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Boks ticked: Spring comes early for the DA in Vanrhynsd...

South Africa

JULY BY-ELECTIONS

Boks ticked – spring comes early for the DA in Vanrhynsdorp thanks to PA, GOOD and FF+ voters

Farmworkers cast their votes at the Sandrivier polling station outside Vanrynsdorp. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Three by-elections took place in South Africa on Wednesday. The DA won a ward off the Patriotic Alliance in Matzikama, which allowed the former to stabilise its coalition government there – thanks to the popularity of its candidate Kito Boks, who had defected from the PA. In Nelson Mandela Bay, a comfortable win for the ANC in Ward 43 means a more stable coalition.

Ward 7 (Vanrhynsdorp) in Matzikama, West Coast: DA 62% (22%) ANC 31% (22%) PA 6% (27%) EFF 1% (2%).

The setting: Vanrhynsdorp lies on the N7 national road linking Cape Town with Namibia. Tourists pass through the town during flower season as the nearby Vanrhyns Pass becomes a patchwork of vivid colours. Ward 7 is part of the tourist route since it hosts two of the most famous succulent nurseries in the country. It has five voting districts, two of which are in the town and two are just north of the town centre in the relatively vote-rich Maskamsig. There is also a sparsely populated voting district around the Urionskraal farming area east of the town. Matzikama includes towns such as Vredendal, Klawer and Lutzville, and it borders the Northern Cape. This is important to understand because traditionally it has been much more competitive than other West Coast district municipalities. These are set around towns such as Malmesbury, Piketberg and Saldanha Bay. Matzikama and the Cederberg (Clanwilliam) are relatively rural when one considers the whole West Coast District. 

Read here Daily Maverick’s Ground Level Report from by-election day:

Incoming Matzikama Ward 7 councillor’s job: unite a community divided by politics

The 2021 local government election: Gayton McKenzie woke up with a broad smile on the morning after the elections. His party achieved breakthroughs in many parts of the country. One of his sweetest victories was Ward 7 in Matzikama. The PA fielded well-known youth leader Kito Boks as its candidate. Boks edged out the ANC and the DA as his party carried the ward by 118 votes. The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) made inroads in traditional DA voting districts as it won 14% of the vote, while the GOOD party grew here too, finishing fifth (10%). 

The PA took this ward by winning two of the five voting districts. It won the Community Hall voting district, which is the part of Maskamsig, closest to the town of Vanrhynsdorp. This is the most vote-rich part of the ward where more than a third of the voters reside. It also beat the ANC in the other Maskamsig voting district, another traditional stronghold for the ANC in the area. The wins in Maskamsig made up for any losses in other parts of the ward. While the PA was the chief beneficiary of the ANC’s slide in the ward, it was also able to win pockets of DA voters in one of the voting districts in the town and on the farms. 

The ANC finished second here again by winning enough of the vote in Maskamsig and holding onto its support in the voting district around the farms. The DA fell from first to third place after seeing its handsome majorities in the town cut down by the FF+, which ran the DA very close in both of the town voting districts. The DA lost votes to GOOD in one of the Maskamsig voting districts, and to the PA, the FF+ and GOOD in the voting district around the farms. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “EFF and DA stun ANC in two wards, but ruling party hangs on in Soweto and KZN wards

Incidentally, on the proportional representation (PR) ballot, the DA edged the ANC for second place. 

The by-election: Kito Boks defected to the DA after becoming unhappy with the PA wanting to withdraw its support for the DA-lead coalition. This resulted in him resigning his seat and standing for the DA in the by-election. There were six key questions going into the by-election. First, the FF+ won 14% of the vote in November 2021. Would its voters show up after the FF+ leadership asked residents to endorse the coalition they are part of? Second, GOOD won 10% of its vote in 2021 and hurt the DA in parts of Maskamsig and on the farms. Would its voters show up, and would the majority of those showing up break for the PA, the ANC or the DA? 

The voting station at Sandrivier outside Vanrhynsdorp. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Third, did the PA win here because of the strength of its candidate in November, and would enough voters in Maskamsig follow Boks to the DA and give the party the edge here? Fourth, Neville Delport, the ANC’s main organiser in the West Coast, is a national by-election contest treasure for the party. Can the ANC rise above the load shedding, the fuel price shocks and the food price inflation and prevail in this corner of the Western Cape? 

