2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS ANALYSIS
RET knives out for Ramaphosa: Zuma faction mobilises to blame party president for poor ANC showing
Losing control of eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal and a national drop in voter support are body blows to the ANC, which has admitted that internal squabbling did not help its campaign. However, divided camps within the party have already started a blame game, with the party’s performance under its leader Cyril Ramaphosa set to top the agenda at a *National Working Committee meeting on Friday.
The ANC leadership will come together on Friday during an extended National Working Committee meeting, where the issue of electoral performance is expected to be top of the agenda. Factions within the ruling party are once again at each other’s throats in the wake of the local government elections, which saw the ANC being punished by voters.
One faction places the blame squarely on the shoulders of party president Cyril Ramaphosa, while his supporters say the poor performance at the polls was linked to former president Jacob Zuma and a cohort of cadres coalescing under the banner of Radical Economic Transformation (RET).
Some critics within the party accused the Zuma camp of deliberately failing to campaign vigorously for an ANC victory, while hoping to use the results as a reason to unseat Ramaphosa during the party’s upcoming national general conference or the national elective conference some time in 2022.
Pundits also said the July riots and looting — which began after the jailing of Zuma for contempt of court — had played a role in the ANC’s disastrous electoral performance.
Voters in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng — where the unrest was most severe — severely punished the party at the ballot box.
It was in KZN that the ANC losses were most apparent, with the party losing power in many rural municipalities — especially in the northern regions — to the rival Inkatha Freedom Party. Zuma’s own ward at Nkandla went to the IFP.
In the eThekwini Municipality, the ANC failed to get above 50% of the vote. Now this metro, with an annual budget of more than R50-billion, is one of the hung councils that will require a coalition government.
In 2016, the ANC won 126 seats in eThekwini, followed by the DA with 61 seats and the IFP with 10. In those elections, the ANC won 56% of the votes in eThekwini, but this year it struggled to reach 42%, though the final results had not yet been declared at the time of writing.
Nationally, the ANC has dropped in support to 45.6%.
Furthermore, the ANC lost the once safe uMngeni Local Municipality, in the KZN Midlands, to the DA, which celebrated the first time the party has managed to get full control of a municipality in the province.
In 2016, the uMngeni municipality had 23 seats up for grabs. The ANC won 13 and the DA won 10. In 2021, 25 seats were in the offing. The DA turned the tables and won 13 seats, the ANC took 10 and the Economic Freedom Fighters won two.
The ANC has been steadily losing support since the 2011 local government elections, where it won 61.9 % of the vote. In 2016, the ruling party dropped to 53.9% and now, in 2021, it was hovering around 45% after almost all the votes had been tallied by the Electoral Commission (IEC).
Nhlakanipho Ntombela, ANC spokesperson in KZN, said his party was disappointed to lose so much ground in the province, but said this was expected since leaders and members had been involved in infighting and factionalism instead of delivering services to the people who elected them. He said the disappointing result was a wake-up call for the party.
“This is more than a disappointment. But it is more a reflection, I think, to us as an organisation and the challenges we have gone through for the past few years of infighting amongst ourselves. We were consumed by our own infighting instead of working for our people,” he said, adding that the party would try to pick itself up and focus on dealing with the issues that caused the decline in support.
ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli conceded to Daily Maverick that something went seriously wrong with his party ahead of the elections. “We are convinced at this stage, unless the information comes out differently, that it has not been the case that ANC supporters went to vote for the IFP. The IFP retained its own support and mobilised them to go out and vote.
“Had we had our own supporters going out to vote, as we did in 2016 and before that, we wouldn’t have run into problems. Once we have the results of all wards, we will be looking at that over this coming weekend… we will be in a better position to tell what has happened and we will look at other factors that may not necessarily be internal in the ANC, but external and impacting on the ANC.”
The ruling party has suffered several serious setbacks in recent months, including having leaders stepping down after being charged for corruption.
Suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and 15 others appeared in the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein on Wednesday in the R255-million asbestos tender fraud, corruption and money laundering case. This came as election results were being tallied.
