Protests’ effects on polls ‘unclear’

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Residents of Siqalo informal settlement near Samora Machel burn tyres and block Vanguard Drive. File picture: Cindy Waxa

Cape Town -

The real impact of service delivery protests on the May 7 elections is unclear, according to the election updates of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (Eisa).

Researchers, in eight provincial analyses, argue generally that given the ANC electoral dominance in the polls – the DA-governed Western Cape is the exception – the impact of community protests is uncertain. KwaZulu-Natal is not covered in the upcoming Eisa election updates.

ANC infighting in the North West, also hard hit by protests as recently as last week in Bloemhof, has given the DA room to grow. But its performance in Gauteng was less than glorious over the past three elections.

Between 1999 and 2004, the DA in Gauteng increased its share of the vote by 2.8 percent, increasing its seats in the provincial legislature to 15 in 2004, up from the 13 its forerunner the Democratic Party held in 1999, say independent researcher Waseem Holland and Ebrahim Fakir, of Eisa.

In 2009 the DA gained just one extra seat, now totalling 16.

“Between 2004 and 2009, its (DA) vote share increased by only 1.082 percent. This smaller increase may have been caused by the emergence of Cope, or it may be that the DA had reached its full growth potential,” the two argue.

“While the Economic Freedom Fighters’s (EFF) emergence may serve to fragment the vote for the opposition to the ANC in general, the weakness of Cope due to factional battles (and the ill-fated, short-lived DA-AgangSA merger) means the DA may be able to secure a slightly wider section of the middle-class vote…”

In Gauteng, protests have become an “entry-point” for political parties to engage communities.

This includes the EFF in Bekkersdal, where voter registration was interrupted in February, and in Sebokeng, where the DA has helped families of slain protesters.

“It is yet to be seen whether the upsurge of protests will have a major impact at the polls or whether political parties’ opportunistic engagement with them will have a marked impact,” said Holland and Fakir.

However, in the Western Cape community protests have become a distinct, and often hostile, factor as the province recorded among the highest number, from farms to townships.

“The DA blames the ANC for fuelling protest action, while the ANC blames the DA for not adequately dealing with the socio-economic issues faced by township residents,” writes University of Western Cape political studies department head Dr Cherrel Africa in the Eisa election updates.

However, positive ANC campaigning in 2004, focused on the celebrations of 10 years of democracy, yielded dividends: it scored 45.25 percent at the polls. This was reversed by 2009 when the ANC received just over 31 percent as the DA clinched the province with 51.46 percent.

President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation address said that service delivery protests were not necessarily over failures of the government, but due to successes which had raised expectations.

In the North-West, writes Dr Ina Gouws of the North-West University, long-standing ANC infighting, which briefly handed Tlokwe to the opposition, allowed the DA to grow its support to 8.25 percent in 2009.

While the DA in this year’s election campaign aggressively focused on townships and rural areas, its message was undermined on two fronts: internal disagreements over land reform, following white farmers’ rejection of the DA stance, and the EFF.

The impact of community protests remains “unclear” for this election, writes Gouws, even as the North-West has been hard hit by protests. In August 2012 police killed 34 striking Marikana miners, in January four people were killed by the police during protests over water services in Mothutlung, and last week protests effectively shut down Bloemhof.

In the Eastern Cape, according to NGO Afesis-corplan, a recent by-election in Buffalo City (East London) found the DA not only retaining the seat but boosting its support to 82 percent.

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