Bruising Metsimaholo by-election shows ANC is bleeding support

The ANC’s electoral misery looks set to continue after a bruising by-election in the Free State has showed that the ruling party is continuing to bleed support amongst urban voters.

The Metsimaholo results indicate that the party’s support among the township dwellers who make up the majority of the electorate in the municipality has collapsed since the last local polls, only 16 months ago.

Preliminary results showed the ANC had retained 15 of the 16 wards it won in the 2016 local government elections. It won two fewer proportional representation (PR) seats, taking its total seat allocation down to 17 from the 19 it won last year.

However, the ANC said its numbers could still climb, with one ward still outstanding due to a dispute over the voting process in one district in Metsimaholo’s Ward 1. It is understood the IEC will rerun the voting in Ward 1 next Wednesday. The results of that rerun could affect the allocation of seats, giving the ANC one more seat should it win the ward. But it is unlikely to hand the party a governing majority.

At the time of writing, the DA had won 13 seats, up by one from its 2016 allocation. The party also retained all its five wards, winning one more seat based on the PR calculation.

The EFF retained the eight PR seats it won last year, and the FF+ got one PR seat.

The most significant result of the day was the SACP’s showing. The preliminary results showed the ANC’s rebelling allies managed to secure three PR seats.

Voter turnout was especially low, at around 40%, indicating that the pattern of disillusioned residents staying away from the polls continues. In past elections, this has hurt the ANC in urban areas, reducing the party’s PR seat allocation even in wards that it has won.

The results mean the ANC is unlikely to form any part of the new municipal administration. Emboldened opposition parties have all vowed not to work with the ANC in the absence of a clear majority for any one party.

The likeliest scenario now for Metsimaholo is a DA-led coalition, supported by the EFF and the FF+. With 22 seats between them, the three parties can form a majority.

The Metsimaholo results will cause a shockwave at Luthuli House. They confirm the ruling party’s declining electoral fortunes just 18 months before the country goes to the polls.

It will also shock the ANC in Gauteng, given the province’s unique demographic profile as exclusively urban. The ANC in Gauteng is most vulnerable to the urban and particularly township stay away phenomenon that has hurt the ANC in the past.

Also cause for concern will be the SACP’s showing. Given that the party only decided last month to contest the by-election, the ANC will be alarmed by having lost some voters to its alliance partner.

SACP first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila said the result would “inform” whether the party continues to run its own election campaigns independently of the ANC.

“This was a curious environment in which we contested this election. We entered the fray late and weren’t as well prepared. We didn’t run the kind of working class campaign we should. So this election should not be seen as representing our general posture.”

He said the SACP would not rush into any coalition talks with the other parties, and would rather go back to its voters to hear from them how the party should use its votes in the council. This reticence would apply to the ANC as well as the other parties, despite the formal alliance between the two parties.

ANC Free State spokesperson Thabo Meeko said the party was still open to working with its alliance partner.

“We were disappointed the SACP decided to contest, but that doesn’t make us enemies. Depending on the final results, we will attempt to find possibilities for working together.”

Vukani Mde and Amy Musgrave are founding partners at LEFTHOOK, a Johannesburg-based research and strategy consultancy

Vukani Mde
Vukani Mde
Vukani Mde is a founder and partner at LEFTHOOK, a Johannesburg-based research and strategy consultancy.
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