary-general. It might be dealing with vicious infighting on a national level and a local level. Many of its municipalities had to deal with power outages on the eve of this round of by-elections.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, the party gained three seats and lost one. It was always expected to win back Ward 110 (Mount Moriah Sunningdale) in eThekwini from the DA and Ward 21 (Buffelshoek Acornhoek) from the Bushbuckridge Residents’ Association in Bushbuckridge. It added Ward 7 (Ennerdale Finetown) in Johannesburg to its list of acquisitions as a surging Patriotic Alliance (PA) finished second, severely wounding the DA in Ennerdale, but not wounding it enough, leading to a split vote there and the ANC running up the numbers in Finetown and taking the ward.
It was not just these three ward triumphs that would make the ANC giddy. It continued to win by wide margins in its two traditional strongholds of Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. In only one of the 12 by-elections there did it have a scare. The party will be electing hundreds of councillors in these two provinces in October with minimal strain. It also won big in the battleground metro of Nelson Mandela Bay. It received more than 90% of the vote in a New Brighton by-election. If it replicates results like this in other townships in Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA and its coalition partners will know that they are living on borrowed time.
In the Free State, the ANC held off a strong challenge from the DA in the embattled Matjhabeng (Welkom Odendaalsrus) municipality and prevailed over an enthusiastic challenge by a new local kid on the block, the MAPSixteen Civic Movement, a party of former ANC councillors and activists in the Maluti a Phofung (Phuthaditjhaba).
In Gauteng, the party had a big win in Katlehong in Ekurhuleni and increased its majority in key townships in Tshwane. These included Soshanguve and Winterveld South. The positive results in these Tshwane townships suggest that voters are willing to come back to the party.
The ANC had a very good night, but there are some areas of worry. It was unable to win two wards off the DA in Tshwane. The ANC comfortably beat the DA in Ward 3 (Pretoria West) and Ward 92 (Arcadia Hatfield) in 2019, but the DA held on in Ward 3 and increased its majority in Ward 92. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also shocked the ANC by winning a safe ANC seat in uPhongolo, and the IFP made impressive inroads in Endumeni (Dundee) and Umhlathuze (Richards Bay) in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The overall picture is very positive for the ANC. It has a lot of momentum for the local government elections, set for 27 October, subject to the outcome of an urgent review by former deputy chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who will determine if the elections can be free and fair amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democratic Alliance — eviction from Eldorado Park
In the last local government elections, the DA got 9,535 more votes than the Patriotic Alliance (PA) in Ward 18 (Eldorado Park) in Johannesburg.
The DA crushed the ANC and other pretenders to the Eldorado Park throne as the party got north of 80% of the vote in the ward. In a stunning reversal of events, the PA shocked the DA by a margin of almost three votes to one as the PA finished with 62% of the vote, compared with the DA’s 22%.
In Ward 17 (Eldorado Park Kliptown), the DA saw its support drop by more than half as the PA romped home to victory. The DA was also humiliated in Ward 7 (Ennerdale Finetown) where it fell from first place to third as voters there flocked to the PA. The DA has now lost four consecutive wards in Johannesburg where coloured voters are in the majority. This core group of the 2016 Johannesburg coalition which helped bring the ANC to below 50% and enabled Herman Mashaba to don the mayoral chain has now ditched the DA. It is a crisis for the DA in Johannesburg.
In Faerie Glen in Tshwane, the DA lost considerable support to the Freedom Front + (VF+). The DA’s percentage vote share fell from 89% to 65%, while the VF+ grew from 4% to 31%. Despite these losses, the DA will still breathe a major sigh of relief that the exodus was not as pronounced as Eldorado Park or Schweizer-Reneke. The VF+ threw everything at this by-election and the DA will hope that the fine VF+ showing in Faerie Glen was their ceiling in Tshwane.
The DA held on for crucial wins in two Tshwane wards. The ANC was favoured to beat it in Ward 3 (Pretoria West) and Ward 92 (Arcadia). The DA held on in Pretoria West and increased its majority in Arcadia. These results will no doubt encourage the party in the capital. It also pushed the ANC in Matjhabeng (Odendaalsrus). It fielded a well-known and well-liked candidate. It showed that despite the national challenges facing the party, good candidates can propel the party forward.
