ANC had its sights set on KZN

As horse trading over coalitions to run at least 19 KwaZulu-Natal municipalities continued this week, there was the distinct smell of decomposing horse meat on the table too.

It emanated from the Inkatha Freedom Party, which ran the provincial government for two terms from 1994 and entered last week’s local elections controlling 32 of the province’s 61 municipalities. It emerged with an outright majority in just two, Ulundi and Msinga.

Haemorrhaging support to the National Freedom Party, the three-month-old offshoot formed by former Inkatha national chairperson Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, and losing ground to the ANC, which has steady made inroads into KwaZulu-Natal’s rural electorate, the IFP drew just 3.6% of the votes nationally. In KwaZulu-Natal it was down to 17.3%, less than half the 40.2% of the votes it won in the 2006 local elections.

Although the NFP was instrumental in taking votes from the IFP, the party’s downward electoral trajectory since 1998, when it won 10.54% of the votes nationally and 50.32% in its home province, continued.

Despite the trend, the IFP appeared stunned by its poor showing and several of its leaders went to ground this week.

Narend Singh, the IFP national treasurer and chief negotiator in coalition talks, said that, although the party was surprised by the extent of the rout, “every political party goes through highs and lows—the 2011 elections are certainly a low for us”.

Similar sentiments were expressed after the 2009 general election.
Before that poll the IFP dismissed the possibility that ANC president Jacob Zuma’s “Zuluness” could play a part in voting in KwaZulu-Natal.

After the ANC jumped from 2004’s 47.47% to 2009’s staggering 62.04%, IFP leaders conceded their mistake. But the horse had bolted.

Denialism
In 2011 the IFP’s denialism centred on the prospects of the breakaway NFP, dismissing it as a troublemaker without the nous to run an election campaign. But the NFP bit large chunks out of IFP support, winning the eDumbe municipality outright and a simple majority in Nongoma, an IFP bastion, with 19 seats to the IFP’s 17 and the ANC’s six.

The NFP is likely to be king-maker in all KwaZulu-Natal’s hung councils.

Political commentators suggest that a key reason why the IFP is failing at the polls is its reluctance to modernise and its failure to understand the changing profile of the electorate.

It has been unable to move away from a feudalistic approach in which traditional leaders are integral to “convincing” rural voters to vote for the IFP and it has failed to connect with the rural youth and first-time voters who are not bound by political tradition and have been drawn to the modernity and development that brings jobs, shopping malls and Blackberries to rural towns.

The IFP also failed to deliver efficient services in the municipalities it ran.

It has been criticised for its in­ability to establish a brand apart from its president, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and his own hubris in dealing with attempts to reform the party. The ANC formulated its election strategy around these shortcomings. Legislation has been passed cementing the role of traditional leaders in governance, meaning that the amakhosi are no longer beholden to the IFP—they draw salaries and have houses built for them by the ANC-led provincial government.

Nhlakanipho Ntombela, the ANC provincial head of campaigns, said: “Our secret in this election was our focus. We broke it down to which voting districts and wards we needed to focus resources on and what the issues there were.

“In Umkhanyakude [on the border with Mozambique], which we won [for the first time], we had our campaign launch there, paid special attention to the traditional leaders and focused on the basic services that the community was lacking. We set out to win it and we won.”

KwaZulu-Natal was the only province where support for the ANC has increased since 2009.

Ntombela said the Zuma effect was slightly diminished in the latest poll but the high visibility of the provincial leadership, including Premier Zweli Mkhize, was vital. “We lost the battle of the election posters in rural areas to the NFP, so our focus was visibility.

“The premier criss-crossed the province on door-to-door campaigns and he wasn’t just there to campaign—we went in knowing what the problems were and carrying solutions with us.”

Not that the Zuma effect has diminished much—in his home town, Nkandla, one was greeted by a huge billboard of the erstwhile IFP mayor at its entrance and tales of underdevelopment in the town. On the campaign trail, people complained of economic stagnation and a lack of toilets and water.

The ANC won 12.16% in Nkandla in 2006 compared with the IFP’s 85.03%. But this time the municipality is hung, with IFP support dwindling to 46.18%, the ANC’s ballooning to 41.19% and the NFP coming in with 12.63%.

A less visible Zuma effect is that ANC structures in KwaZulu-Natal are the most organised in the country, developed through mobilisation and campaigning since 2005, when Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as South Africa’s deputy president. The campaign to get him elected president of the ANC in 2007 at Polokwane started in the province.

Other ANC strategies included getting taxi operators onside and appealing to young voters with the “ANC’s hipness”.

“I know of specific wards that we won because of our going to tertiary institutions with celebrities like Big Nuz performing and convincing people their vote was important,” Ntombela said.

KwaZulu-Natal had the country’s highest voter registration figures before these elections, with 285 208 first-timers signing up to vote. It also had the highest turnout on election day, with 61.53%—4% higher than the national average.

The ANC has driven voter registration campaigns and is tapping into new rural voters. Strategic towns such as Estcourt, formerly controlled by the IFP, are now hung and results suggest that it is not solely because of the NFP-IFP fallout.

In Estcourt the ANC grew from 34.98% in 2006 to 46.52% this year, while the IFP fell from 57.13% to 26.22%. The IFP’s more than 20% drop was reflected in the NFP gaining 19.57% of the vote.

Yet the ANC grew by almost 12%, which can be attributed partly to the higher voter turnout in 2011 (69.3%) compared with 2006 (60.39%). Analysts and politicians have suggested that the formation of the NFP has led to an opening of democratic space in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

It is also one of the reasons suggested for the lack of political violence in the province and perhaps why the IFP, a former bantustan party, is suffering.

But the bottom line appears to be that the ANC is grabbing the imagination of KwaZulu-Natal’s large rural population. As its old foe slips towards oblivion, this year’s local government election results in KwaZulu-Natal reflect one of the ANC’s greatest post-1994 political achievements.

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Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi