In a “Story of Maths and Spin”, Steven Sidley says that the EFF is “astonishingly transcendent”, the DA is in trouble, and the ANC had a catastrophe. Like all of us opinionistas, he overstates, and makes the mistake of misquoting the combined ward and PR votes of the EFF instead of the total numbers who voted for them. He does not discuss the actual numbers for all three parties, and then gets them wrong for the EFF. So here is a rebuttal – based on actual voting numbers, comparing apples with apples.
The Good News
Did they grow massively”? In national percentage terms? Yes, by 40%, but in real votes they grew by only 60,000 votes. They won 1,169,259 in 2014 and 1,229,00 in 2016. That is an actual internal growth of about 5%. Considering they are the only party that managed to grow their numbers in this election, this is an achievement – but 5% growth is not transcendent.
However, compared to COPE, the only other breakaway ANC party to compare them with, this is a good performance. COPE won more votes in 2009 than the EFF did in 2014 (1,311,027), but by 2011 they had lost more than 75 % of their votes (296,624).
The EFF’s real strength in the short term is that they are likely to be decisive players in the formation of coalitions around the country .
The Possible Bad News
Long-term, their election platform of explosive rhetoric and huge promises now has to be tested and tried in the complicated and detailed work of administration and delivery. This has proven to be a dangerous minefield for all minor parties that have served in coalitions since 2006.
Also, 60,000 extra votes mean they have a long way to go before becoming real power players.
The Good News
They are right to be trumpeting their triumph. Any party that becomes the dominant player in two new metros, (Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane) as well as having the potential to become part of government in two other metros (Joburg and Ekhurhuleni) has scored real growth in terms of power. Should these four coalitions happen, the DA will lead governments in five of the country’s eight metros. Add this to their continuing growth across the Western Cape and the coalition opportunities in the five other provinces and they can well be pleased.
The Best News
In “black” districts and wards across the country they showed substantial growth from 2011 to 2016. Four of the best examples are:
In the Eastern Cape – Umzimbuvu (Ward 23), 33 increased to 1,012.
Ntabankulu (ward 4) 8 votes increased to 891.
In Gauteng, Mamelodi (ward 38) 387 increased to 1,571.
In KwaZulu-Natal, eDumbe (all wards) 861 increased to 6,542.
These areas have previously been completely dominated by the ANC, and are almost totally black voting areas. Even more important, the most significant growth was in the rural wards.
Now for the Bad News
Voter apathy affected them badly. (This does not apply to most of the Western Cape).
In 2014 they won 4,090,000 votes, in 2016 they won 4,029,000 – that is a loss of 60,000 votes. In Joburg they were 25,000 votes down from 508,000 in 2014. In Nelson Mandela Bay they grew by just 1,000 votes. Tshwane gave them the best growth in actual numbers – 13,000 votes in two years. So why this worrying trend? How could they show real growth in black constituencies across the country and still drop in overall numbers from 2014, whereas between 2009 (national) and 2011 (municipal) the party grew by 230,000 votes? (Incidentally, compared to that, the EFF’s 60,000 growth is not that impressive.)
I can only think that the traditional DA voter (read whinging white) did not get out and vote as they have done before in areas where the DA had a real chance of winning. Whatever the reason – it means that while mobilising their new voter base as successfully as they did, the DA’s traditional voters did not come out when it came to the all important moment of change. They will need to work out why.
The Bad News
Between 2011 and 2016 they lost 280,000 votes nationally. Of course the real disaster for them is the loss of controlling power in a further possible 22 municipalities and metros across the country. However, it is their reputation that is the biggest loser; they have gone from invincible to vulnerable.
Worse than that, historically, they have also shown themselves unable ever to claw back power after losing control in an area. The Western Cape municipalities, Cape Town and Midvaal have shown them to be consistently ineffective in winning voters back to their cause.
The Good News
This trend of dropping votes at municipal elections is not new – in fact it has been a constant in ANC election voting patterns.
2004 (national) 10,881,000 – 2006 (municipal) 6,470,000.
2009 (national) 11,651,000 – 2011( municipal) 8,405,000.
2014 (national) 11,400,000 – 2016 (municipal) 8,124,000.
Even though their voter base is shrinking slowly, if ANC voters do what they have always done, then in 2019 they should still safely win, even with a smaller majority.
However, if the DA and EFF continue their steady growth, and the disaffected ANC voter simply abstains, then they face a real challenge.
Percentages determine who comes to power after an election, and voter turnout is a huge determinant in how those percentages play out. But long term, it is the voting numbers that show us the actual growth or loss of the parties. Percentages are distorted by voter turnout, nationally and for each party. Even if we armchair politicians aren’t always aware of that, caught up in the headlines as we are; you can be certain our politicians are. DM
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