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ANC’s shock by-election loss to IFP in KZN spells danger for party ahead of 2024 — analysts

ANC’s shock by-election loss to IFP in KZN spells danger for party ahead of 2024 — analysts
ANC flag. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | City of uMhlathuze logo. (Photo: Wikipedia) | IFP flag. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe.)

Analysts say Wednesday’s Ward 13 by-election result in the uMhlathuze Local Municipality shows that KwaZulu-Natal is likely to have a coalition government after next year’s general election.

The IFP on Wednesday continued its resurgence when it snatched Richards Bay Ward 13, in the uMhlathuze Local Municipality, from the ANC. The ward was regarded as a safe seat for the ANC and its loss to the IFP is a worrying blow for the ruling party.

The by-election win came just two weeks after the death of the IFP’s founding leader and long-time president, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Umhlathuze is the third most populous municipality in KZN after eThekwini (Durban) and Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) and is one of the biggest economic hubs of the province, containing the busy Richards Bay harbour and blue-chip mining and other companies.

The backed-up traffic caused by long queues of trucks arriving in the town to offload minerals and other goods destined for international markets was one of the hot electoral issues.

In the November 2021 local government elections, the ANC beat the IFP in the ward by 40 percentage points in an easy win for the former ANC ward councillor, Lindokuhle Ndlovu.

Ndlovu resigned after surviving an assassination attempt when his bakkie was sprayed with bullets while he was driving it. This was less than a month after the lone ACDP councillor, John Myaka, was shot dead while preaching to congregants.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC trounced as IFP lands repeat blow in KZN while EFF topples ruling party in North West, delivers scare in Limpopo

uMhlathuze was previously among the ANC’s “safe” municipalities that fell into the hands of the opposition in the 2021 local government elections, where the ruling party performed poorly nationally and even more dismally in KZN.

There are 67 seats in the council. In the November 2021 local government elections, the ANC won 27 seats, followed by the IFP with 23, the DA with eight and the Economic Freedom Fighters with six, while the National Freedom Party (NFP), the ACDP and the Freedom Front Plus each got one seat.

The IFP, the DA, the EFF and other smaller parties were able to form a coalition government from which the EFF later withdrew to throw its lot in with the ANC.

But the IFP was able to run the municipality with the help of the DA and the ACDP — a deal in which the IFP’s Xolani Ngwezi took over as the mayor, with the DA’s Christo Botha as his deputy. 

Wednesday’s result means the IFP is now firmly in control.

The ANC has now lost two previously  “safe” seats to the IFP since the 2021 elections and now the ANC and the IFP each have 25 seats in the uMhlathuze Local Municipality Council. 

‘Clear message’

Thami Ntuli, the IFP’s KZN leader, attributed the victory to the legacy of Buthelezi and his party’s commitment to serving the people of the province.

“With the 2024 general elections on the horizon, this victory sends a clear message that the IFP is a dominant force in the province. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all our dedicated party volunteers, IFP members and the uMhlathuze constituency, under the capable leadership of [the] constituency chairperson, councillor Xolani Ngwezi, for their tireless efforts.

“The IFP remains committed to serving our communities, upholding our values and emulating the legacy of our beloved Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The party’s impressive performance in this by-election reflects our unwavering commitment to the people and our readiness to lead,” he said.

Mafika Mndebele, the ANC’s KZN spokesperson, told Daily Maverick: “We welcome the result … that’s all we can say. Sometimes you people in the media like to create false impressions. When the ANC wins a ward from the opposition nothing is said, but when we lose a by-election you create an impression that the ANC is losing the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC will not lose KwaZulu-Natal.

“For starters, no political party has grown by more than 10% since the last election. Even if the IFP were to grow by half [from its 2021 vote tally] it would still not be able to dislodge the ANC. Even if the IFP gangs up with the DA they will still not beat the ANC,” Mndebele said.

In the 2019 provincial elections, the ANC got 54% of the vote and was followed by the IFP (16%), the DA (13%) and the EFF (9%). In the 2021 local government elections, the ANC won 41% of the vote against the IFP’s 24%, the DA’s 12% and the EFF’s 8%.

‘Huge blow’

Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior politics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said Wednesday’s loss was a huge blow to the ANC in the run-up to the 2024 general election.

“The results show a continued slide of the ANC and it is now not clear whether the party will be able to retain the province. Clearly, these by-election results show that many voters are not happy with the ANC, they are tired of poor service delivery, they are unhappy about perceived or real corruption and they are throwing their lot in with parties like the IFP. It would be interesting to see how the ruling party tries to reverse these losses and avoid losing the province,” Ndlovu said.

Independent political and elections analyst Wayne Sussman agreed, saying that although the ANC still had room to regain political supremacy, it was clear that the IFP would go into the forthcoming polls with more advantages.

“Unless the ANC is able to galvanise its supporters in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and southern KZN … it could be in trouble and in danger of losing the province to an IFP-led coalition.

“These results suggest that what happened in 2021 — when the ANC failed to secure more than 50% of the vote — is likely to happen again. In KZN a trend is emerging where the IFP, DA, ActionSA and ACDP are sticking together, forming coalitions to run municipalities and readying themselves to co-govern the province. On the other hand, the ANC and the EFF are isolated and are forced to find each other,” Sussman said.

“So, unless the ANC is able to galvanise its supporters in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and southern KZN, which is the heartland of ANC support in KZN, the party could be in trouble and in danger of losing the province to an IFP-led coalition.

“It is still early days to predict which way KwaZulu-Natal will go after the 2024 elections. But, clearly, it will be one of fiercely contested, battleground provinces for the ruling ANC.” DM

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