First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Despite licking its wounds the bleeding ANC is unlikely...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Wounded and bleeding ANC is unlikely to renew or recover from its election losses

mm

Jordan Griffiths is the acting chief of staff in the mayor’s office in Tshwane; he writes in his personal capacity.

The ANC’s electoral losses are significant not only because politically they have significantly weakened the brand, but organisationally the ANC is now going to struggle to salvage itself.

The results of the local government elections have significantly altered the electoral landscape of the country. Most notable is the fact that at a national level, the African National Congress (ANC) has been left on 46% of the vote, coming below 50% for the first time. In Gauteng, the drop is even more dramatic with the ANC coming in at 36% of the vote indicating that the party is going to face significant challenges in the run-up to the national elections in 2024.

There has been extensive analysis on the ANC and its performance, but many within the media commentariat and in fact the vast majority of political analysts have zero experience in active party politics, and this comes through in their commentary. As a result, much of the analysis is relatively generic and lacks the ability to provide a thorough dissection on the implications of this loss to the ANC and what it means for the party.

A crucial aspect of the ANC’s loss is that organisationally it has exposed the party brutally. With the party unable to get its candidate lists in on time, inability to pay staff and field any form of coherent messaging or campaign, it was hopelessly unprepared for the election. If you reflect now on the ANC’s campaign, ask yourself, what was their core message? Did they even have one? These are the basics that are expected in election campaigns.

The ANC also went into this election terrified of triggering any factional battles within the organisation. ANC candidates are chosen via their branches based in different wards. Effectively, nominations are received, and ANC branch members then convene to vote on who should be their candidates from their wards.

This process can be hotly contested and even dangerous, depending on the dynamics within specific branches. When a ward candidate was killed in Tshwane in the run-up to the elections, the ANC very quickly deployed senior-heavy leadership to the area to quell their branches. The result is that you have an organisation more obsessed with trying to prevent itself from tearing itself apart than actively campaigning.

This attempt to manage internal battles was also why the ANC did not announce any mayoral candidates anywhere in the country. This was seen in Tshwane in 2016 as the ANC’s mayoral announcement during this period was rejected by various branches which resulted in protests in the city. However, increasing internal factionalism within their regions across the country meant that the risks of announcing mayoral candidates was just too great. Even after their ward candidates were announced, the ANC promised communities that controversial candidates would be removed after elections.

The challenge with not choosing any mayoral candidates is that you have no people to ensure you can create campaigns around. The result was that the ANC’s entire local government election campaign relied on their national leadership. The ANC even confessed that their own research showed that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s brand was their most vital asset. This is why the president was used so extensively to prop up the party’s brand. However, the president is only one man and cannot be everywhere all the time.

The ANC prioritised internal stability over fielding competitive mayoral candidates and the result was that they had one single centralised campaign. The result is that you have less people to put in the field to campaign because you are constantly awaiting national leaders to come and support your campaigns. This backfired for them badly in the major metropolitans. Worse still, in multiple areas the president was exposed to exceptionally angry communities, particularly in parts of Soweto where they were effectively chased out. The president’s own personal brand was badly damaged by this as the media was there to capture these events.

The ANC’s electoral losses are significant not only because politically they have significantly weakened the brand but organisationally the ANC is now going to struggle to recover.

In this election, the ANC has lost over 600 elected councillors from across the country, which is a sizeable chunk of the total of their elected representatives. The ANC, as do many political parties, would charge each of these councillors a tithe on their monthly salary, this is one of the core mechanisms through which the party is able to sustain operations month to month. Effectively it is a fee that supports party operations.

At the end of November, these contributions are going to be significantly less than what the party is used to. The ANC has already grappled with challenges in terms of the payments to staff and creditors in the run-up to the elections. It is likely that this electoral loss will now force some level of organisational restructuring, if not then the party will simply be unable to function.

In many cases, due to the electoral system of South Africa, the ANC has lost the vast majority of its proportional representation (PR) councillors. Thus, the ANC caucuses in the country will largely be made up of ward councillors. One such example is Johannesburg where the ANC only has four PR councillors.

This means that where the ANC is able to go into government, the majority of its leadership team will be made up of ward councillors. This can place significant strain on those who serve in government. Ward councillors have incredibly busy roles, combined with the responsibilities of executive leadership this pressure can be overwhelming, particularly if your party is organisationally weak.

With the ANC losing so many PR seats in the majority metropolitans, this will also constrain the party’s ability to campaign outside of its more traditional strongholds. In fact, because the ANC also faced significant losses within its traditional wards the party is likely going to have to focus its attention on trying to get those votes back.

However, the final nail in the coffin for the ANC is that organisationally and structurally it is largely held together and united when the party is in power. This is a crucial element that has created stability for the party. When the ANC is removed from power for a prolonged period in a particular area, organisationally its structures collapse. There is no truer example than in the Western Cape where the ANC has continually decreased in their share of the vote in each election. They have now dropped to 20% in the province and in Cape Town, they are sitting at just over 18.5% of the vote.

Removing the ANC from government for prolonged periods of time ultimately leads to the collapse within the party as factionalism takes root due to the increased competition for a smaller number of positions and power. It cripples the party’s ability to organise and rally and slowly they end up bleeding votes over time to various other parties. The ANC has been in a systematic downward spiral since they last held power in Cape Town and the Western Cape. They are effectively circulating the drain in that province.

There will of course be talks now of the ANC’s attempts at renewal and introspection, but this will not occur. The losses incurred in this last election are going to reverberate for weeks to come, as the party will likely desperately try and hold together in the face of its upcoming national elective conference. Worse still, despite using the president to drive the entire election campaign, he has come off very poorly. As the impact of these electoral losses bites financially and organisationally into the ANC, the party is likely going to struggle to reorganise and refocus. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 4

  • Didn’t Mbeki claim recently that the ANC is too big to fail? That plonker doesn’t seem to realise that the ANC’s road to ruin (or rot, in this case) started in earnest under his administration.

  • “In this election, the ANC has lost over 600 elected councillors from across the country, which is a sizeable chunk of the total of their elected representatives. The ANC, as do many political parties, would charge each of these councillors a tithe on their monthly salary, this is one of the core mechanisms through which the party is able to sustain operations month to month. Effectively it is a fee that supports party operations.” – This extract from the article explains why the ANC resolutely refuses to end cadre deployment.

  • Agree with the plonker sentiment, another pseudo-intellectual who fostered AIDS denialism, used a useless drunk as his Min of Health, etc, etc. But the rot had already started in Mandela’s time with his first cabinet (although Mbeki likely chaired the “nominating” committee). Modise and the arms deal? Bhengu and outcomes based education, closing down the training colleges?

  • Scary. A similar article could be written about the DA, who also lost quite heavily. Who gained? Mainly right-wingers – Action SA, FF+ and a smattering of other closed-interest-group parties. Even the DA seemed to try and stem anticipated losses by leaning further right. South Africa does not need a strong growth of right wing politics.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted