South Africa 2011
Local government elections were held in South Africa on May 18. South African local government is largely modeled on British local governments, except that South African local government is much easier to understand. Provinces are subdivided into 52 districts, which are similar to counties in England. 46 districts are subdivided into local municipalities, which share responsibilities with the districts – in England, these would be similar to the districts. The six largest municipalities in South Africa form metropolitan municipalities, which hold the responsibilities of both districts and municipalities. These are similar to English unitary authorities. In both types of municipalities, a majority of members are elected in single-member wards with the rest elected through list proportional representation.
South African local elections, held every five years, are the only elections held between national elections and roughly serve as kind of mid-term elections. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA)’s win in Cape Town in 2006 provided the ANC’s main opponent with a major springboard which led to the DA winning control of the Western Cape province in 2009 after having lost it in 2004.
This year, the DA could point to its rather successful record in local government and contrast it with the ANC’s record, which is generally judged to be fairly dismal. The ANC’s critics put the dominant party on the defensive over allegations of corruption, nepotism and incompetence in local government. Though service delivery is slowly improving, most South Africans remain unhappy with the standards of their community. Unsurprisingly given the ANC’s dismal record, the campaign turned out fairly bloody as the ANC used the race card again. The ANC’s Youth League leader, the fiery populist Julius Malema played the race card hard as he usually does. But even President Jacob Zuma and other ANC warned voters of turning against the liberation party and depicted the DA as a white-supremacist party longing the days of apartheid.
The results below show the PR element only. The ward results are broadly similar, and the results for district council are spotty and misleading which makes the IEC’s sum of the votes quite misleading. Only parties winning over 1% of the vote are shown.
The ANC still dominates the vast majority of local government areas, but the DA improved their share of local government to roughly 20 or so. This election is a major success for the DA, which has won its best result in any national election and one of the best results of the ANC’s opponents since 1994. The ANC itself has fallen behind its 2006 local election showing and 2009 result (66%) and falls back to 62-63%, which is roughly the party’s floor since 1994. The ANC, however, remains the dominant party in South African politics. The remarkable story of this election is the decimation of the smaller parties. The plummeting vote share of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is not all that surprising: it took a major hit in its KwaZulu-Natal stronghold in 2009 (when it polled 4.6%) in part because of Zuma’s Zulu ancestry (and because the IFP lacks any vision, policies or ideological base). It was hindered this year by a breakaway party, the brand new National Freedom Party (NFP), led by IFP dissidents. The NFP managed 10.4% in KZN (the IFP took 15.8%) and won two local municipalities in the Zululand District. Another major small victim of these elections is COPE, the anti-Zuma breakaway which won a respectable 7% in 2009. The party has apparently suffered a lot from a split between Mosiua Lekota, COPE’s leader, and Mbhazima Shilowa, the party’s number two figure. The COPE-Shilowa faction did not contest these elections. With the vote share for other parties down by nearly 6% from 2006, it could seem as if South Africa is moving towards some sort of two-party system with one dominant party. Already the Independent Democrats (ID), Patricia de Lille’s more-or-less successful anti-corruption party have merged with the DA. Other parties could see their votes flow towards the ANC or DA.
In Cape Town, the governing DA won a three-fifths majority taking 62% of the vote to the ANC’s 32.9%. Patricia de Lille, the former leader of the ID, will become mayor of Cape Town. In the Western Cape Province, the DA took 57.7% to the ANC’s 33.7%. The DA had won 51% in the 2000 local elections – when the DA was an untidy ragtag white alliance of the old anti-apartheid Democratic Party and the remnants of the apartheid-era National Party grouped in the NNP. Such things ended badly, and the ANC did well in the province in the 2004 and 2006 elections but the DA has since become the dominant party after winning control of the province in 2009.
The DA’s next best hope was Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, the government’s name for Port Elizabeth. Although majority black, the DA hoped to keep the ANC under 50% and form a governing coalition with smaller parties like it did in Cape Town in 2006. Unfortunately for the DA, while it did the best it could – 40.3% – the ANC managed 52.1% at the expense of smaller parties: COPE won only 5% and the UDM a paltry 0.6%. The DA’s 40% is pretty impressive considering it won only 24.4% there in 2006. In Johannesburg, the ANC won 58.8% against 34.8% to the DA. In Tshwane/Pretoria, the ANC won 56% to the DA’s 39%. Finally, in eThekwini/Durban the ANC won 61.2% to the DA’s 21%. The IFP’s vote plumetted to 4%, behind the Indian-led Minority Front (MF) which won 5% in the city, which has the largest Indian community in Africa.
The IEC has a nice map of all the results by ward, while News24 has another cool interactive map. The results by ward really show how racially polarized politics remain in South Africa (the Census 2001 Atlas has maps showing the racial divide). The DA won only two municipalities outside WC: Midvaal/Meyerton in Gauteng (a more or less affluent suburb of Jo’burg, with a 35% white population) and Baviaans in Eastern Cape.
That last sentence in that paragraph brings me to my next point. The DA, in its present form, may well be starting to hit its ceiling. Winning landslides in Western Cape and in Cape Town is nice and dandy, but Western Cape isn’t South Africa. On its present coalition of whites and Coloureds, the DA has a low ceiling and poses no real threat to the ANC’s dominance. If it wants to rival the ANC’s dominance with the black population of South Africa, it will need to win more than 6% of the black vote (as it claims to have won this year) and bring the ANC not only below 60% but below 50% as to make a broad opposition coalition possible. It will take a lot and it will take a long time to defeat the ANC, and I don’t think that the DA in its current shape with its image as the party of the Cape Town Country Club is able to do that even though the DA’s image is slowly evolving. The DA or any other non-ANC party must appeal to the majority of voters in order to win. Nobody, as of now, is able to do that besides the ANC, and as long as no other party can do so, the ANC will continue governing bar unforeseen circumstances. Racially polarized politics are extremely hard to break.