2021 Local Elections


Thursday Morning: ANC cut down to size in the industrial heartland

The IEC's Results Operation Centre in Pretoria on Wednesday, 3 November 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Results in many key industrial and mining towns in the north of the country and KwaZulu-Natal suggest voters want change. There are criticial challenges in these towns, and voters indicated they do not want the ANC to run these municipalities for the next five years. They want to give other parties a chance at the wheel.

In 2016, the ANC lost its outright majority in places like Mogale City (Krugersdorp) and Metsimaholo (Sasolburg). It also lost power there but won it back as the unwieldy coalitions disintegrated and the party returned to power with its own coalition partners. It would have hoped that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reform agenda would regain the trust of voters and propel them past the 50% mark again. The President gave everything to the ANC’s campaign. He visited towns and cities where the local ANC leadership was not living up to his “New Dawn” maxim. 

But the third of November was a day of bloodletting in many key industrial and mining towns in the north of the country and KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC was punished by voters who supported other parties, or frustrated ANC supporters who simply stayed away and failed to pitch up at the polls.

Newcastle, Steve Tshwete (Middelburg) in Mpumalanga and Emfuleni (Vanderbijlpark) were some of the municipalities where the ANC lost significant ground. The party fell further away from outright majorities in Mogale City and Metsimaholo. 

Emfuleni (Vanderbijlpark) ANC 38 (51) DA 24 (21) EFF 14 (11) FF+ 6 (2) PAC 2 (1) Community Solidarity Association 2 PA 1 New Horizon Movement 1 ACDP 1 Vaal Alternative Alliance Lekgotla (VAAL) 1. Total 90 

The ANC had 30 more seats than the DA going into this election in this steel-producing region. That gap fell to 14 as the ANC lost 13 of its 51 seats. The party lost seats to the DA, EFF, three local parties including the Mmusi Maimane-endorsed New Horizon Movement, and a party with very strong ties to Sharpeville – the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. This might well be the first small victory the PAC has had over the ANC since 1994. 

Voters simply had enough of the almost complete collapse of service delivery in Emfuleni. This is a stunning shift away from the ANC in one of its Gauteng strongholds. The path to power for the ANC and DA here is through a deal with the EFF. There is no other way. 

These elections were very tough for the DA, but the result in Emfuleni is one of growth. Voters here are impressed by what they see in, and hear of, Midvaal and that is a fundamental reason their vote share grew here instead of following the metro trend in Gauteng – a trend of decline. 

Steve Tshwete (Middelburg) ANC 21 (32) DA 17 (17) EFF 9 (7) Middelburg & Hendrina Residents Front 7 FF+ 3 (2) Independent 1. Total 58

This area of Mpumalanga is known as a hub for stainless steel and coal mining. The ANC saw a gap of 15 seats between it and the official opposition, the DA, slip to four as the former was hit hard by a local party, the Middelburg and Hendrina Residents Front (MHRF). This party was formed by a well-respected ex-ANC mayor and local business people. The MHRF took the bulk of the seats off the ANC in Steve Tshwete with its seven-seat haul. The EFF also came to the party here, gaining two seats off the ANC, while an independent won a ward, further reducing the ANC tally. Due to high suburban turnout, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) gained an additional seat – a seat lost by the ANC for failing to energise its voters to come to the polls. 

If the ANC is unable to do a deal here with the EFF, there will be no stable coalition. There are interesting days ahead in Middelburg. If the opposition is able to form a coalition, either Jomo Segage, the MHRF candidate for mayor, the towering, former Pumas rugby lock, and DA member of the provincial legislature Bosman Grobler would emerge as mayor. 

Newcastle ANC 31% (61%) IFP 26% (17%) EFF 12% (8%) Team Sugar South Africa (TSSA) 10% DA 7% (9%) ActionSA 3% – with 98% of votes counted

This result was not final at the time of writing. The ANC’s percentage vote share might go up by 1%. Whatever the final result, this is a shocking result for the party. It will lose almost half its councillors in this large town known for its steel, chrome and cement sectors. The IFP made a big advance in Newcastle, increasing its vote share by almost 10%, while a local party, Team Sugar, also took a large chunk of ANC votes. The EFF had a good showing in Newcastle on the 2019 provincial ballot, and that trend continued on Wednesday as the party grew to 12% of the vote share. A resurgent IFP, a compelling local party, and a party offering clear solutions are among the many reasons the ANC finds itself unlikely to return to the council with the mayoral chain around its candidate’s neck. 

What now?

These results suggest that voters want change. They do not want the ANC to run these municipalities for the next five years. They want to give other parties a chance at the wheel. The DA made a campaign promise to its supporters that it would not work with the EFF. It is understandable why it did that. The local government governance agreement reached between the parties in 2016 did not result in success for either party, and tarnished their respective brands. However, at the same time, the voters have spoken. They do not want the ANC to continue governing places like Steve Tshwete. 

There are critical challenges in many of these large towns. Voters in Emfuleni and Newcastle held their noses and voted for change on 1 November. They have given the mandate to the opposition parties to bench the ANC  for the next term of local government. There might be a large ideological gulf, and supporters of the EFF might be more comfortable with their party doing a deal with Ramaphosa’s ANC than a combative John Steenhuisen, and likewise the suburban DA supporters would much rather drink tea with the President than the commander in chief. 

However, voters in these municipalities are desperate for an alternative. They have not had good experiences in these large towns over the past number of years, and their wish for pragmatism over intransigence will need to be strongly considered. DM


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