South Africa

ROAD TO 2024

The ANC’s mid-term reckoning

Cyril Ramaphosa at the announcement of the final results for the 2021 local government elections at the Results Operation Centre, Tshwane, 4 November 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

It was a tough day for the ANC in this election cycle, with poor results in all but the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. Will this trend continue to 2024, and what do the specific results in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape mean, as we move towards the next major election?

In 2016, President Jacob Zuma addressed the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) announcement of the final results of the 2016 local government elections. The mood in the room was sombre. The ANC had fallen below 50% in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay.

The party had registered its worst performance yet in a major election, obtaining 54% of the vote. Many of the party faithful must have seen this as a temporary aberration. This was an electoral wrong that could surely be fixed. The party had a sharp decline again in 2019 in the national elections. It had fallen to below 60% for the first time. This was despite the fact that it was were now led by Cyril Ramaphosa. 

The ANC would have fancied its chances, at the start of 2021, of winning an outright majority in places like Ekurhuleni. The 2019 results were also positive in Limpopo, and that the party was on track to win outright majorities in Thabazimbi and Modimolle-Mookgophong. This year, the ANC also kissed and made up with the South African Communist Party (SACP) in Metsimaholo (Sasolburg).

When the results were tallied there was only one municipality in South Africa where the ANC won an outright majority in a municipality where it won less than 50% of the seats in 2016. This was the geographically big, but demographically tiny Ubuntu (Victoria West) Municipality in the Northern Cape.

Mpumalanga: A blemish on a proud record

History was made in this year’s local government elections when the ANC fell below 50% for the first time in a municipality in Mpumalanga. To make matters worse, it happened three times. Deputy President Mabuza’s home province’s record of never having to enter coalition talks in Mpumalanga was shattered as the party suffered setbacks in Steve Tshwete (Middelburg), Govan Mbeki (Secunda) and Lekwa (Standerton). The ANC lost ground to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), local parties and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in these three municipalities. 

ANC 2021 elections Mpumalanga
History was made when the ANC fell below 50% for the first time in a municipality in Mpumalanga. To make matters worse, it happened three times. (Photo: Jaco Marais / Netwerk24 Nuus / Gallo)

Even in Bushbuckridge, where a prominent local party, the Better Residents Association (BRA) imploded, the ANC lost four seats. In Bushbuckridge by-elections leading up to the elections, the ANC was winning wards previously held by BRA by landslides. That momentum did not carry to the local government elections. In Mbombela, the ANC lost 10 seats. Mbombela was the least competitive provincial capital. The ANC was rock solid in the Lowveld, but that also came undone in this election. 

Gauteng: Urban unhappiness

In 2019, the ANC crept over the 50% mark to retain its outright majority in Gauteng. The results in Ekurhuleni rescued the party from serious trouble. The ANC fell below 40% in all three Gauteng metros in this election. The party lost further ground in Mogale City (Krugersdorp) and lost its outright majority in Rand West City (Randfontein), Lesedi (Heidelberg), Emfuleni (Vereeniging) and Merafong (Carletonville). 

While the ANC has a path to retaining power in all the municipalities it led before the elections, the fact that it either needs coalition partners where it ruled outright before, or needs additional coalition partners where it governed in coalition previously, will certainly unnerve the party. Losses were most pronounced in Emfuleni and Johannesburg, where it lost more than a quarter of its councillors. Even then, most loyal black, green and gold flavoured Kool-Aid drinkers analysing the Gauteng results will know that a coalition is on the cards for 2024 in Gauteng. 

Free State

In 2016, the ANC got less than 50% in one Free State municipality, Metsimaholo (Sasolburg). This grew to four municipalities in the 2021 election as the ANC shed support in Maluti-a-Phofung (Phuthaditjhaba), Moqhaka (Kroonstad), Nala (Bothaville) and Metsimaholo. While the ANC is likely to hang on to power in Nala and Moqhaka, these results are anything but ideal. In Maluti-a-Phofung, it is likely to be sitting on the opposition benches as the second-largest party there — the Maluti-a-Phofung (MAP) 16 Civic Movement has a range of options to form a government there. 

In Metsimaholo, the ANC will need to do a deal with the EFF to return to government there. In Mangaung, the ANC eked over the line, winning 51/100 seats. The party was lucky that no compelling local offer emerged in the provincial capital. The Free State was very reliable for the ANC over election time. When one tallies the provincial results for the recent local government elections, the party won just north of 50% of the vote. 

