Massive by-elections show slow shift in local voting patterns


While most are expecting – or fearing – big shifts in next year’s local government elections, results from the latest by-elections have shown that local voters may be slow to change their political choices. 

Twenty-five wards were up for grabs, more than usual thanks to some ward councillors being elected to provincial and national legislatures after the 7 May elections, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

But the shifts in votes were subtle, with the ruling ANC losing just one ward to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in Polokwane, while gaining three: 

  • One from the DA in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape;
  • One from the Inkatha Freedom Party  (IFP) in Indaka, Kwazulu-Natal; and
  • One from an independent candidate in Rustenburg, in the North West. 

Wednesday’s by-election spanned 25 wards across the country and over 200 000 registered voters, making it one of the largest mobilisation of voters outside of general elections.

The DA emerged strongest; winning 17 of the 19 wards it contested out of the 25. However 16 of these were wards that the party retained from the 2011 local government elections. 

The party strengthened in wards it had only just won in the 2011 local government elections. 

“The DA won battleground ward 32 in Johannesburg [Alexandra and Greenstone], increasing our marginal 2014 majority of 51% to 56% yesterday,” wrote party leader Helen Zille in a statement following the elections. “This 5% swing in Johannesburg is significant because if the trend continues metro-wide, the ANC will be brought under 50% in 2016.”

The ANC dropped more than 10% in the key economic hub of Gauteng in the May national government elections to hover just shy of 55% of the province’s vote. 

It was a devastating blow for the party and there are fears that it could lose the two main cities, Tshwane and Johannesburg in the 2016 local government elections, where it managed only 53.63% and 50.96% respectively.

The DA wrestled the Western Cape away from the ANC by first winning the City of Cape Town and using it to showcase and a stepping-stone to win the province. The party hopes to do the same with Gauteng, and its main cities.  

Nelson Mandela Metro, which includes Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape has also long been in play. 

In the 2009 national elections the ANC’s support dipped to just above 50%, from 69.30% in 2004. The Da rose about 7% to 28,17% . 

In the following local government election in 2011, the ANC rallied at 51,91% of the vote while the DA shot up to 40,13%, thanks in part to the crumbling of Congress of the People. 

In the national election this year the ANC, which seems to take a bigger knock in the metro during national elections, dropped to 49,17% of the vote, with the DA holding steady at 40,16%. If those numbers hold and the ANC fails to rally again for the local elections, the party could well lose the city in 2016. 

The new entrants to the political scene, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) only chose to contest one of the 25 ward elections: in Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape, according to the IEC. 

The EFF failed to take the ward with just 5% of the 1559 valid votes cast. 

The ANC was the ward, but saw a dramatic drop in its support in that ward from 96% of the vote in 2011 to 69% in this weekend’s by-election. However their drop was due more to a strengthening of the UDM’s numbers in the ward to 26% of the vote, and not to the EFF’s contest for votes.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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