/ 27 January 2006

Power swing indicates opposition split

The swing of power to the African National Congress in municipal by-elections since 2004 — in which the Democratic Alliance lost 20 seats nationally — is an indication that the opposition is splintering, with the DA losing to smaller parties such as the Independent Democrats, the Minority Front (MF) and the Freedom Front Plus.

Independent Electoral Commission statistics show that 37 wards have changed hands in by-elections between April 2004 and October 2005. The ANC lost two municipal seats and won 33, while the DA won control of only one seat.

The DA lost control of most of its wards in the Northern Cape as well as seven in the Western Cape, which were previously New National Party strongholds. The DA failed to retain this support base after the NNP split from the DA in 2002.

The loss of a crucial seat to the ANC in the Cape Metropole was a heavy blow to the DA, but the party’s mayoral candidate Helen Zille says it does not signal a move to the ANC so much as a split in the opposition. “There was no swing towards the ANC. The ANC took the ward because there was divided opposition in 2004.”

But, Western Cape ANC chairperson James Ngculu says the DA’s failure to control seats in the Western Cape is because “some people saw the DA for what it is. They are good at making slogans about poverty, unemployment and safety, and they take advantage of rural areas and squatter camps where people are socially dislocated.”

Minority parties such as the MF and the FF Plus have made inroads in areas where party politics have a strong ethnic base. The predominantly Afrikaans area of Vereeniging swung to the FF Plus away from the DA, as did a predominantly Indian ward in Durban in favour of the MF.

Political analyst Sanusha Naidoo says the driving force behind the rise of ethnic parties may be dissatisfaction with service delivery. She says the MF win in Durban disproves the notion that Indians are apathetic voters. In the Eastern Cape, the United Democratic Movement was the biggest loser to the ANC, which won five seats in the hotly contested King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality in Umtata.

In the North West, the ANC lost a seat to the ID, which, says ID spokesperson Herold Mcgluwa, indicated the “people are fed up” with the ruling party. Political analyst Derek Davids says the reasons for the by-election upsets are varied, but may be caused by a range of socio-political issues, such as workers whose jobs are far from their homes making it difficult to register or vote.

Siyabonga Memela of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa says another contributing factor is that voters usually change their choice of candidate or party depending on how the previous candidate has performed.