The Congress of the People (Cope) was to blame for the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan council remaining in ANC hands, Cope officials themselves conceded after it became clear that the ANC had won.
By midday on Thursday there could be no doubt that the metro, which comprises Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch, would be won by the ANC with at least 51% of the vote, with the Democratic Alliance securing about 40% and Cope 5%.
“We can’t run away from it — if we had done better the metro would have swung,” Cope MP Juli Killian said. “But what our 5% shows is that council is not as secure as it was. We now have a footprint — in future by-elections we can do more work,” she said.
An extraordinary voter turnout of more than 66% made Nelson Mandela Bay the most widely contested metro. The council was a municipal election hotspot because ANC support dropped below 50% during the 2009 national elections due to the advent of Cope. Then Cope won 17% of the vote in the metro and the DA 25%, forcing the ANC down to 49%.
In the current poll it became clear that a strong showing by Cope could swing the municipality into opposition hands. Political analysts and leaders blamed Cope’s latest campaign, which they said was weak and under-resourced. DA sources also blamed Cope for the fact that the metro now remained in ANC hands by a slender margin.
“If Cope had run a better campaign, we would have easily taken the metro,” an official said. Killian said the internal wrangling in the party had prevented its campaign from taking off properly. “The [Mbhazima] Shilowa camp took us to court three weeks before the elections and wanted to evict us from Cope offices.
“The fact that we could participate in these elections at all is a miracle,” she said. The Independent Electoral Commission set the national target for voter turnout at 40%. In Nelson Mandela Bay Cope took 4,86% of the vote and parties other than the ANC and DA secured less than 1%. All parties viewed the metro as one of the key battlefields in the elections.
It was visited by a number of high-profile leaders, including President Jacob Zuma, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and DA leader Helen Zille. Cope chose the former ANC heavyweight, Smuts Ngonyama, who lives in Uitenhage, as its mayoral candidate.
The ANC was so concerned about the threat of losing the metro that it raised the possibility of a coalition if it failed to win an outright majority. Infighting within the ANC and party members insisting that the regional leadership be sacked also posed a threat to the ANC’s majority.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, said that the ANC had learned from its experience in the metro. “We must work on the dynamics in the party. “It can’t be about us fighting and forgetting that there is a tomorrow,” Mantashe said.
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