KZN a fierce battleground for biggest slice of political cake as final countdown to 29 May poll begins

KZN a fierce battleground for biggest slice of political cake as final countdown to 29 May poll begins
Illustrative image. Design: Kassie Naidoo. (Images: Vecteezy, iStockphoto)

KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the second-largest number of registered voters, is where political parties have been focusing their fiercest efforts to gain control in the upcoming SA general elections.

The first indicator that KwaZulu-Natal is the battleground for this year’s provincial and national elections was when the ANC, the EFF and the IFP all decided to hold their manifesto launches at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

The second was the DA’s decision to host a “Ready to Govern” summit in the city, where it presented its “rescue” plan for the province.

Then we saw the ANC scrambling to make sure that it is able to maintain its majority in the province. Two weeks ago, it embarked on a weeklong, intensive campaign trail in KwaZulu-Natal.

The ANC’s 80-person-strong National Executive Committee and its alliance partners  – the SACP, trade union federation Cosatu and the South African National Civic Organisation – were part of the mass canvassing.

The new political party on the block, former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), presents the biggest headache not only for the ANC, but also for parties such as the EFF and the IFP, even if they will not openly admit it.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ANC’s campaign, first deputy secretary-general Nomvula Mokonyane told Daily Maverick that the party’s support in KwaZulu-Natal has fluctuated over the years.

The ANC first gained an overwhelming majority in 2009 under Zuma’s leadership, getting 62.95% of the vote, which increased to 64.52% in 2014 but fell to 54.22% in the 2019 elections.

“We are here in KwaZulu-Natal as part of the intensified canvassing of the ANC as we move towards D-day, which is 29 May. All of us have been allocated voting districts where we use the voters’ roll to interact with voters.

“We get exposed to interventions the ANC structures have done for vulnerable families as well as interventions that have to do with the youth.”

Mokonyane said the ANC had to change its campaign strategy this time around. “Remember, we have phases of the campaign.

“Now we are at the last mile where we defend our strong base, and we reach out to contested areas of importance as we prepare ourselves.

“It has to be done because elections are won in a voting district. We have learnt from the 2021 local elections, where we thought we were winning elections only to find there was a low voter turnout. The strength of the ANC is a high voter turnout and certainty in the voting districts,” she said.

Speaking about the potential competition between parties in the province, Mokonyane seemed optimistic that the ANC would have a good showing.

“It is highly contested because there are newcomers on the block, but that does not mean the ANC is unsettled. Our so­­lution is not to pay attention to the newcomers, but to make sure that we entrench our presence.

“We do not panic for other parties; our an­xiety is voter turnout. Of course, this is a contest and the ANC knows that all political parties have ganged up to contest the ANC.

“[We want] to ask that the masses support the ANC,” she said.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa shares a light moment with deputy president Paul Mashatile at the ANC’s election manifesto launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on 24 February. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

IFP wants to regain power

The IFP has also firmly set its sights on the province with Thami Ntuli, a well-known political figure in KwaZulu-Natal, as its premier candidate.

Ntuli has been mayor of the King Cetshwayo District Municipality since 2021.

Thami Ntuli, the IFP’s candidate for premier in KwaZulu-Natal, at the party’s national election campaign launch in Durban on 27 April. (Photo: Gallo Images)

The party has also anchored its campaign on its late founder, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, with party posters prominently featuring Buthelezi’s face.

In the 2014 general elections, the IFP reached a low and was relegated to being the third-largest party in KwaZulu-Natal with 10.86%.

However, it has made a strong comeback since the 2016 municipal elections.

In the 2019 general elections, the IFP won back the title of official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal when it received 16.34% of the vote.

In the 2021 local elections, it managed to maintain its upward ­trajectory by further increasing its support and it has since performed well in a number of by-elections in the province.

IFP National Spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa is confident the party will still perform well in the province.

“The MK party, however, like all breakaway parties birthed out of factions, leadership disputes and internal power struggles, has not yet been tested as far as its ability to stay the course. We have yet to see what MK can offer that is any better than what the failed ANC has provided. MK will certainly take votes from the ANC, but those who are seeking trusted leadership with a trusted track record will stay with the IFP.

“The fundamental difference between the IFP and every other party is our track record of leadership integrity and excellence in governance. We have a great legacy, which enables us to give the electorate reasons for hope. The IFP does not use scare tactics, mud-slinging or empty promises. We simply point to what we have already achieved and our solid plan to rebuild South Africa,” he said.

ANC supporters carry a mock coffin of former ANC president Jacob Zuma’s new party, uMkhonto Wesizwe, during the launch of the ANC’s election manifesto at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on 24 February. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

MK promises an upset

MK spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela told Daily Maverick that the party is going to win a majority in KwaZulu-Natal. However, an interim leader in the province has not been appointed and MK will only hold its elective conference after the elections.

“We are a threat to all political parties,” Ndhlela said. “MK is changing the political landscape. We are taking KZN off the back of the elections.”

The MK party has started showing its might by participating in by-elections in the province and, though it has not yet won any wards, it has featured prominently.

“By-elections are not an indication of how strong we are. They are a litmus test and they are not our main focus now. It is just us preparing and getting a sense of how to organise ourselves before the elections.

“We are only six months old and look at what we have done in Vryheid and Zululand,” Ndhlela said.