Economic Freedom Fighters — revolutions come slow
The EFF ate into ANC strongholds in the last round of by-elections in KwaZulu-Natal. It failed to replicate it this time. The ANC stumped it in Ward 110 (KwaMashu) in eThekwini, and the IFP was the more formidable challenger to the ANC in the townships around the port town of Richards Bay in Umhlathuze. The EFF fielded candidates in all 40 wards and doesn’t have much to show for it. It largely held on to its previous support there, but will be encouraged by the result in Tshwane in Ward 30 in Ga-Rankuwa Central. The party went from 20% to 35% and will want to build on that platform for the local government elections.
It also struggled to shake the ANC in Limpopo. Its results in the four by-elections across the province were similar to that of 2016.
Inkatha Freedom Party — Northern Exposure
The IFP shocked the ANC in uPhongolo, winning a rural ward off the ANC. It more than doubled its percentage support in Ward 14 by getting 59% of the vote, up from 28%. The ANC fell from 54% to 33%. uPhongolo is the municipality in the Zululand District where the ANC performed best in 2016. Similar to Eldorado Park, there was no sign in 2019 that the ANC was at risk here.
The IFP will now focus on winning this municipality from the ANC in 2019. The party will also be buoyed by its growth in the three Umhlathuze wards (Richards Bay) and Endumeni (Dundee). The party also held off KwaZulu-Natal party Abantu Batho Congress (ABC) in Nqutu. The IFP had expelled the former mayor Siyabonga Kunene, who was also a ward councillor. Kunene defected to the ABC and ran for his old seat. He came short. The IFP will be concerned about this close run in this stronghold, but will think that this says more about the support Kunene has in the ward, rather than the support the ABC has.
Patriotic Alliance — Gayton McKenzie is no one-trick wonder
There are no ifs and buts, the PA only made gains on Wednesday, 19 May. There was nothing to be concerned about. It was all good for Gayton McKenzie. McKenzie tapped into communal anger and frustration when he spoke at the funeral of young Nathaniel Julies, a boy with Down’s syndrome who was shot and killed by the police in 2020.
McKenzie spoke at the funeral and became the voice of the coloured community in the south of Johannesburg. He has channelled their frustration and despair and become the vehicle for that community — and that community has left the DA for the green colours of the PA. McKenzie has now crushed the DA in four consecutive by-elections in the south of Johannesburg. The PA will definitely be a factor in the 2021 local government elections.
The VF+ contested only one by-election on Wednesday. It garnered more than 30% of the vote in Faerie Glen. Faerie Glen is less conservative than Stilfontein and Schweizer-Reneke. It is clear that the VF+ is appealing to more and more white Afrikaans-speaking voters and this is a good omen for the 2021 local government elections.
Two local political parties made their mark in this round of by-elections. The MAPSixteen Civic Movement will not finish lower than second place in the Maluti a Phofung local government elections in October. It came close in this by-election, but was not appealing enough to oust the ANC. Can its activists remain energised between now and the local government elections?
The Middelburg and Hendrina Residents’ Front (MHRF) is a party led by a former ANC mayor in Steve Tshwete. It won more than 20% of the vote in an ANC stronghold. The ANC won comfortably, but if the MHRF can raise some funds and improve its get-out-the-vote plan it could weaken the ANC’s grip on this Mpumalanga municipality.
It was a mixed bag for the independents. In Tshwane in Ward 3, an independent candidate backed by Mmusi Maimane’s One South Africa movement was third with more than 20% of the vote. In Matatiele, in a rural ward near Lesotho, an independent candidate won more than 30% of the vote. However, two well-known independent candidates in other by-elections failed to make a big impact.
There is one more round of by-elections before the scheduled local government elections. It will be another tough outing for the DA, while the ANC has little to panic over. The party remains on track for a good 2021. DM
Wayne Sussman is an elections analyst.