The party will now need to invest additional resources here for 2024. The one caveat is that the ANC was hurt by local parties in Nala, Maluti-a-Phofung and Moqhaka. It also lost votes to local parties in places like Setsoto (Ficksburg). These local parties might choose to stay in their local government lane and will not be on the ballot in 2024. The ANC will believe it can win back many of these voters.

Northern Cape

Every election cycle, the opposition get excited about the Northern Cape. Every election cycle, the ANC breaks the oppositions’ hearts. The party has perfected the campaign in this sparsely populated province. In 2016, the ANC lost outright majorities in three municipalities — Nama Khoi (Springbok), Kgatelopele (Danielskuil) and Ubuntu (Victoria West).

The ANC went into this election in government in every single municipality in the province as it had coalitions in place in the three municipalities where it was short of outright control.

This time, the ANC finds itself needing coalition partners in many more municipalities. Nama Khoi and Kgatelopele are back on the list. They are joined by Hantam (Calvinia), Gamagara (Kathu), Siyancuma (Douglas), Thembelihle (Hopetown), Kareeberg (Carnarvon) and Siyathemba (Prieska) and Karoo Hoogland (Sutherland). 

The ANC was hurt in these municipalities by a range of factors including local parties, independents, the Patriotic Alliance and in some instances the DA and EFF. In Sol Plaatje (Kimberley), the party has a slender majority of one as it just held on in the election. The party’s almost perfect winning formula to eke out election win after election win in this large province was jinxed this time round. Similarly to the Free State, the ANC will know that many of these local parties and independents will not be on the ballot in 2024, but the party goes into the 2024 election visibly shaken. 

North West

The ANC again fell short in Rustenburg as a local party upset the applecart this time round. As per 2016, the party will need to find two more seats to return to power in this important municipality on the platinum belt. The ANC will be knocking on the Patriotic Alliance’s door in Potchefstroom to keep control of JB Marks Municipality and will be calling up the provincial party Forum 4 Service Delivery (F4SD) to keep control of Lekwa-Teemane (Christiana). 

The ANC is not in danger here in 2024, but it does risk returning with fewer members of the provincial legislature. It also knows that the EFF is battling to build on its initial promise in the North West. 

KwaZulu-Natal

Much of the ANC and Jacob Zuma’s gains in this province were undone in this election. The IFP, EFF, parties with provincial aspirations, local parties and the DA all damaged the ANC in this election. 

Two standout results are Newcastle and uMhlathuze (Richards Bay). The Newcastle result is most indicative of the woes which befell the ANC in this election. The party lost 18 of its 40 seats while falling from 61% to 31%. The bulk of these seats went to the IFP, a big handful went to a local party called Team Sugar, and the EFF also bagged a few in this industrial town

In uMhlathuze, the party lost 16 of its 43 seats, with the IFP being the main beneficiary here. Large swathes of Northern KwaZulu-Natal returned to the IFP in this election. In eDumbe (Paulpietersburg), the National Freedom Party (NFP) was the main beneficiary of the ANC’s inability to get its voters out. 

In 2016, President Jacob Zuma addressed the Independent Electoral Commission’s announcement of the final results of the 2016 local government elections. The mood in the room was sombre. The ANC had fallen below 50% in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. The party registered its worst performance yet in a major election, obtaining 54% of the vote. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Jacob Zuma’s great gift to the ANC was the way he turned southern KwaZulu-Natal and the Midlands into an ANC heartland. In the provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg, Msunduzi, the ANC lost 13 seats, needing to find one seat to keep control. The ANC went into this election in Msunduzi with much breathing room. It is now dependent on a coalition partner to keep governing here.

In neighbouring uMngeni (Howick), the DA had a famous victory, winning the municipality off the ANC. In southern KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC lost its outright majorities in Umdoni (Scottburgh) and uMuziwabantu (Harding) losing ground here to the EFF, IFP and the DA. 

In eThekwini, the ANC lost more than – 20% of its seats and finds itself looking for partners to keep control there. It is a dramatic fall for the ANC in the metro. The ANC ended up with 41% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal. The party will need to go back to the drawing board fast here, as there is a strong chance that it could lose its outright majority in the province in 2024.

