EFF edges closer but ANC retains seat in tricky Mpumalanga test
The ANC held off spirited challenges from the EFF and a former ANC councillor running as an independent in the latest round of by-elections. The ANC, DA and IFP all managed to retain their seats.
All three Mpumalanga by-elections were held in the Ehlanzeni district, in which the principal town is the provincial capital, Mbombela. It also includes towns such as Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg) and Sabie.
This is the second-safest municipality for the ANC in Mpumalanga. The party was just shy of the 70% mark on the ward ballot, while getting more than 75% of the vote on the proportional (PR) ballot. Independent candidates snapping up close to 10% of the ward vote was the chief contributor to this not being the best municipality for the ANC in the province. The municipality borders the Kruger National Park, Eswatini and Mozambique. Its seat of power is Malelane.
The by-elections are the result of the termination of two ward councillors’ party membership. Jacob Mthethwa (Ward 3) and Vincent Nyambi (Ward 10) lost their membership and places on the Nkomazi council because they colluded with the EFF to get former mayor and top-ranked ANC candidate on the proportional list, Johan Mkhatshwa, elected as mayor. They ignored the party’s instruction to vote for the mandated ANC candidates for mayor and speaker. The ANC won 50 of the 65 seats in the 2021 local government elections. The election of its chosen mayoral candidate should never have been in doubt, even with the support of the nine EFF councillors. However, less-than enthusiastic participation from the ANC caucus helped Mkhatshwa win the mayoral chain. The ANC eventually expelled the two councillors along with Mkhatswha and three other proportional councillors, who had all been among the top five on the PR list. The ANC can easily fill the four vacancies left by the membership terminations, but by-elections were needed to fill the ward vacancies.
Ward 3 (Block C Sibayeni): ANC 67% (78% PR*) Independent-Mtetwa 19% EFF 14% (15% PR)
The setting: Block C is off the R571 which links Komatipoort with the Mananga border post at Eswatini. It is a village under the Siboshwa Tribal Authority.
The 2021 local government election: The ANC came close to winning four-fifths of the PR vote. The EFF was a distant second but well clear of the other parties on the ballot. The ANC won 74% of the ward vote and the EFF 14%. An independent candidate was third with 7%. That candidate is not on the ballot this time.
The by-election: Jacob Mtetwa ran for his old seat as an independent against the party he represented on the 2021 ballot – the ANC. The EFF also wanted to build on its 2021 showing in Ward 3.
While the ANC lost ground in this by-election, it would be pleased with its performance. It was expected to have diminished returns when running against an incumbent councillor. The party’s percentage vote share went up in two of the five voting districts, including the most competitive district from 2021. It won 82% of the vote in the Holiness Lion Church district, the second-most vote-rich district in the ward. This was well up from the 59% it obtained there in the local government elections. The EFF’s vote share in the district fell from 35% to 13%. Magewu Primary School is the most vote-rich district in the ward. The ANC lost ground to both Mtetwa (20%) and the EFF in this district. The EFF’s vote share grew from 12% to 18% while the ANC’s fell from 83% to 62%.
Mtetwa won a single voting district as the ANC lost the Old Wem district. It is a smaller voting district which was the safest district for the ANC in 2021.
Turnout: 27% (35%)
Ward 10 (Phiva): ANC 45% (73%) Independent-Nyambi 27% EFF 26% (24%) Able Leadership 2%
The setting: Phiva is a rural village on the banks of the Komati River in the heart of Nkomazi. It is near the town of Tonga.
The 2021 local government election: The ANC had an easy win here in 2021. The EFF fared better compared with Ward 3, winning close to a quarter of the vote. The ANC won in excess of 84% of the vote in four of the seven voting districts. The Kwa-Jelusa School district was the most populous and the most competitive. Here the ANC won 58% of the vote and the EFF 35%
The by-election: Incumbent ward councillor Vincent Nyambi ran as an independent against the ANC, his former party. The EFF and a party formed in 2021 in Limpopo, Able Leadership, put their names on the ballot as well.
