South Africa


Free State: ANC majorities slashed and hung councils quadruple

Free State: ANC majorities slashed and hung councils quadruple
A Bloemfontein resident casts their vote in the Free State during the local government elections on 1 November 2021. (Photo: Lihlumelo Toyana)

The ANC got the most votes in each of Free State’s 19 municipalities and retained the Mangaung metro, but that’s where the good news stops for the party that recorded double-digit losses in the province as local parties stormed home.

Few voters across South Africa would recognise MAP16, the Setsoto Service Delivery Forum (SSDF), the Nala Community Forum (NCF) and the Moqhaka Community Forum (MCF), but the four hyper-local Free State parties are part of a growing threat to the ANC that’s chipping away at its municipal majorities.

The ANC led all 19 Free State municipalities in the local government elections but its share of the vote across the province dropped from 61.53% in 2016 to 50.61% in 2021.

In 2016, it failed to take a majority in only one municipality, Metsimaholo. The number of hung councils quadrupled to four in this year’s elections, in no small part due to new, local opposition groups.

MAP16, made up of former ANC councillors who were booted from the party after opposing their own allegedly corrupt mayor, became the official opposition in Maluti-a-Phofung, taking 28.55% compared to the ANC’s 39.2%. In 2016, the ANC won 67.4% of the vote.

The ANC was clearly worried about losing its lead in the council, reported to be one of the worst-governed in the country, where allegations of corruption are rife and service delivery challenges deep. While President Cyril Ramaphosa campaigned in the area in October, voters, who flocked to water trucks when Daily Maverick visited in the same month, clearly weren’t convinced.

The ANC said it would welcome the MAP16 councillors back into its fold, but they went it alone and could form a government if they find coalition partners in a council that will include a whopping 11 different political parties.

In Moqhaka, the ANC’s share of the vote dropped from 60.1% in 2016 to 49.55% this year, with the MCF taking 6.4%, trailing behind the DA at 21.2% and EFF with 11.53%, but largely being the difference between 2016 and 2021. 

In Nala, where the ANC dropped almost 13 percentage points to 48.72%, the NCF took 8.37%, finishing behind the EFF and DA. In both Nala and Moqhaka the ANC is in the prime position to form a coalition government.

In Metsimaholo, the horse-trading is likely to be intense. The ANC and SACP governed the municipality with smaller coalition parties after a by-election in 2017, but the ANC lost more than 10 percentage points from 2016 in this vote and took home only 34.47%, giving it 16 seats to the DA’s and EFF’s 12 each, Freedom Front Plus’s (FF+) three, and one each to three smaller parties.

The ANC will be thankful for holding its majority in Mangaung, but it was by the slimmest of margins. It won 50.63% of the vote, down from 56.52% in 2016.

The ANC’s losses are the story of these elections and while it might have maintained its majorities in most Free State municipalities, even those rural strongholds could be at risk if its decline continues.

In Setsoto, the ANC fell from 61.4% to 50.96% as the local SSDF took home 22.88% to become the official opposition. In Nketoana, the ANC dropped from 70.26% in 2016 to 51.98%, largely due to growth in support for the EFF, FF+ and a number of smaller parties.

The ANC recorded such double-digit point drops in a number of other municipalities while, incredibly, the DA also recorded losses across the province, dropping from 20.38% in the Free State in 2016 to 18.77%.

The EFF, which improved its share of the vote from 9.69% to 12.41%, is responsible for some of those losses, as is the FF+, which jumped from 1.97% to 4.16%.

But in many areas, it was small, local parties that took votes from the ANC. Voters in various areas of the province have described their growing frustration at allegations of corruption and deteriorating or non-existent service delivery. 

In October, the SSDF’s spokesperson Selloane Lephoi told Moneyweb the party would win the election in Setsoto. 

“We know this because we’ve been to 90% of the households in our areas, and we have been listening to what people are saying. They are fed up with corruption, at having no water, broken sewage pipes and potholes. They want basic services, and they want economic opportunities,” said Lephoi.

“Many people in this area are fed up with politics and are not interested in voting. These are the people we are busy campaigning to get to the voting booths on the day of election.”

While the party failed to win the municipality or drive the ANC under 50% in Setsoto, where the local council is located in Ficksburg, its strong showing, and those of other civic movements, suggests voters are looking for local alternatives to the ANC in the Free State. DM


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