South Africa


The Finish Line: Crushing blows to ANC, less-severe punches for the DA and some (significant) surprises

The Finish Line: Crushing blows to ANC, less-severe punches for the DA and some (significant) surprises
A general view of The Electoral Commission of South Africa's (IEC) results operation centre on November 03, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius)

Voters, particularly in urban areas, have delivered a snotklap of historic proportions for the ANC. By Thursday, the ANC is out in the cold in its largest region, eThekwini, with 42% support, and it just managed to hold on to Mangaung, its 1912 birthplace, with 50.5%. 

The 2021 local government elections was historic for the ANC in all the wrong ways – a national polling support of 45.6%, a further haemorrhaging of support in key metros like Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, and further decline even in the towns and dorpies across South Africa where it retained control.

See our provincial maps which are updated as results roll out here:

As the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) late on Thursday morning started releasing final seat allocations with 99.9% of ballots captured, the breakdown for eThekwini showed the ANC’s 42% support got it 96 seats. That’s down from the 126 in the 219-strong council after the 2016 municipal poll, with the DA securing 58 seats, the EFF 24, IFP 16 and ActionSA four.

Losing control in eThekwini would be a sore point for the ANC, and sharply reflects its changing character away from cities. As the largest ANC region in South Africa, it’s been a feather in its cap, following the push of the ANC to clinch KwaZulu-Natal from the IFP that only came in the 2004 elections.

The ANC’s loss of eThekwini also comes against setbacks elsewhere in the province. The IFP has scored big in northern KwaZulu-Natal, across the Tugela River that traditionally marks the divide. “Siyaqhuba” (“we’re moving”) came from the IFP team as it left the IEC Tshwane national results centre late on Wednesday evening.

Nationally speaking, the ANC’s loss of control in eThekwini means five metros now will be governed by coalitions. The ANC only won control in Mangaung – at 50.5%, down from 57% in 2016, that’s understood to be just a one-seat majority – and Buffalo City Metro in the Eastern Cape. The DA runs Cape Town, again.

While the loss of outright control in eThekwini smarts, so does the ANC’s loss of uMgeni – it includes the Howick capture site of Nelson Mandela – also hit hard. 

An exchange on the floor of the IEC Tshwane national results centre between the ANC and IFP had the ANC complain why it wasn’t at least the IFP that clinched uMgeni. It was one of those pointed moments.

On Thursday, November 4, 2021, police conduct a security sweep at the IEC’s Results Operations Centre in Tshwane ahead of the closing results ceremony and arrival of president Cyril Ramaphosa,  Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Dalily Maverick

That DA election win in uMgeni is historical; it is its first KwaZulu-Natal municipality. As widely anticipated, the DA retained control in Kouga, Eastern Cape; Midvaal, Gauteng; alongside several councils in the Western Cape, including Cape Town.

The DA’s 21.5% polling support is three percentage points lower than its 24.5% share of votes in the 2016 local government elections, and the spin is on to compare the 2021 municipal poll to its May 2019 performance of 20.7%. 

Coincidentally, after an internal review into the approximately 1.5 percentage point drop from the 2014 to the 2019 national elections the DA’s first black leader Mmusi Maimane resigned in October 2019.

 Regardless of spin, the 2021 DA returns frequently have been lower, particularly outside of Cape Town where voters caused, for example, a seven-seat drop for the DA in Drakenstein (Paarl) and a two-seat reduction in Stellenbosch. Other councils like Worcester, Oudtshoorn and George saw the DA slip control. 

It should be cause for concern to the DA, even if the party looks to highlight how some towns have had previous troublesome coalitions, or troublesome DA mayors that had to be removed like in George, that only goes so far to explain why voters took their crosses on the ballots elsewhere.

For example, an interesting three-way has unfolded in Beaufort West, a key economic hub on the N1 trucker route: the ANC and DA both scored four council seats, with the Patriotic Alliance (PA) holding three seats.

Again, coalition time!

That signal from voters is clear – the system of one-party dominance is over and political parties must cooperate in the interest of residents.

Coalition talks have started, at least informally, already on Tuesday afternoon as the fracturing of one-party dominance emerged from the 1 November local government elections.

A momentary introspection, however, was quickly replaced by spin – and the push from both the ANC and DA to claim the right to form governments.

 National discussions, decision and scenario planning by South Africa’s two largest parties over the next few days will show whether coalition broking is a political ego drive power grab, or a more considered approach towards compromise and consensus.

That will be a key moment for South African politics – and the body politic. 

This is where the 2021 local government elections delivered its second landmark result – voters took their ballots to smaller parties, including local residents and civic organisations that clinched 486 wards countrywide, roughly 1% of all, with 50 independents winning their wards.

The rise of smaller parties, sometimes based around personalities, sometimes around sheer hard work, includes newcomers and old hands trying something different. They include ActionSA, the Freedom Front Plus, Patriotic Alliance and in some measure the EFF which boosted its electoral polling by a solid two percentage points to 10.3%.

ActionSA of Herman Mashaba, the businessman turned one-time DA Johannesburg mayor and now leader of his own party, will play a leading role in coalition making in the three Gauteng metros. Working with the ANC was out of the question, Mashaba is on public record.

In South Africa’ economic centre of Johannesburg, ActionSA scored 16%, or around two-thirds of the DA’s 25.58% polling, in its debut electoral showing. The ANC received 34% support – a more than ten percentage point drop from its 44.5% support in 2016 – and the EFF 10.7%, according to the IEC.

 In South Africa’s administrative capital Tshwane, ActionSA obtained 8.6%, against the EFF’s 10.7%, the DA’s 32% and the ANC’s 34.5% support, down from 41.2% obtained in the 2016 municipal poll.

 The Freedom Front Plus has just about tripled its municipal support to 178, with its 7.9% showing in Tshwane. That’s expected to translate into 14 seats, which is important not only because of the potential impact on coalition making, but also because it is its best showing there. Ditto, Johannesburg where the party now has three seats, up from one in the 2016 municipal elections.

The three seats the FF+ won in the Eastern Cape have put smiles on the faces of the team at the IEC national results centre.

 GOOD fared not so good, but not irrevocably badly with 34 seats nationally. The next national and local elections will determine its future. But for many like Cope and the African Transformation Movement (ATM) the 2021 municipal poll confirmed respectively their decline, or that they hit their glass ceilings.

The Eastern Cape came out batting for the ANC with 62% support, but gave the DA a smidgeon more polling support in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. That fractional percentage support did not, however, translate into more seats: the DA and ANC each garnered 48 seats in the 120-stong metro, with the EFF getting eight seats, the Northern Alliance three, and two each to the FF+, PA and African Christian Democratic Alliance (ACDP) with the remaining seats going one each to other parties like GOOD.

It’s a tricky coalition, on the back of a five-year track record of messy coalition governance. “It’s a headache,” is how one potential coalition partner put it.

Those coalition talks, not just in the five metros, but also in the other 63 hung municipalities, must be completed in the 14-day statutory window period that starts once the IEC has declared the 2021 local government elections.

That event – staff were prepping special events at lunchtime – is scheduled for 6pm on Thursday. DM


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