The ANC has won this election, even with a compromised leader. But waning support and stronger opposition are problems it will not want to face.
“Vote for the party, not an individual.” That was the ANC’s refrain ahead of the election. Offering a scandal-plagued president as its leader, the party focused instead on its considerable history as an organisation – and it seems to have worked.
The ANC’s convincing victory in this year’s elections proved that it is able to sell itself successfully regardless of who leads it or the mistakes that leader or the party itself has committed.
Despite heavy criticism over the handling of security upgrades at ANC president Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence, the former liberation movement managed to attract 62% of the 18-million votes cast last Wednesday.
This is evidence enough that the “ANC brand is stronger than Zuma,” said Tinyiko Maluleke, a University of Johannesburg-based political analyst. “It [also] says Zuma survives ... He has a firm grip on the ANC as presidency.”
Zuma was the face of the ANC elections campaign even though there was some internal dissatisfaction about that arrangement, particularly as it became clear that there were irregularities with regards to the Nkandla upgrades. But the party chose to stick with him and it didn’t cost them as much as their critics may have hoped.
Not all good news
And now, with elections done and dusted, political parties have moved their focus to the next stage – deploying their respective representatives to provincial legislatures and the National Assembly.
But it’s not all good news for the ANC.
With its 62% victory, the party will be sending 15 MPs fewer to Parliament. It will also be represented by fewer members at several provincial legislatures.
Some parties, such as the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), have increased the number of its MPs and members in provincial legislatures, while newcomers Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose leaders broke away from the ANC last year, have secured seats in Parliament and all the nine provincial legislatures.
This has seen the ANC shedding 213 827 votes.
Gauteng appears to be the party’s next Achilles’ heel. It received only 53% of the vote, down from 64% in 2009.
All of the country’s eight metros too saw the ANC drop, in some cases sharply, to hover dangerously around the 50% mark. This leaves these key cities open to being wrested from ANC control, questioning the party’s support in urban centres.
ANC support in metros – 2014, 2009:
City of Johannesburg: 52.28%, 62.35%
Ekurhurleni: 55.07%, 66.81%
Cape Town: 31.13%, 31.30%
Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth): 48.81%, 49.64%
Tshwane (Pretoria): 49.31%, 60.35%
eThekwini: 64.59%, 66.29%
Mangaung: 64.44%, 64.61%
Buffalo City: 66.93%, 67%
This means all the opposition party’s energy will be focused on the 2016 local government elections where it can attempt to wrest control of key cities.
Should the ANC be celebrating this performance?
The ANC must celebrate its victory, according to Maluleke, but also “carefully distinguish between the things to celebrate and the things to ponder”.
“Victory amidst adversity and failure must be celebrated,” he said. “Problems signalled must be pondered with a view to remedy. A whole taxi load of ANC parliamentarians are not going back, and it’s nearly a bus full if you add losses from the provinces where ANC lost seats.”
Voters have started asking the ANC tough questions on service delivery, economy, job creation and corruption after 20 years in power and this has contributed to the decline in support.
But ANC head of elections Malusi Gigaba told journalists on Sunday that the ANC could not satisfy everyone and would not be “ungrateful winners” by questioning how the party lost some support.
“We are very grateful winners,” he said. “We are humbled. We are not complaining at all. We will not seek to try and satisfy everyone.”
Despite clear unhappiness with the ANC, South African voters have been struggling to find alternative political parties to support.
While the DA has recorded steady increase throughout all elections, the number of votes the official opposition got were inadequate to unseat the ANC. The party has, under Helen Zille’s leadership, experimented with certain changes to woo black voters. They have had some success thanks to the party’s increased efforts to shed the mantle of “whiteness”, but the DA appears a long way from usurping the ANC on its own.
Building the opposition
Meanwhile, the position of the third biggest party in these elections proved to the most interesting to watch. New parties shine in their first elections, but then lose steam when they contest for the second time. Accordingly, the Congress of the People (Cope), who dazzled when they came third in 2009, fell flat this year. From the 30 parliamentary seats the party won in 2009, it will send only three MPs this term.
The EFF has now taken third position with 6.3% of the vote. But the party will need to work hard to avoid Cope’s fate over the next five years. Top of its agenda is to make its presence felt inside and outside Parliament, and to continue to brand itself in a manner that can appeal particularly to young people. And, as Malema said on Saturday, the party must work hard between now and the next general elections to increase its support. “We are now building the organisation,” said the leader, adding that the party was aiming to have its first internal election conference by December.
Meanwhile, the surprise hiatus taken by the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko means that the party will have to refocus its own energies, and decide its own succession plan as Zille looks to step down. Mazibuko is one of the party’s main stars and the opposition leader in Parliament.
This means in the next five-year term, neither the DA nor the EFF can afford to be complacent as they consolidate their support in this election and plan for further growth.
The ANC will have to do the same when it “goes back to the drawing board”, as many of its leaders keep saying, to prevent further losses.
It’s going to be a busy few years until the next local government elections – and beyond. – Additional reporting by Verashni Pillay