ANC wakes up too late as DA takes fight into ruling party's strongholds

Missed opportunity: Fewer than expected ANC voters turned out at the party’s manifesto launch. A similar scenario played out at polling stations. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Missed opportunity: Fewer than expected ANC voters turned out at the party’s manifesto launch. A similar scenario played out at polling stations. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The ANC has failed to secure an outright majority in key metros that it has fought tooth and nail to clinch.

At the same time, the Democratic Alliance has made surprising inroads in areas the governing party has previously seen as comfortable wins for the ANC. The Economic Freedom Fighters failed to live up to their hype in claiming they would triple their support base.

According to Zaid Kimmie of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, who was brought in by the SABC to project and analyse the results, the ANC woke up too late. By then, the other parties had won over voters under the ANC’s nose.

By Thursday night, about 80% of the ballots had been captured.
They showed a very dim picture for the governing party, with the council projecting a loss for the governing party in Nelson Mandela Bay and a floundering hold of just under 50% for Johannesburg, Tshwane and even Ekurhuleni.

ANC members and supporters tweeted and sent SMSes saying they had no fear of losing the election, but the ANC-voting crowds failed to turn up at the polling stations.

This was prefigured by the weak turn-out at the governing party’s manifesto launch in May in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

On polling day, the ANC tried to get supporters to the electoral booths by hiring 783 taxis across the city, but it doesn’t seem to have helped.

“Our members and supporters stay far away from some voting stations in the townships,” said ANC regional secretary Beza Ntshona, “and this terrible weather really means they can’t walk. So we had a plan to fetch them by utilising the taxi services and, because of that, we expected big numbers.”

According to Kammie, the DA had a simple but effective strategy: it consolidated the areas it already had, and worked harder in those in which it had less support.

“The results show that the DA has made some inroads in townships in Port Elizabeth and we have seen them consolidating their performance especially in the suburbs. Where it used to get 70% of the vote, it has now gotten about 80% of the vote,” he said.

Despite spending a reported R1-billion on its campaign, the ANC dropped the ball. In the 2011 elections it was able to retain the metro comfortably, but its support has clearly slipped since then.

Long before the final results were confirmed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), it was already clear that the DA had pushed and prodded and even irritated a sufficient number of voters to the polls.

DA mayoral candidate Athol Trollip said the party had relied on information gathered over a year-long campaign to enable it to apply its resources when it counted – resources the party has said were much smaller than those of the ANC.

“It depends on what the needs were,” said Trollip, of how the DA targeted resoures where needed.

“In some wards, where we didn’t have many people to pick up, we had one or two taxis. In other wards, we had four or five taxis. We never had anywhere near as many as the ANC.”

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party’s secret to success this year was very simple: it had been getting personal with the voters. “It was door to door, house to house,” Maimane said on Thursday. “When you sit in somebody’s lounge, South Africans hear you.”

The DA, he said, had fielded more than 100 000 volunteers, who worked alongside the party’s full-time apparatus. The volunteers spread the message, and the message had resonated – perhaps because, rather than in spite of, the non-racial message, even as incidents of racism dominated headlines.

Many who voted said they were “voting for change”, said Maimane, echoing the DA’s cry – but how many were votes against the ANC rather than votes for the DA?

“In the townships, the ANC is used to getting about 80%,” said Kimmie, “but even then it ended up with just over 50% on average in the metro. This time around, they have dropped to about 70% [in the townships], and the DA has made inroads in their areas and consolidated.”

Kimmie said turnout numbers were different in different areas, but it was significant that “in the areas the DA won there was a higher turnout, and in those that the ANC won there was a lower turnout”.

He added that the numbers showed that the DA has done two things better than last time: its voters have turned out in even greater numbers than before, and the party had also registered more people to vote.

“There will be no outright winner in Tshwane,” said the council, where “the two major parties have a very slight difference” in numbers.

The council said: “The ANC’s decline was mostly due to the party losing a chunk of votes in the townships.”

In Tshwane, as in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, the DA made inroads into areas where they had not previously had much of a foothold.

The numbers show that more people voted for the DA in the suburbs than before, echoing the national picture of the ANC losing voter confidence.

The ANC has been aware of this tendency since 2011, but has done little to improve its levels of support. Since 2000, the ANC has lost close to 20% of voter confidence across the board.

The DA made inroads even in Soweto, moving up from 3% in the last election to about 8% in this one. The EFF did not triple its support, as it swore to do, and is currently treading water. In comparison to other breakaway parties, however, the EFF did retain its support and, in some areas, increased it slightly.

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.
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