Penultimately, could the DA counter the prevailing headwinds and win a seat in a Western Cape by-election area that is traditionally hostile for the party? Finally, will the contagious Gayton McKenzie magic spread this far in the Western Cape, 479km from the PA’s base in Beaufort West?

The DA answered all the questions asked of it. 

It first succeeded in getting many FF+ voters out for them. The FF+ leadership’s plea to voters to back the coalition worked as the DA ran up the numbers in its traditional strongholds where the party lost ground in 2021. GOOD voters who showed up broke mainly for the DA, while some went to the ANC. 

Impressive growth

The DA’s by-election victory was centred on Maskamsig. This was where the PA won enough votes to hold off the ANC and the DA in 2021. It is clear that Boks is extremely popular here. The DA won both Maskamsig voting districts by convincing margins. It garnered 10% and 13% in the two respective Maskamsig voting districts in 2021. In the by-election, it attracted 53% and 55% of the vote there. It also well outpaced its 2019 returns on the provincial ballot in these two voting districts. By any measure, the growth in these two districts was very impressive. To round off the victory, the DA won the Urionskraal voting district, the farming district outside of the town. The party’s vote share shot up from 24% to 55%. This was the sole district won by the ANC in 2021. The ruling party’s support remained steady at 41%. PA, GOOD and FF+ voters backed the DA candidate here. 

The ANC did exhibit growth. It had better returns in Maskamsig. Having said that, Delport would have expected the party to do better. There was much daylight between the ANC and the DA in Maskamsig in 2021 and 2019, but the DA leapfrogged them there in the by-election. Delport and the ANC in the region were picking off DA-held wards with ease for much of 2016 to 2021. The convincing DA victory in Vanrhynsdorp would cause much consternation for Delport. 

The DA needed this victory. The big question now is whether a result in this relatively rural part of the Western Cape can traverse the Oorlogskloof and Cederberg mountains near Vanrhynsdorp and aid the rest of the party and its structures. 

This was a setback for the PA. The party was not at the races in this by-election. It would, however, be foolish to write the PA’s obituary in the Western Cape. Candidates matter in by-elections. They matter more in wards with clearly defined boundaries. This election had a lot to do with the charm and character of Kito Boks. The PA will want to ensure that it holds onto councillors like Boks going forward. 

Turnout: 59% (59%).

The new Matzikama council composition: DA 7 (6) ANC 4 PA 1 (2) GOOD 1 FF+ 1 EFF 1 (Total: 15). The DA and FF+ can now form a stable coalition and govern Matzikama.

Ward 43 (KwaNobuhle 4, 6, 7, 8, 9) in Nelson Mandela Bay: ANC 69% (70%) EFF 17% (9%) ActionSA 8% UDM 4% (4%) UFEC 2% (3%) Azapo <1% (<1%) AIM <1% (<1%).

The setting: Ward 43 is northwest of Gqeberha. It is the largest township around Kariega (formerly Uitenhage). It is south of the town centre of Kariega. Ward 43 sits below Ponana Tini Road, the ring road linking the KwaNobuhle township. 

The 2021 local government election: The ANC finished well ahead of its rivals here. However, its percentage in the ward was down 6% compared with the 2019 provincial ballot (76%). The party won every voting district in the ward by a large margin. It did best in KwaNobuhle 9, winning 82% of the vote, and received more than 70% of the vote in three of the five voting districts. Its leanest returns were in KwaNobuhle 7 where it won 58% in a voting district. 

The EFF came second here in 2021. It got more than 10% of the vote in two voting districts – KwaNobuhle 4 and 7. Side-note: the EFF beat the United Front of the Eastern Cape (UFEC) by a narrow margin here in the 2016 local government elections after the ANC failed to register a candidate in the ward. The EFF also lost ground here when one compares the local government election results with the provincial results. The ANC and EFF lost ground to the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) which had a credible third place with 7% of the vote, the United Democratic Movement and UFEC. The PAC is not contesting this by-election. 