Western Cape

The ANC might find itself in coalitions governing more municipalities here than it did before the elections, but the party lost ground in many of the major population areas in the Western Cape, including Cape Town, Drakenstein (Paarl), George and Breede Valley (Worcester). It remained constant in Stellenbosch. The party has a long way back to have any chance of replacing the DA in Leeuwenhof. 

Eastern Cape

The ANC withstood spirited challenges from the DA in the western part of the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay, and the EFF in the OR Tambo and Chris Hani regions. The ANC has a clearer path to government in Nelson Mandela Bay than the DA. The party lost outright control of Kou-Kamma (Kareedouw) and Dr Beyers Naudé (Graaff-Reinet), but is likely to be returned there because of its coalition options.

The rest of the province was a sea of green. Buffalo City was an outlier when considering the ANC’s urban woes. The party grew there and consolidated its control in East London. The Eastern Cape replaced Mpumalanga as the second-most secure province in the country after this election. With a reasonable chance of expelling the DA from the mayoral office in Gqeberha City Hall, this was an exceedingly good election for the ANC in the Eastern Cape. The party activists there will wish that 2024 would come sooner rather than later.

Limpopo

The ANC all but mirrored its 2016 result in the recent local government election. It was a percent shy of that mark. While a plethora of small parties made dents in the massive ANC majority, the EFF and DA lost considerably more ground. The ANC racked up impressive results across the length and breadth of the province, and while it fell just shy of reclaiming Modimolle-Mookgophong with an outright majority, the party will see a path to regaining it. In Thabazimbi, again, it fell just short, but its chances here of taking over are much better than in 2016. More importantly, when considering the road to 2024, the ANC had an increased vote share in three of the four main population centres in Limpopo — Polokwane, Makhado and Thulamela (Thohoyandou). In Tubatse, it mirrored their 2016 result, while the EFF and DA emerged worse off.

It was not all doom and gloom for the ANC. The party’s support was mostly rock solid in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. These two provinces were the gold standard for the ANC in this difficult election. The ANC’s rural lock on the hearts and minds of voters was the strongest here. When reflecting on the 2021 results, the ANC will want to look carefully at the Eastern Cape and Limpopo manuals. The party will also spend some time in Buffalo City, working out what it did right there as opposed to places like Ekurhuleni and eThekwini.

The ANC also knows that the local parties are less likely to be a factor in 2024. It will also believe that ANC voters will do what they always do in a national election and that is to show up and vote. What will keep Luthuli House up at night is that we have had two elections in succession (2019 and 2021) with record low turnouts. While turnout will be higher in 2024 than in 2021, fewer reliable ANC voters are turning out to vote. The party will hope that it has bottomed out in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape and that the only way is up. 

However, as that air of invincibility continues to be rolled back, voters might feel that they can continue to stay away or put their mark elsewhere. DM

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All Comments 3

  • Very good analysis Wayne. But to speculate now already about the possibilities for 2024 is a bit pre-mature. The number of voters will certainly increase significantly in 2024, again, and as you pointed out, some small parties and independents will not contest the National elective, but many of them might decide to contest the Provincial elections. But there are 5 things can change everything:
    1. Potential self-correction by the DA, with a more representative profile of the population within its senior ranks.
    2. The further emergence and growth of ActionSA, with the likelihood that it will also become a national player in 2024.
    3. The ousting of Ramaphosa at the ANC’s next elective conference, and be replaced by someone from the Zuma/REC faction.
    4. The problems that might occur in many municipalities, especially the Metro’s, which will have to rely on good governance from coalitions being formed as a result of the local elections.
    5. The state of the economy, poverty, job numbers, crime control (including corruption, gang-related crimes, household crimes, more cases of large scale violence and insurrection), and the potential that
    ESKOM might totally collapse.
    As a result of the 5 factors above, I believe that there is a more than 50% chance that the support for the ANC will drop to below 50% in the national vote

  • It would seem that with the exception of Buffalo City , the ANC is becoming increasingly a rural party and one which is having a steadily declining electorate in the metropolitan areas

    • Sandra…100% accurate, but it has been like this for a very long time, since forever. . We are governed by a party that relies virtually solely on rural support, whose total reliance in terms of news are their local chiefs, councillors, and most important, the SABC, which despite some radio stations like SAFM and RSG, is purely a mouth piece of the governing party. SABC news editors will simply NOT go against their masters (an ANC appointed Board), but also their employer chiefs, also appointed by the ANC