However, MK has been mired in infighting after Zuma, its president, expelled deputy president Jabulani Khumalo, who founded the party. In retaliation, Khumalo wrote to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), asking it to remove Zuma from the party’s ballot. He was unsuccessful because the IEC would not involve itself in internal party issues.

Khumalo was kicked out despite registering MK before Zuma joined the party in December.

Ndhlela said there is no internal strife, adding that it would not affect the party.

“There is no infighting. It is us ridding ourselves of rogue individuals who have no interest in advancing the party and are, more so, trying to undermine what we are trying to achieve.

“If you check the majority of the views [of people on the ground], Khumalo must go. It is not sowing divisions in the party. Khumalo leaving will not have an impact on the party; he does not have support. People are supporting the MK party because of president Zuma,” he insisted.

uMngeni Local Municipality Mayor Chris Pappas. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

DA aiming for ‘surprise’

The DA, the third-largest party in KwaZulu-Natal, believes it is still a serious contender. It predicts that the election results could be a “surprise” this time around.

The face of the DA’s campaign has been uMngeni Local Municipality Mayor Chris Pappas (33), who is its KwaZulu-Natal premier candidate. A white man who is fluent in isiZulu, he has become an important feature in the DA’s charm offensive in the province.

Party provincial chair Dean Macpherson said Pappas is one of the party’s best assets in these elections. The DA’s internal polling shows that Pappas has a high name recognition among the electorate.

“I have been a public representative for 15 years and have never seen the electorate of KwaZulu-Natal so energised for the DA’s campaign and Chris Pappas,” he said.

“This was proven by the DA’s largest event rally last Saturday [11 May], with over 10,000 people at the historic Curries Fountain Sports Development Centre to hear from our premier candidate.

“The DA has proven time and again in KwaZulu-Natal that we are a force to be reckoned with, especially with Chris leading the campaign as our candidate.

“He is a well-liked politician who has shown that he can relate to all communities, is prepared to speak to one person or 10,000 people, and has the benefit of showing the voters what can be done when the DA is in government,” Macpherson added.

“There is no doubt that his deep understanding of our province, including its history, culture and language, has positioned Chris to be an unmatched candidate for premier of KwaZulu-Natal.”

The DA will perhaps not be as affected by MK entering the fray as the parties’ voters are not from the same demographic.

Despite this, Macpherson says the DA has had to pull out all the stops in the province to convince the electorate that it is still a viable contender.

“The Democratic Alliance (DA) in KwaZulu-Natal has run the most intense, on-the-ground and issue-based campaign in our history, which has seen our public representatives and activists speaking to communities.

“We have been able to compete equally with the ANC for the first time and outperform many other ‘big’ parties in the province. I believe that the DA in KwaZulu-Natal will be the surprise election result in the country,” he said.

EFF president Julius Malema greets the crowd before speaking at an event in Inanda, Durban, on 16 May. The EFF, like the ANC and IFP, faces fresh competition in KwaZulu-Natal from Jacob Zuma’s new MK party. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

EFF’s bleak outlook

The EFF was the first major political party to launch its manifesto this year and choosing Durban’s 56,000-capacity Moses Mabhida Stadium was a clear indication that it is fighting for the soul of the province.

The party was widely ridiculed for failing to fill the stadium to capacity, which some critics hailed as a possible indicator of an election result.

Although the EFF, the fourth-largest party in KwaZulu-Natal, has said it is unfazed by MK and still aiming to be at the helm of the province after the elections, party leader Julius Malema recently mentioned that this would be a challenging feat.

Speaking at the EFF’s Workers’ Day rally in Hammanskraal, near Pretoria, on 1 May, Malema said the EFF was working relentlessly towards making inroads into KwaZulu-Natal and it would affect the party negatively if this should not succeed.

The party’s secretary-general, Marshall Dlamini, was deployed to the province to replace EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu. Dlamini is regarded as better placed to turn the situation around for the Red Berets because it is his home province and he was part of the team that was instrumental in increasing support for the EFF in 2019.

Dlamini will be working on the ground alongside the party’s Fana Mokoena and Reneiloe Mashabela to sway voters.

In 2014, when the EFF first contested the elections, it got 1.85% support, which increased to 9.71% in 2019. But with the entry of MK on the political terrain, its future looks bleak.

It has not fared well in by-elections in the province. For example, in the by-elections in uPhongolo Local Municipality earlier this year, MK overtook the EFF by receiving 28% of the vote, whereas the Red Berets walked away with a paltry 2% support.

An Ipsos poll released in April also shows the party’s overall decline over time. Before the entry of MK, the EFF was polling at 18% in October, which increased to 19.6 % in February and then dropped to 11.5% in April.

Mari Harris, sub-Saharan Africa knowledge director for public affairs at Ipsos, wrote that the official formation of MK in December had profoundly shaken up the distribution of support among the leading political parties in recent months.

“The emergence of the MK party has halted the advances made by the EFF in recent years, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, with some former EFF supporters migrating to the new party.

“Meanwhile, the DA is maintaining its position, attracting the support of about a fifth of the electorate. As the campaign enters its final weeks, uncertainty is highest in KwaZulu-Natal, where almost a fifth of the electorate has not yet decided which party or candidate they will vote for,” Harris wrote. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.


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