Carl Niehaus, one of Magashule’s most fervent cheerleaders and the former spokesperson of the disbanded MK Military Veterans’ Association, has had his ANC membership suspended. Niehaus said the ANC’s top five leaders, including Cyril Ramaphosa, must take full responsibility for the party having dipped below 50% support for the first time since 1994.
“This is the tipping point. It is too painful. The leadership who led us in this disastrous election over the precipice into the valley of darkness, must take responsibility and fall onto their swords. The current five NOBs (national officer bearers) and the ANC NEC must resign immediately,” he said.
Nkosenhle Shezi, spokesperson for former president Jacob Zuma and an advocate of RET, vehemently denied that his camp had deliberately failed to campaign for the ANC in the hope of speeding up efforts to unseat Ramaphosa from the helm of the party and the country.
“The RET forces went all out to campaign and advocate for the victory of the ANC. But I can say we are very disappointed about these election outcomes. We have been on record on several occasions warning the ANC about this, even before the elections.
“We have been saying that the ANC comes across as an organisation that doesn’t care about its own; an organisation that doesn’t care about communities it is supposed to serve; an organisation that doesn’t even pay its own workers. We have been saying that the ANC is going to lose popular support,” said Shezi.
“Nowhere in the world would a leader fumble like Cyril Ramaphosa and the media would still find every reason to defend. We all agree that the ANC has not done well. The first person who should take responsibility is him and the entire NEC. There are many things I could say to show that Ramaphosa was planted to collapse the ANC from within,” said Shezi.
He added that the RET “forces” would use every available avenue — including the upcoming national general conference and the 2022 national elective conference — to ensure that Ramaphosa and other leaders were held to account and booted out.
Mavuso Msimang, a veteran ANC leader and member of the party’s National Executive Committee, said that although the ANC should do introspection after its disastrous performance in the elections, the RET forces were largely to blame for causing the chaos that the ANC finds itself in.
“Everybody knows that the ANC’s performance during these elections was an unmitigated disaster, there is no other way of putting it. Yes, the ANC still came out on top, but we have, crucially, dipped below 50% which was predictable because people are tired of being serviced by an organisation that is synonymous with scandal,” he said.
“It is shameless and opportunistic for Carl Niehaus and others in the RET faction to call for Cyril Ramaphosa or anyone in the NEC to resign when they are themselves responsible for the scandals affecting the ANC,” said Msimang.
“They should look at themselves in the mirror and ask how much they have contributed to the situation the ANC finds itself in. They are very much guilty. They were responsible for the riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. They should cease their divisive activities and fall in line or step out of line. That is what they must do,” he said.
Political science professor Bheki Mngomezulu, of the University of the Western Cape, said among the factors that led to the decline of the ANC is that many of its supporters decided to stay away from the polls.
“If these supporters had opted to vote for other parties, those parties would have won many municipalities around the country. I think the ANC supporters decided to punish the party. It is not surprising that the ANC factions are now blaming each other for the dismal performance.
“They are not taking collective responsibility; they are starting to point fingers about who is responsible for this. The reason a party like the IFP is doing so well is that they reflect on their electoral performance, but they don’t discard leaders on the basis of one election result,” said Mngomezulu.
Wayne Sussman, elections analyst for Daily Maverick, said it was not clear what effect the election results would have on the ANC’s internal battles.
“The Jacob Zuma effect has had a big impact on the electoral fortunes of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, because the party has lost many municipalities to the IFP. Some within the party would blame Ramaphosa for this loss, but if you turn the coin around, the ANC could have lost a lot more.
“Ahead of the local government elections, the Thuma Mina faction had all the power. But now, after the party has done so badly, it will depend on what the structures think was the cause of this dismal performance. Once there is a trend against you, people start to panic because jobs and other perks (from the municipalities) are on the line,” said Sussman.
“ANC structures in provinces like KZN will clearly not be happy with the performance in this election, especially after losing so much ground to the IFP. But I don’t think the RET forces are strong enough to topple Ramaphosa just yet,” he said. DM
*Update: The ANC postponed its NWC meeting on Friday. It will convene a National Executive Committee meeting on Sunday to discuss the way forward.