Cape Town - The ANC in the Western Cape has talked up a good story in the run-up to Wednesday’s elections – and even a modest increase will be a positive spin after its 2009 poll wipe-out.
Talk in some provincial ANC circles is that the governing DA will not get 50 percent, although at national level scepticism of an ANC success in the province is widespread, with punters predicting a 6 percent boost at best.
As election day looms, the DA must ask itself whether it has taken its leading position in the province for granted. “Let’s Keep the Western Cape DA” posters sprang up on Cape Town streets after party leader Helen Zille travelled the country for weeks in the DA’s chase for the “bluenami”.
Still, the DA is touting a 60 to 65 percent election victory on the back of its track record in the government it clinched by a cat’s whisker – 51.46 percent in 2009.
However tight that victory was, it represented an almost doubling of support from the 27 percent the DA achieved in 2004. In contrast, the ANC in 2009 slumped to its worst performance after five years in charge of the Western Cape administration under its “Home for All” motto aimed at bringing together coloured and black African residents.
In 2009, the Western Cape ANC scored 31.55 percent, down from 45.25 percent in 2004, and even worse than the 33 percent it won in 1994 when the apartheid-spawned National Party clinched the province.
The 2009 drop could not be explained away fully by debutante Cope’s 7.7 percent vote.
In many circles there was unease over the ANC’s 2004 co-operation with the New National Party (NNP), whose 11 percent voting support brought the required majority to form a Western Cape government. It led to the NNP merging with the ANC.
While the deal handed the ANC power in the Western Cape for the first time since 1994, the NNP brought its leaders but not its grassroots support into the fold. Much of that support went looking for a new political home and found it in the DA.
In the 2006 municipal poll, the ANC lost Cape Town, where around two-thirds of the province’s population live, and the city made much political noise under Zille, who headed a seven-party opposition coalition.
Zille took over the reins of the DA when Tony Leon retired in 2007, but stayed on as mayor to drive a vocal and tough “opposition governs best” line.
It’s no surprise the ANC Western Cape campaign trail was marked by public self-flagellation. “We’ve made mistakes in the past, but we’ve worked hard to make up,” provincial ANC leaders repeated on election platforms.
Part of the ANC’s making-up has been a programme of reconnecting with communities. Another was bringing in the top ANC national officials – President Jacob Zuma campaigned on at least three occasions in Cape Town.
Despite the ANC’s positive message to coloured voters that they are part of South Africa’s majority, national affirmative action and employment equity policies remain pressure points.
While the white male dominance in provincial management posts remains largely unchallenged, in February a group of coloured warders won their labour court case against Correctional Services’ applying national demographic statistics in making permanent appointments.
According to Census2011, a total of 48 percent of Western Cape residents are coloured, 32 percent black African and 16 percent white.
Also challenging the ANC is its relationship with the poo-protesters. Condemned as unsavoury and worse, the two faeces protest leaders were suspended, but re-instated, and then ANC provincial leaders joined various demonstrations for adequate, dignified sanitation. The change in tack seems to have paid off.
The ANC won endorsements of minstrels’ organisations, representing hundreds of thousands of potential voters, and leaders of the popular evangelical Cape Flats churches. Securing the defection of DA Cape Town chairman Grant Pascoe could turn out to be a shrewd political calculation, albeit a long-term one.
Whatever the outcome, and most pundits dismiss even the possibility of a close race in the Western Cape, this year’s election campaign trail has shown that the ANC will not just let the Western Cape be.