The immediate response of the African National Congress to the defeats it suffered in local government elections this week was to say that it intended to stand by its leader, embattled President Jacob Zuma. The party’s spokesman in the Western Cape Jabu Mfusi stated emphatically that the ANC would continue to coalesce around Zuma, and denied that Nkandla and Guptagate scandals had caused the loss of votes.
That the ANC’s dominant faction prefers to lose votes rather than recall President Jacob Zuma might not be a wise strategy. It is almost certainly likely to help the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) continue to hold and gain votes.
Some chickens have come home to roost for the ANC. Not least the disdain it has shown for voters. A leading ANC figure Nomvula Mokonyane caused a storm in 2013 when she commented: “People can threaten us and say they won’t vote but the ANC doesn’t need their dirty votes.” She made the comment while serving as Premier of Gauteng.
Several analysts have in the past pointed out that once the ANC slipped below 60% of the national vote it would start to look vulnerable to losing a future election. This has now happened. Unless the ANC takes stock and confronts the truth about its president and corruption, and takes some hard decisions, it faces a bleak and declining future.
In stark contrast the main opposition party has broken out from its previous domain in the Western Cape. This is true even though it attracted less than 30% of the national vote, a target it had set itself in the 2014 national elections, and in these local elections.
But the election result puts the DA in a strong position to win the country’s economic powerhouse, Gauteng, in the general election due in 2019.
The outcome of the poll for the Economic Freedom Front is more mixed. By its own criterion – tripling its electoral support from 7% to 21% - it failed dismally. But by anyone else’s track record, it was powerfully successful in holding onto its 7% and even improving it slightly. Every previous breakaway or expulsion from the ANC – think United Democratic Movement and Congress of the People – shrank and shrank with every succeeding election.
The DA strikes out east and north
The DA did well in four large cities - Nelson Mandela Metropole, Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni. It will be ruling all four very soon if it shows the same skills in coalition negotiations it demonstrated in Cape Town a decade ago.
This would constitute a resounding DA breakout from the Western Cape into Gauteng and the Eastern Cape provinces. The DA would scoop the propaganda victory of ruling both South Africa’s legislative and executive capitals, plus the country’s largest city. This could be a milestone towards winning Gauteng Province, at least in coalition, in 2019.
One immediate challenge for the DA is on what basis of policies and patronage will it manage its municipal coalitions?
A partnership with the EFF would require big issues such as land redistribution to be fudged. But the DA does have something it could possibly offer the EFF in any coalition discussions. In Cape Town it has argued that it has been more successful than the ANC with Black Economic Empowerment by the simple strategy of breaking down every possible mega-contract into a number of smaller contracts. Tenders went on to be won by black empowerment companies.
If the EFF is not to lose credibility and votes because of any municipal coalition with the DA priority will have to go to rolling out toilets, taps, electricity, rubbish removal, and houses (or at least serviced sites) for all current and incoming residents of shanty towns.
Politics of patronage changes hands
Patronage and clientelism is slipping away from the ANC, and accruing to those who pledge their political futures to the DA. As the DA support in working class wards creeps up into double digits, so will its consequences. Already in the DA’s Oudtshoorn caucus, one municipal faction used perjured affidavits against another in the rivalry to choose a mayoral candidate. This is an omen of worse challenges that DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s leadership will face during the coming decade.
These are examples of the kinds of political crises and problems the DA will have to learn to manage as its success grows over the next decade. Already in Cape Town NGOs such as the Phillipi Horticultural Association to the Far South Ratepayers Association have raised howls of complaint about incumbency arrogance.