The by-election: Ward 43 councillor Andile Andries was assassinated with ANC branch secretary Lubabalo Keso outside Andries’s home in early May. The Eastern Cape was one of two provinces in the 2021 local government elections where the ANC did not suffer major setbacks. It was able to regain control of Nelson Mandela Bay by winning the same number of seats as the largest party in the Metro, the DA. It then cobbled together a coalition which saw Eugene Johnson from the ANC win the mayoral chain. The ANC’s grip on control of the metro is flimsy at best and a hold in this safe seat was critical. 

This was also the first time ActionSA competed in an Eastern Cape election and the first time it contested a by-election outside Gauteng. The party left no stone unturned in the run-up to this by-election. Former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip featured prominently in the campaign. Party heavyweights Herman Mashaba and Bongani Baloyi traversed the KwaNobuhle ward. This by-election was key for ActionSA to show election watchers that the party has the potential for a big national footprint and that much of the DA’s growth in the metro in 2016 was due to Trollip. At the same time this is tougher terrain than Montana Park in Tshwane where the party contested in 2021 and had a prominent ward councillor stand, and in Lufhereng in Soweto where it established a good base in 2021. 

The EFF went into this by-election believing that, having won this ward before, and finishing second in 2021, that it would again pose the biggest threat to the ANC. It also believed PAC voters would get behind the red berets instead of the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo). The UDM and UFEC also wanted to show they are still key players in Nelson Mandela Bay politics. Khusta Jack’s Abantu Integrity Movement completes the field. 

The ANC had a comfortable hold in all but matching its 2021 percentage haul. The party again carried every single voting district in the ward. It did best in the KwaNobuhle 7 district, increasing its vote share from 58% to 67%. The ANC lost ground in KwaNobuhle 9 where its vote share declined from 82% to 72%. This was mainly due to ActionSA which got 17% of the vote in this district. It got more than half of its votes in this district. The ward has five voting districts. 

The EFF made strides in the ward, growing the most in areas where the PAC did best in 2021. In KwaNobuhle 7, it grew from 10% to 25% and in KwaNobuhle 4 it almost doubled its vote share, from 12% to 22%. 

The UDM finished fourth, with 10% of the vote in KwaNobuhle 7. It was a poor by-election for UFEC, Azapo and AIM. 

With this win, the ANC coalition is more stable as it has filled a vacant seat on the council. 

Turnout: 28% (45%).

Ward 3 (Fernie A) in Chief Albert Luthuli, Gert Sibande: ANC 73% (82%) IFP 13% (5%) EFF 13% (12%)

The setting: Ward 3 is next to the Eswatini border. It is a relatively rural ward centred on the village of Fernie A, southeast of Empuluzi. The main towns in Chief Albert Luthuli are Carolina and eManzana. Chief Albert Luthuli is the second-most vote-rich municipality in the Gert Sibande District. Most voters here live on the Highveld Ridge in Govan Mbeki Municipality, around towns such as Bethal and Secunda. The seat of Gert Sibande is in Ermelo.

The 2021 local government elections: The ANC won more than 80% of the vote in this party stronghold, losing hardly any ground. The ANC overperforms in this ward when considering the 76% it won on the combined ward and PR ballot in the municipality in 2021. By contrast, the EFF won 17% on the combined ballot in that year. Chief Albert Luthuli was also the best municipality by far for the ANC in Gert Sibande in 2021. Its 76% here was 15% higher than the 61% it obtained in the two next-best municipalities. This is a key area for the ANC on the road to 2024. 

The by-election: The by-election was called following the death of the ward councillor. 

The ANC had a comfortable hold in this by-election, although the IFP made inroads in this super-safe ANC seat. This resulted in the ruling party falling below the 80% mark and the IFP leapfrogging the EFF into second place.

While the ANC did see a slight closing of the very wide gap between it and the chasing pack, it still won more than 67% of the vote in all five voting districts. 

The IFP finished runner-up by winning more than 20% of the vote in two of the five districts. The EFF had a more even spread across the ward, with its best result being 18% in a voting district. This was not enough for it to catch up to the IFP. 

Turnout: 44% (46%). This is solid for a safe seat. 

The next by-election will be on 27 July when the DA defends a super-marginal seat in uMdoni (Umzinto), KwaZulu-Natal. DM

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