The ANC's diminishing share of the vote in the metropoles, particularly in Gauteng, has inspired a burst of soul-searching in the ruling party.
Only 36% of the ANC’s 11-million votes in this election came from the metros. Sixty-four percent of the Democratic Alliance’s four million votes and almost half (48%) of the Economic Freedom Fighters’s votes came from the metros, with most EFF support coming from Gauteng.
“We need time to focus and get to the bottom of things,” said the ANC’s head of communications, Lindiwe Zulu. She said the party will conduct in-depth research into the matter.
There is a large number of voters in the country’s metropolitan areas. Forty-three percent of the votes cast in this election were in the metros. A full 21% of the total valid votes counted – just under four million of them – were cast in the three Gauteng metros alone.
The metros are also growing at a faster pace than the rest of the country. Since 2004 the number of registered voters in the country as a whole has increased by 22.8%. In comparison, registered voters in the eight metros have increased by 30.5%.
The DA improved on the number of votes it received in 2009 in all eight metros; the ANC’s vote tally decreased in all but two metros, eThekwini and Cape Town.
Gauteng the target
The DA’s chief executive, Jonathan Moakes, said the party will be targeting the majority of Gauteng come 2016. “Johannesburg and Tshwane were traditionally more of a stronghold for the DA than Ekurhuleni,” said Moakes. “But Ekurhuleni is now also an exciting prospect.”
Take the Gauteng metros, for example: in 2004 the ANC won 69% of the vote in Johannesburg and 54% in 2014, in Ekurhuleni it went from 69% to 56%, and in Tshwane it went from 61% to 51%. The DA in Johannesburg went from 19% to 30%, in Ekurhuleni from 20% to 27% and in Tshwane from 28% to 31%.
The bulk of the ANC’s votes in 2014 (64%) came from rural municipalities and small towns.
“The ANC has been quite good at delivering to the very rural constituency. The staying power of that vote is testament to that,” said Jonathan Faull, a consultant political analyst for the Institute of Security Studies.
There is an emergent cosmopolitan class with a more fluid identity who are more likely to isolate issues and are willing to vote for another party, said Ebrahim Fakir of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said that metro voters have more exposure to the media. “Stories like the Gupta landing and the Nkandla debacle tend to play out and penetrate more here than elsewhere,” he said.
The ANC has been dismissive and patronising of the issues the people in the metros have raised – e-tolls and corruption being just two – and the “clever blacks” reference has also played a role. But the ANC has not become too conservative and rural for metro voters, Fikeni said: they can be recaptured. “The party just needs to change its tone and be seen to be doing something about the issues that are raised.”
The ANC remains stronger than any other political party, Faull said. “In this election cycle there are dynamics in play that mean that there’s more competition and the 2016 local government elections will be fascinating.
“The voters in metros don’t think the ANC is incapable of responding to their demands. People are capable of changing their minds; the voting patterns in the Western Cape over the past 20 years show this,” he said.
But the ruling party needs to be on its toes. The DA wants to win more metros to have an opportunity to show its kind of governance. “They used their foothold in Cape Town very effectively for launching more ambitious political projects,” he said. The DA will be “salivating at the prospect” of winning one of the Gauteng metros.
Moakes agreed. “What’s exciting about 2016 [is] if we win one of the metros, either outright or in coalition. I think that will give us hopes for a fantastic performance for 2019.”