2021: ANC, DA could lose metros

The metros

The country’s metros make up more than 40% of the country’s total registered voters, therefore support in the big cities is critical, particularly in Gauteng, which contains the three large metros. Neither of the two main parties has done well in these metros.

Analysis provided to the Mail & Guardian by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows a staggering drop in support for the Democratic Alliance in its main stronghold, Cape Town, as well as the metros it took control of in 2016 — Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.

The analysis also shows dramatic declines for the ANC in its former bastions: down nearly five percentage points in Mangaung and a hair-raising 10 percentage point drop in eThekwini, compared with 2014. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) posted the strongest gains in the various metros.

According to election data analysed by the M&G Data Desk, the DA’s biggest losses in Gauteng were in some of its former strongholds, where it had garnered 70 to 80% support in the 2014 elections. For instance, in one of the wards in Craigavon in Johannesburg, where the DA had 76% support in 2014, their supporters did not turn out. The party lost close to 3 000 votes, going from 12 000 to 9 000.

In Actonville in Ekurhuleni, where the DA had 86% support in the previous national elections, the party lost more than 2 700 votes, going from 5 800 to 3 000, and voter turnout dropped by 16%.


This trend continued in many DA areas, with its supporters not coming out to support the party. As both parties assess their performance, the analysis by the CSIR shows that turnout in the metros had also declined compared to 2014, with the biggest drop recorded in Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Mangaung, where it declined by nine percentage points.

Turnout declined by eight percentage points in eThekwini in 2019 compared to 2014 and by seven percentage points in the City of Tshwane.

The DA’s results in the metros in 2019 show that it will have to work hard to retain control of them in 2021, particularly those it now governs through fragile coalitions, such as Tshwane and Johannesburg.

Its biggest loss was in Cape Town — the metro in which it obtained a two-thirds majority in the 2016 local government election. The CSIR data shows that support for the DA fell by six percentage points in the city in the national ballot, compared with 2014. The decline is even more dramatic when compared with the 2016 local election — the DA’s support in that election stood at 67% just three years ago, but dropped to 56% in the provincial vote in 2019.

Whereas the DA and the ANC were the biggest losers in Cape Town, Patricia de Lille’s Good party and the EFF were the parties that grew the most in the metro.

In Johannesburg, run by mayor Herman Mashaba, whom the DA describes as its “most popular” mayor, support for the party dropped in both the provincial and national vote, in which it fell by four percentage points.

The DA’s support stood at 32% in 2014, 39% in the 2016 local election and 30% in 2019. A similar picture emerges in the CSIR analysis of the results in Tshwane. The DA took a beating in the metro from which its Gauteng premier candidate, Solly Msimanga, hails.

The FF+ and the EFF were the biggest winners in the capital, each growing by four percentage points.

The ANC’s performance in its largest region, eThekwini, is likely to be a huge worry for the party ahead of the 2021 local government election, particularly with its incumbent mayor Zandile Gumede facing corruption and money-laundering charges. In the provincial vote, the ANC declined by 11 percentage points in 2019, compared with 2014 and 10 percentage points in the national vote.

In Mangaung, in the Free State, the ANC’s support provincially dropped by nine percentage points. Turnout in 2014 stood at 72% and declined to 63% in 2019. Support for the ANC in 2014 was 65%. This declined to 58% in the provincial vote in 2019.

A meeting of the DA’s federal council, its highest decision-making body between congresses, has been moved forward from June. In this meeting, it is expected to grapple with its electoral decline. Its management team — including head of elections Jonathan Moakes and chief executive Paul Boughey — may come under fire along with leader Mmusi Maimane.

Maimane this week wrote to the federal executive committee (Fedex), taking responsibility for the party’s decline in support. Knives are said to be out for the young leader, despite him getting “a round of applause” as he entered the Fedex meeting on Monday.

The ANC is facing its own struggle to reconcile internal politics with whom it chooses to run the provinces that it won on May 8. Decisions there will go a long way to deciding how much support it can wrest back in 2021.

Rural areas

The ANC, it was thought, would go the way of many liberation movements and see its support base shift to rural areas. But these elections — and forecasts for the 2021 municipal election — show that it is losing support everywhere.

In 2009, the ANC had six million voters in urban areas. In these elections, it lost a million of those voters. In rural areas, in 2009, it got three million votes. On May 8, it lost 300 000 votes. This exodus, propelled by low voter turnout, voter apathy or moving to other parties is noticeable in urban, rural and farm areas (the latter two are CSIR categories in its 2011 census).

The trend of decline in the ANC’s rural base was identified in 2014 by the party in its post-mortem of those elections, which raised concerns about the erosion of support in rural areas that it had historically counted on to prop up its support nationally.

Generally, the rate at which the ANC votes have declined is similar in both metros and non-metros as well as in rural and urban areas. The local government election in 2016 left a considerable dent in the support of the ruling party. It was dealing with serious corruption allegations against its president and senior party members as well as revelations about state capture that affected crucial state entities, such as the treasury, and state-owned companies such as Eskom.

At the time there was talk of how the party would be relegated to the villages after it lost support in the metros. The party only held on to three of the eight metros at the time. Analysts believed then that the ANC would only hold on to the small towns and rural areas, where many residents depend on government services and grants.

Somadoda Fikeni, who was one of those analysts, believes now that the incremental loss of support all over the country and the growing strength of the opposition parties will be the undoing of the ruling party.

But he said the ANC is unlike any other liberation party: “The ANC has to focus on both areas because the demography of South Africa, unlike Zimbabwe and other places, has a highly urbanised population. So the moment you lose in the urban areas you would be losing power altogether. This is unlike other countries where you can lose power in the cities but still control the rural areas.

“The ANC’s decline has been more incremental over time rather than dramatic so it may take longer [for the party to lose its core supporters]. It also depends on how strong the opposition is. The decline of the ruling party is also a function of the strength of the opposition.”

This strength can be seen in the EFF’s showing in elections since 2014. Last week the EFF broke its record by receiving 1.88-million votes, of which 1.1-million were from urban areas. This is a huge gain from previous elections.

In the areas classified as rural, the party shows steady growth across all three contested elections. In 2014, the party gained 215 000 of its votes in rural areas and this year the support increased to 391 000.

The DA failed in both urban and rural areas in this election. Of the 3.6-million votes it received, 2.9-million came from urban areas. Only 152 000 rural voters gave their X to the DA and 500 000 voted for the party in farm areas. Just over 9 000 votes came from mixed areas.

The CSIR does say things could change before 2021: “It should be kept in mind that the quantitative patterns cannot be counted on to capture all the sentiment behind the votes, it may just provide some warning signs for parties as to what could happen if nothing changes. Many things could change between 2019 and 2021 — there could be changes in the general economic and political climate, but a difference in voter turnout rates could also affect changes in the patterns.”

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Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.
M&G Data Desk
The Data Desk is the centre for data journalism at Mail & Guardian

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