/ 23 April 2009

It’s Z-time

It was an easy win for the African National Congress. But what has emerged was that a shift had occurred in the South African political landscape.

With the Democratic Alliance taking a respectable chunk of the vote and the Congress of the People following not too far behind, the smaller parties seemed to have all but disappeared from the election scoreboard — raising the prospect of a two- or three-party system in the near future.

The DA and Cope hoped to capitalise on the turnout in the hotly contested urban areas, which might further dent the ruling party’s chances of reaching a two-thirds majority.

The ANC first broke through the two-thirds margin late on Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning the party stood at 68,27%.

Election officials blamed the slow progress on the high voter turnout in urban areas. Early indications were that turnout could reach 80% nationally, the highest figure since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

The uncounted votes in key areas made it impossible to say with certainty whether the ANC under Jacob Zuma had outperformed the party of Thabo Mbeki.

Although the ANC shed votes to the DA and Cope, it was hugely boosted by the collapse of Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, which all but imploded on Wednesday at the ballot box.

Boosted by the ethnic factor, Zuma’s party had won more than two-thirds of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal, with the IFP pegged back from its 35% figure in 2004 to just more than 23%.

Small parties such as the Independent Democrats (ID) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) struggled to hold on to their parliamentary seats and were expected to see their support drop to 1,2% and 1,1% respectively. The IFP ruled the province from 1994 to 2004.

The IFP managed to garner 7% of the national vote in the 2004 election but by Friday morning had dropped to a dismal 3,97%. Newcomer Cope was expected to get between 7% and 8% of the national vote, which primarily comes from former ANC supporters. Cope was supposed to be the exciting new arrival on the political block with its party leaders insisting that it would garner more than 50% of the national vote.

But its leaders were largely absent from the election results centre in Pretoria as it became clear that their hope of becoming the ruling party had been utterly dashed.

In some provinces, including Limpopo, the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape, Cope was threatening the position of the DA as official opposition. But the overwhelming vote in these provinces still went to the ANC. At national level Cope was not expected to exceed the 10% mark.

For the first time since 2004 an opposition party was set to take control of a provincial government. The DA outshone its competitors in the Western Cape in the race to rule the province.

It was expected that it will achieve an outright majority there, winning more than 50% of the vote and being placed to govern without having to form a coalition.

The DA claimed it had managed to secure the province by taking votes from the ID, the ANC and the former New National Party, which contested the 2004 elections. The party’s increase in support was ascribed to the inroads made in the coloured communities in the Western Cape, more Indian voters, who previously supported the Minority Front, and a high turnout of the party’s traditionally white support base.

Party insiders expected the DA to garner 16% of the national vote, up from 12% in the previous election.

The ANC was set to win two-thirds majorities in the legislatures of the Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West and KwaZulu-Natal.

In Gauteng on Friday morning, the ANC was standing on 61,82%, the DA on 24,84% and Cope was on 7,33% in the country’s richest and most populous province.

Solid performances by Cope (16,3%) and the DA (12,36%) in the Northern Cape may prevent the ANC from attaining a two-thirds majority there.

Polling day on Wednesday was marred by complaints by opposition parties about voting stations running out of ballot papers and a case of electoral fraud in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, where a ballot box stuffed with voting papers marked for the IFP was found at a polling station.

The IEC admitted to running out of ballot boxes and unmarked boxes were used to store votes. The IEC blamed electoral legislation, which allows for voters to vote at any polling station.

The commission hurriedly printed an extra two million ballot papers to make up the difference, but when voting closed on Wednesday evening they had not been needed.

The slow counting in the metros clouded early indications of support for the DA and Cope, whose voters are based mainly in urban areas.

The murder of a leading Cope leader also put a blight on the peaceful conduct of Wednesday’s polling.

Cope officials at the IEC’s results centre said they believed that the killing of Gerald Yona was a political murder. The IEC said on Thursday that it was closely monitoring the police investigation of the case and had taken note of Cope’s allegations.

Yona (38) was a ‘zonal coordinator” — a title peculiar to the interim structures of the new political party — in Motherwell, in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.

He and his wife and children were attacked by three men with handguns. His wife was injured and was taken to hospital, but later discharged.

Cope provincial spokesperson Nkosifikile Gqomo said that the children had escaped injury. No arrests have been made.

The old liberation movements, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Azanian People’s Liberation (Azapo), were obliterated from the political map as each won less than 1% of the vote.

They have each held a seat or two since 1994, but the result on Thursday afternoon suggested they could both be without representation in the National Assembly for the first time.

Their offshoots, the Pan Africanist Movement (PAM) and the African People’s Convention (APC), also did not feature on the results map.

  • Additional reporting by Sapa