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2024 ELECTIONS

The Free State: ANC holds on tight, DA makes gains, Ace fizzles out

The Free State: ANC holds on tight, DA makes gains, Ace fizzles out
Ace Magashule at the unveiling of his political party African Congress for Transformation in Soweto, on 30 August 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

With the count completed at 100% of the voting district in the Free State, the ANC has managed to retain its hold on the province. But only barely.

When corruption-beguiled Ace Magashule was axed from the ruling ANC and started his splinter group, the African Congress of Transformation (ACT), there were rumblings that ACT would shake up the political landscape of the Free State and give the ANC a run for its money.

But with the Free State now the second province where counting was completed at 100% of voting districts, the verdict is in: the ANC has kept a stronghold on its birth province, and Magashule’s ACT has barely scratched the surface.

ANC popularity in Free State declines

Yet the ANC has barely retained dominance in the Free State, securing 430,806 votes, a 52.56% lead.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, the ANC’s spokesperson in the Free State Jabu Mbalula said that the party retaining its birth province was not by mistake but as part of a concerted effort that it put into its election campaign.

Mbalula said that while the party’s strategy was to garner an extensive majority, it fell short on that front. In fact, year after year, the ANC has been shedding votes in the Free State. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Guptas’ R280m dairy heist victims get R1,300 gift card and 5kg meat hamper

“This is something we need to reflect on seriously. We fell short of our objective to keep a large majority. Now we need to reflect and assess how we can do better in the province,” Mbalula said.

When asked if he believed the legacy of the Gutpa-linked Estina Dairy Farm — where beneficiaries were cheated out of at least R280-million, played a role in the decline in votes — Mbalula claimed that the political landscape of the Free State was more complicated than that.

He attributed the loss of votes in the province to widespread service delivery failures, unemployment and poverty, and a general lack of economic growth.

Ace Magashule at the IEC Results Operation Centre in Midrand on 31 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

‘Vote for change’ swayed young voters away

Mbalula also said he believed that the over-utilisation of the “vote for change” tagline swayed young voters away from the ANC.

“The tagline of this election was ‘vote for change’, and a lot of parties took advantage of that. These young and new voters genuinely believed that by not voting for the ANC, they would be voting for change,” Mbalula said.

Looking to the next five years, Mbalula said the ANC in the Free State would focus its efforts on responding to service delivery in real time, creating sustainable jobs in the province, and finding innovative and new directions, including building a new solar plant to address energy issues in the province and grow the economy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: It’s a wrap — ANC down, but not out, as deal-making kicks off

“We want to thank all the Freestaters for putting their trust in the ANC once more and helping us retain the majority in the province,” Mbalula said.

DA gains popularity

The Democratic Alliance, on the other hand, remains the biggest opposition in the province, and also managed to increase its support, garnering 181,148 votes (21.85%), an over 4% increase on what the party achieved in 2019 polls.

DA’s provincial lead, Roy Jankielson, told Daily Maverick that the DA’s uptick in votes was not by accident, but as a result of two main things: increased grass-roots engagement in communities, and a rock star team.

“We worked very hard in all our communities to increase our votes, so we didn’t isolate a specific community. We worked in all our communities. 

“The second reason is we had a very, very good team on the ground. Our people on the ground were very motivated. We had a very good team spirit in the Free State. The atmosphere throughout the campaign was electric,” he said.

Unlike Mbalula, Jankielson believes that the ANC’s loss of votes is a direct result of an electorate choosing to move away from corruption.

Magashule’s ACT fizzles out

Magashule sent shivers through the ANC and the Free State when he formed the ANC splinter party ACT. The rumour mill was churning about how the new party would give the ANC a run for its money and eat away at the ANC’s majority.

Voting day has come and gone, and despite Magashule’s assertions that he would take the lead in the province, the ANC exile was only able to pull in 15,129 votes on the Free State provincial ballot. 

Magashule was at the helm of the Free State during the Vrede Dairy Farm debacle, and it seems that the former premier was unable to shake off the stink of corruption.

According to projections, while Magashule’s 1.83% support has won him a seat in the provincial legislature, the ACT leader still believes that he has won the province. The former Free State premier was telling anybody at the national ROC who would listen that the polls were rigged, and that ACT is the real victor in the province he once ran.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Magashule said, “We are winning — we are winning the Free State, that is clear.” 

The ACT leader claimed to have video evidence of the rigging and said his party has lodged a complaint with the IEC, calling for a recount. Despite being pressed to provide this evidence by media, he has not done so.

“Recounting is going to expose the fraud, and that’s why we are appealing for the recounting,” Magashule said, adding that the IEC may be reluctant for a recount because it’s going to open up a can of worms.

“We want the can to be open because we want a free and fair election,” said Magashule.

Mbalula, on the other hand, believes that Magashule is devoid of reality. When Daily Maverick probed about what he thought of Magashule’s claims, the ANC Free State spokesperson said, “No man, look, that’s hilarious. Numbers don’t lie. 

“People have been making claims that they are going to win a one-third majority, but when you look on the ground, nothing is happening. It’s hilarious and impractical. People must just learn to accept defeat.” DM

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