This was a much closer race than the by-election in nearby Ward 3. The EFF won two out of the six districts, with Nyambi carrying one. The ANC won the remaining half of the voting districts. The race was close for much of the way, with the most vote-rich part of the ward declaring very late. Zibokwane Primary proved decisive for the ANC. The party was well shy of its 2021 showing here as Nyambi made inroads, but it still won here by a significant margin, winning 248 more votes than Nyambi and 458 more than the EFF. It was also able to win more than 80% of the vote in the DD Mabuza High School District – slightly down from 2021 but still dominant. Nyambi received 15% of the vote in this district.
The EFF won the second-largest district, Gebhuza High School, which because of a higher differential turnout actually had one more voter than Zibokwane Primary on election day. The EFF’s vote share went from 39% to 57%, while the ANC’s fell from 58% to 22%, with Nyambi getting 21%. He won the voting district with the third-highest number of voters. He took 50% of the vote in the Indlangemabala School district, with the ANC’s percentage vote share halving, from 88% to 44%.
Turnout: 41% (42%)
Ward 13 (Violet Bank): ANC 50% (60% PR) EFF 49% (8% PR) AUM 1% (<1% PR)
The setting: Bushbuckridge Municipality straddles the R40, just north of Hazyview, and extends to the Limpopo border. It includes Acornhoek, Arthur’s Seat, Thulamahashe and part of the Manyeleti Game Reserve. Ward 13 is centred on Violet Bank which is between Casteel and Arthur’s Seat. It sits next to the R40
The 2021 local government election: The ANC finished well ahead of the chasing pack on the PR ballot. Powers of African Unity (PAU) finished runner-up with 11% of the vote. The EFF came third and the African People’s Convention was just behind the red berets with 7%.
The ward ballot was much more competitive: the ANC won 39% and independent Cedrick Mashile 23%. Two other independents finished third and fourth, with the EFF in sixth place behind the APC.
The by-election: The previous ward councillor passed away. None of the independents on the ballot in 2021 threw their name in the hat for the by-election. The African Unified Movement (AUM), fresh off a recent by-election win over the ANC in Sabie (Thaba Chweu), wanted to test the Bushbuckridge waters.
The EFF came agonisingly close in Violet Bank. The ANC bested the red berets by 21 votes. The EFF made up for a disappointing sixth-place finish here in 2021 on the ward ballot by almost causing a major upset. Turnout always matters in elections. Here the turnout differential and the margin of victory for the ANC in the voting district with the least number of registered voters made a big difference. There are nine voting districts in the ward. Shatale Primary School had the largest turnout – 61%. The ANC also won an impressive 78% of the vote, getting 122 more votes than the EFF. Even though this district has the lowest number of registered voters, the margin of victory was superior to the remaining eight districts.
The EFF won five out of the nine districts. This included winning the Matlalong School district, the most vote-rich part of the ward. It also won the voting district with the third-highest number of voters. The AUM party did not feature in this by-election. It will have to go back to the drawing board to replicate its stunning success in the Thaba Chweu by-election earlier in the year when it won a safe seat off the ANC, fielding the former ANC councillor.
Poll: 48% (43%)
Ward 12 (KwaMawanda) in Mthonjaneni, King Cetshwayo: IFP 63% (58%) ANC 29% (22%) NFP 6% (14%) EFF 2% (4%)
Mthonjaneni is centred on Melmoth which is in the interior of northern KwaZulu-Natal between Eshowe and Ulundi on the R66 road. Ward 12 is northwest of Melmoth. It is a rural seat with several villages in it, the largest of which is KwaMawanda. Mthonjaneni is part of the King Cetshwayo District which includes Richards Bay, Nkandla and Eshowe.
The 2021 local government election: The IFP emerged a comfortable victor here, with a winning margin in Ward 12 contributing to it becoming the largest party in Mthonjaneni. Still, it was unable to win an outright majority, falling short by one seat and needing the EFF’s support to regain control of Mthonjaneni. The IFP won six of the nine voting districts in the ward, while the ANC bagged two and the NFP one.
The two largest voting districts in the ward are more competitive. The ANC won the second-largest in 2021, but was hurt by a relatively low voter turnout in its strongholds. The IFP ran up the numbers in the smaller voting districts and also won the largest.
