The ANC is still in denial, but granny power wins the DA Nelson Mandela Bay

With nearly 80% of the vote counted in the hotly contested Nelson Mandela Bay metro and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in a commanding lead, the governing party is reluctant to accept it will have to hand over the reigns.

The ANC in the Eastern Cape yesterday afternoon claimed victory, saying it has won 36 of the municipality’s 60 wards. But the official Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) scoreboard painted a different picture. With 79% of the vote in, the DA stood at 51%, the ANC at 39% and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had 5%.

Still, the ANC took its lead from its party agents at the polling stations around the metro, who painted a different picture to the official one.

“We are far above the target. We’re currently governing with 32 wards. We have won four new wards, two from the DA. The people have defended the ANC against the white monopolies, the vultures who wanted to take over this city,” said Andile Lungisa, senior Eastern Cape ANC leader and the possible deputy mayor to the incumbent mayor Danny Jordaan.

Lungisa appeared to be setting the groundwork to contest the final outcome of the poll by insisting that the ANC had won 36 wards, according to the party’s agents observing the count.

He made the assertion despite pending objections from the EFF about improper handling of the results sheet and alleged bias by presiding officers at some of the voting stations.

Even while the IEC was looking into these allegations, Lungisa’s claim that the ANC received a majority number of votes continued.

But the battle for the Bay was fought on several fronts, including a fight to get people out of their homes and into the voting stations, as icy cold conditions engulfed the city.

“So, Mister Mayor, has the ANC or the municipality made any preparations for losing power in today’s election?” journalists repeatedly asked Jordaan, moments after he cast his vote in a DA-controlled ward in Summerstrand.

“Ha, ha, ha,” Jordaan chuckled confidently. “That will never happen.”

He has campaigned aggressively to win support for the ANC for 15 months and, despite the last-minute delivery of mobile toilets, scrapping the debt of poor people and even creating job openings around the city, this was too little too late.

Preliminary results show a massive spike in DA support in areas traditionally considered ANC strongholds. Jordaan’s focus on the coloured areas failed to deliver enough votes to take the wards held by the DA over the past five years. This includes Helenvale, where the mayor made three campaign stops in the days leading up to the vote, and recently announced a R100-billion developmental investment.

Mayoral contender Athol Trollip’s campaign relied on endorsements from the elderly in townships such as New Brighton and Motherwell. He boasts of how grandmothers gathered to pray for the “blue machine to win” and had no reservations about wearing their DA T-shirts in public.

“These people are critically important in the families because they are grandmothers in the families and most people live off their grants. So, if the granny says she is voting DA, that has a knock-on effect, and I’m very encouraged by it,” he said after receiving a blessing from a group of women outside a voting station.

Trollip said his most coveted support base was Nelson Mandela Bay’s youth vote – 35 000 students in the universities and the colleges for further education and technical vocational training. With an unemployment rate of more than 50% among young people, this constituency did not hesitate to voice their discontent with ANC governance.

Twenty-five-year-old Luthanda Mlungu was unemployed for five years before he opened a barbershop in one of the abandoned containers in the Walmer township, an affluent area and DA-controlled ward. On voting day, he sat in front of his shop and watched the elderly wait in rain and wind.

“I know they will vote for ANC because [they lived through] apartheid. But, for me, I don’t think so. The ANC left us young people here. I’m going for EFF,” he said.

Trollip said, although the DA already governs most middle-class wards in the metro, “our hands are tied because this is a ANC-led council so we struggle to get things done”.

In the Gelvandale and Bloemendal area, unemployment and the proliferation of drugs has created a toxic cocktail that has led to more and more young people joining gangs. The raging gang war has claimed nearly 100 lives since Jordaan was appointed 15 months ago.

Trollip is smug about explaining how he plans to create industrial sector jobs for the youth – at the expense of the older workers.

“It’s amazing that [labour federation Cosatu] wants the right to decent work but they don’t want their children to take the jobs. So that’s going to be turned upside down in a DA government through the youth wage subsidy,” he said.

The day before the vote, Jordaan walked through Bloemendal and was well received by dozens of ANC supporters, who followed him around. But other residents were not as easily impressed.

“He’s walking through this same opening where people get shot just for going to work and gangs meet to sell drugs. Where was he when the gang war was hot a month ago? He didn’t come here. He’s only here with police now,” said Allan Jantjies, a 42-year-old resident of the township.

During the walkabout, Jordaan visited a visually impaired man and delivered government food parcels.

A group of residents pointed out their concerns were only addressed in the weeks leading up to the vote. A brand new mobile toilet was placed about 5m away from an older toilet without a door and surrounded by overgrown grass and litter.

“This thing was brought here yesterday because they know Danny is coming. They even moved the tap which was flooding the other houses. Now it’s a brand new tap,” said Sylvia de Lange, an unemployed mother of three in Bloemendal.

The perception of Jordaan as a man of the people is not a façade. Residents in the northern areas recall how they played soccer with him during his younger years and a man in a wheelchair pleads to shake the mayor’s hand, as he tells him how a member of the Jordaan family taught him history during the apartheid years.

“These are my people,” Jordaan said, appearing unfazed by the DA threat. “You can’t tell me about the northern areas. I don’t have to visit the wards. I live the wards. I know these people and we will increase ANC support here.”

He was proven wrong by the election results. The DA won nine of the 12 northern area wards, including one previously held by the ANC.

Jordaan admitted that the ANC’s comrades who had defected from the party made campaigning that much harder.

“It’s been a fierce campaign, particularly in some of the wards with independents. But no individual can win the election; it’s about the people’s response on the ground that will determine the outcome,” he said.

One such independent candidate was Odwa Fumba, a security guard, a South African Communist Party member and community leader, who used his own salary and relied on borrowed tablecloths and support from friends and family. (See Independents rock the Bay’s boat) Despite the meagre resources, he was acknowledged as a serious threat by ANC supporters in the area.

“It has been so difficult to compete with the ANC and DA because I don’t have resources. But I think the support I’m getting as an independent shows that people are sick and tired of these political parties,” Fumba said.

In the months leading up to the election, the DA took full advantage of the municipality’s most obvious failures – the open fields or pavements in the city’s townships that are covered with rubbish; illegal dumping is prolific; shrubs and greenery along the roads and in fields have merged with the trash.

It has been an easy campaigning point for the DA. Trollip hammered it home during campaign speeches and promised new jobs to address the filth.

“This city is filthy north of the N2 highway and we have the most sustainable public works programme in the Western Cape. That’s the model I will introduce here to create jobs,” he said.

Trollip’s campaign was characterised by energetic engagements with residents. In contrast the electioneering appeared to have taken its toll on Jordaan.

In Helenvale, as groups of young people sang “We love you Danny” outside the community centre, the 64-year-old appeared insular and comfortable sitting in his car – only stepping out from behind the security cocoon to ask if anyone had koeksisters, before driving off again.

In the end, while Jordaan worked to rally ANC support in areas that had become disenchanted with the governing party, the decision to parachute him into the leadership structure of the city proved to be too late.

He now has a divided ANC Nelson Mandela Bay metro and senior council managers unsure about their future in the municipality. (See Trollip whips out carrot and stick)

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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