2021 Local Elections

2021 ELECTIONS: Wednesday Morning

Focused smaller parties put big players on notice in uncertain time

The election results screen at the Independent Electoral Commission's Results Operation Centre in Pretoria on Tuesday, 2 November 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The winners of the local government elections are those that are clear about who they purport to represent, rather than the bigger, established political parties.

The political map of South Africa remained green across large swathes of the country as there was less blue on the eastern and western edge of the Western Cape, and more non-revolutionary red in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal, with a speck of orange and blue there as well. 

Superficially, it appeared that the ANC remained utterly dominant in the northern parts of the country and the Northern and Eastern Cape, while the DA remained the party of choice in the Western Cape, with the maps of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng more unclear. 

It was anything but business as usual as the ANC and DA lost significant ground, with the main beneficiaries being parties who are unambiguous about who they represent – certain ethnic, cultural, religious, regional or local groupings. 

This strange election saw the DA, the official opposition, failing to take advantage of a wounded ANC, while it also lost ground in many of its local government strongholds and failed to pick off the ANC in many municipalities where the ruling party had a slender majority. 

It was also an election where the energetic campaign of the EFF amounted to an unspectacular showing with marginal gains for a party that had big ideas about disrupting the current local government order. The third-largest party is unlikely to crown a mayor at this stage, unless the DA reverses an earlier position of refusing to work with the EFF. 

The future control of all Gauteng metros was murky at best, while President Cyril Ramaphosa and Helen Zille’s earnest campaigns in Gqeberha were not enough to bring the parties closer to outright control – far further from it, in fact. South Africans living under coalitions did not enjoy the best local government experience over the past five years, but it was clear as the votes were tallied in the metros and the larger towns across the country, that many more South Africans would get to live in places governed by coalitions. We can only hope that South Africa’s next chapter of local government is better than the 2016-21 iteration.

Track the poll results via Daily Maverick’s customised provincial maps here.

Thirty hours have elapsed since the polls closed on the local government elections. Gauteng metro residents do not know who their next mayor will be. The same holds for Nelson Mandela Bay, and even eThekwini is not clear cut.

A big winner was a party that is unambiguous about who its primary audience is – the IFP elephant-trumpeted back in northern KwaZulu-Natal, reversing the impressive KZN gains made by the ANC in the Jacob Zuma era. Vote counting is slow in KwaZulu-Natal, but at this stage it is the IFP rather than the EFF that has cut the ANC down to size in the province, given early results from Alfred Duma (Ladysmith), Newcastle, Inkosi Langalibalele (Estcourt) and uPhongolo (Pongola). What is most alarming are the current returns in uMhlathuze (Richards Bay) where the ANC is likely to shed many councillors in this safe ANC municipality. The party had 43 out of the 67 councillors in uMhlathuze going into the election and will be hoping it has done enough to keep outright control in this key KZN municipality. 

The Freedom Front Plus (VF+) won election to many councils it had not served on for many years, and emerged as the official opposition in the Kgetlengrivier municipality (Koster) in North West. The party continued to make inroads in traditional DA strongholds across the north of the country, the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay. The VF+ will be in a much stronger negotiating position with the DA than it was after the last election.

Parties with majority coloured support, like the Patriotic Alliance (PA), Good and the Cape Coloured Congress (CCC), hurt the DA and the ANC in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Gayton McKenzie’s PA not only solidified its strong showing in Eldorado Park in the south of Johannesburg, but set itself as kingmaker in a number of rural municipalities. If McKenzie is as shrewd as he is with business negotiations, his political negotiations with the ANC could see him net the mayoral position in municipalities like Beaufort West and Matzikama (Vredendal) on the West Coast. Good might have underperformed in Cape Town but it still attracted enough DA voters to make the party sweat about the strength of its vice-like grip on Cape Town. Good will be happy with its returns in places like George and Saldanha Bay. 

Parties like Al-Jamah, which appeal to a sector of the religious Muslim community, and a thought to be soon extinct National Freedom Party (NFP), which fishes in the same Northern KZN waters as the IFP, showed durability in that part of the province and is likely to have the next mayor of eDumbe (Paulpietersburg). 

An earthquake was felt in Deputy President David Mabuza’s home province of Mpumalanga in the middle of the afternoon on 2 November. It had little to do with coal mining and a lot to do with a new party in the Gert Sibande district. The release of the final results in Lekwa (Standerton) revealed that, for the first time in South Africa’s electoral history, the ANC had fallen below 50% in a municipality and risked losing control. 

The cause was not the EFF or the DA, but a new party called the Lekwa Community Forum, which finished in second place with six seats. In the Free State, the Nala Community Forum brought the ANC below 50% in Nala in the maize belt centred on Bothaville. In Siyathemba (Prieska) in the Northern Cape, the Siyathemba Community Movement also performed well enough to bring the ANC below 50%. 

Ruben Richards from Cederberg First in Citrusdal is likely to be the next mayor of Cederberg where his party took votes from the ANC and the DA. The ANC was even more vulnerable in Nama Khoi (Springbok) where small-town GP Gustav Bock’s Namakwa Civic Movement emerged as the kingmaker and is likely to be next mayor of this municipality. 

Local parties announced themselves in these elections. You might never hear of many of them again, but the ANC and DA will be putting on the charm offensive in the next few days as the future control of places like Witzenberg (Ceres) and Bitou (Plettenberg Bay) does not depend on the fancy of one local or regional party, but multiple local or regional parties in the case of these two municipalities. 

The winners of the local government elections are those that are clear on who they purport to represent, rather than the bigger, established political parties. The bigger parties have been put on notice. They will now need to galvanise their elected members of Parliament, members of provincial legislature and newly elected councillors and use their strength in numbers to bring the desired differences their supporters yearn for. Otherwise more hurt at the ballot box will ensue in 2024. 

What is unclear is how the many areas where coalition governments will be required will be formed over the next few days, and critically whether these will result in better service delivery and better politics in the towns and cities across South Africa. DA


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Perhaps the age of franchise local parties is ahead. So, a national franchise and brand Local Party. It runs national media and supports local media as well as local electioneering.

    It does not parachute in Councillors, each Councillor is put forward by only the local organizing committee of the relevant Local Party.

    People are gatvol that national politics came to dominate local government.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Johan, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Local issues must be handled by local people with a direct interest in the area.

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