The by-election: The ward councillor elected in November passed away. The IFP knew it had to retain the ward otherwise it would need to go cap in hand to one of the opposition parties in council to retain control of Mthonjaneni. A key question going into the by-election was whether the NFP could hold onto its support in the ward. In a recent by-election in uMvoti, another provincial party, the Abantu Batho Congress, lost significant support to the ANC.
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Both the IFP and the ANC gained ground at the expense of the NFP in this by-election. The IFP swept all nine voting districts.
Turnout was very high. It exceeded 80% in the Nkosithandile School voting station which had the second-largest turnout in the 2021 elections. The IFP took this voting district from the ANC as the former’s percentage vote share in the ward went from 38% to 60% and the ANC’s declined from 44% to 40%.
The NFP lost the Lumbi Creche district to the IFP, with its vote share plummeting from 50% to 28%, while the IFP’s increased from 45% to 68%. The IFP and the ANC hurt the NFP in the Obuka Secondary School district. The NFP’s vote share went from 22% to 9%, while the IFP climbed from 47% to 57% and the ANC grew from 28% to 33%.
The ANC made inroads into some of the IFP strongholds. At Nungwini Primary School, a more sparsely populated district, the IFP’s vote share shrunk from 75% to 62% while the ANC surged from 12% to 37%.
The NFP’s poor showing is the second consecutive by-election in KwaZulu-Natal where we see smaller, regional parties losing ground to the largest two parties in the province. This could well become a trend and have an impact on the 2024 provincial elections.
Turnout: 65% (49%)
Ward 21 (De Beers Herlear) in Sol Plaatje, Frances Baard: DA 59% (51%) ANC 21% (11%) FF+ 15% (16%) EFF 4% (5%) Independent-Ruiters 1%
Ward 21 is in Kimberley, which also includes suburbs like Cassandra and Belgravia. It includes the McGregor Museum, the Duggan-Cronin Museum and the Karen Muir Swimming Pool, the De Beers Diamond Oval and the De Beers Mine. It does not include the Big Hole.
Sol Plaatje is part of the Frances Baard district which also includes Hartswater, Warrenton and Barkly-West.
The 2021 local government election: The DA won just more than 50% of the vote in this ward. The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) came second, beating the Patriotic Alliance (PA) which was third with 12%. The ANC beat the EFF to fourth place.
There are only two voting districts in the ward. The one in De Beers has more registered voters than in Herlear. Yet, more turned out in the latter. De Beers was more competitive, with the PA getting 24% of the vote and a strong second-place finish behind the DA, which won 40%. In Herlear, the DA won 60% and the FF+ 24%. The higher turnout in Herlear was key to the FF+ finishing second in the ward.
The by-election: The previous ward councillor’s DA membership was terminated. The PA did not contest the by-election which was held a few days after Andrew Louw, the long-time DA leader in the Northern Cape, resigned from the party and joined ActionSA. It did not contest the by-election either.
The DA had a good win in the by-election, while Sol Plaatje’s governing party, the ANC, exhibited significant growth in the ward. This could be attributed to the PA not being on the ballot. Another factor was the absence of a differential turnout in Herlear. While Herlear had a higher turnout than De Beers, the 36% turnout was well down from 2021 when 62% of registered voters turned up. The 32% turnout at the De Beers voting station was not so far off the 38% total in 2021.
The low turnout in Herlear hurt the FF+ the most as it finished third. The DA’s percentage vote share in Herlear grew from 60% to 67%, with the FF+ seeing an increase from 24% to 27%. In De Beers the ANC almost doubled its vote share – 35% compared with 18% in 2021. The DA garnered 52%, up from the 40% mark in 2021.
Turnout: 34% (49%)
The next round of by-elections is on 14 September when the ANC will defend a safe seat in uMhlatuze (Richards Bay) in KwaZulu-Natal and a local party, the Karoo Gemeenskap Party will defend a marginal seat in Prince Albert in the Central Karoo district of the Western Cape.
* Proportional representation (PR) ballot: It is a better indicator of a party’s previous performance, if there was a different independent candidate who was also competitive in the ward during the previous election.