OPINION: In Johannesburg, the ANC has an advantage on its own, but its disadvantage is that it does not have readily available coalition options.
by Prof Dirk Kotzé
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have become the central points of South African politics, and the current election campaign underscores it again. The two provinces have the largest populations and the most voters in the country. They are also the provinces in which several political parties receive the majority of their total number of votes.
Gauteng is the province which contributed so far the most votes to the total of the ANC, DA, EFF and Freedom Front Plus (FF+) in both national and provincial elections. The three metropolitan councils, namely Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane, also constitute about 85% of Gauteng’s total population. It is therefore justified to attach so much value to the three Gauteng metros from a national perspective.
In order to establish a basis from which projections can be made about possible trends in the 2021 election, a number of assumptions should be made. The first is that the 2021 election results will be influenced by the results of the 2019 national and provincial election results.
The second is that the 2016 local election results provide the point of departure for this year’s results, because they were not exceptional or extraordinary but also the outcome of a trend.
The third assumption is that the by-election results could also provide a general indication, though they were limited in number and their voter turn-out percentages were very low.
The 2019 trends in Gauteng showed that the DA, EFF and FF+ did better in the province than their national results. The ANC did much worse in Gauteng compared to its national average.
The ANC and DA did, however, worse than in the 2014 election, while the EFF and FF+ improved on previous elections.
The ANC reached the point of gaining a majority of only one seat in the provincial legislature, compared to its national average of 57.5%. In 2016, its national average was 53.9%, which suggests a national improvement, but not in Gauteng. The opposite is the trend for the DA. Comparing its results of 2016 with 2019, nationally its support declined, but it did almost 7% better in Gauteng than nationally. The same applies to the EFF with a difference of about 4% more in Gauteng. A similar difference of about 1.2% for the FF+ applies. It means that as a general trend, the ANC’s support in Gauteng is expected to decline in 2021, for the EFF and FF+ to increase, and for the DA also to increase, though other factors might limit that.
The second assumption relates to the 2016 results in the metros. It was a watershed event in the sense that in all three Gauteng metros the ANC lost its absolute majority and could not form a government on its own. Ekurhuleni was the least affected with the ANC’s 48.6%. It could form a coalition with small parties such as the African Independent Congress, an ANC splinter group from Matatiele.
The two main focus points were Johannesburg and Tshwane. In Johannesburg, the ANC received 44.6% (and 15 seats short of a majority), the DA 38.4% and the EFF 11.1%. In Tshwane, the DA received 43.4% (and 15 seats short of a majority), the ANC 41.6% and the EFF 11.7%. In both instances the DA formed a minority coalition with small parties and developed a co-operation understanding with the EFF. In both instances, the ANC’s predicament was that its options of coalition partners were more limited than the DA’s.
Closer towards 2021, the ANC managed to change the situation by “poaching” the DA’s coalition partners while the DA also lost some of the by-elections.
The by-elections since late 2020 can only provide very general impressions. They have shown remarkable stability on the ANC’s side with a nett gain across the country. The DA lost a marginal number of seats while the EFF did not gain or lose any seats. Changes in the support per party based on such a low voter turn-out cannot be regarded as reliable information for new trends. What the results suggest is not radical changes but rather a continuation of the trends for the major parties. 2021 has introduced a plethora of new, small and local parties or groups. Their prospects are unpredictable, but the trends of the past are not in favour of them. It means that the major parties will remain the main players in the metros.
The details of the metro results will depend on a number of variables. The first is the voter turn-out. In 2016, the national percentage was 58%, which was the highest ever for local elections but still about 20% less than the national and provincial elections. The lower this percentage is, the more small differences in votes can make a difference.
Related to it, will be the voter turn-out within parties, i.e., how successful will parties be to mobilise their own voters in relation to other parties. In the past, the DA often managed to mobilise more of their supporters than the ANC and therefore gained a comparative advantage. The EFF’s main challenge will be to mobilise their young supporters. Early indicators are that young eligible voters registered only in very small numbers, and therefore the EFF starts with a disadvantage. It will therefore have to mobilise older voters.
A second variable is the performance of ActionSA and other smaller parties, like the Patriotic Alliance, and the “independents”. A proliferation of local political groups – it is hardly possible to call them parties – under the pretext of being “independents”, has happened. Will the public trust deficit in the case of established parties benefit them as an alternative, or manifest in a low voter turn-out?
The latter is more likely, despite the public call for more independents in elections. ActionSA has defined itself as a niche party by participating in only six local elections in Gauteng and KZN. It is unclear who their target audience is: black DA supporters or disillusioned middle-class ANC supporters? Only the election results can tell us.
A third variable is how parties can appeal to voters in the age group 30–49 years. They constitute 50.3% of the 6.2 million registered voters in Gauteng. When the age group 50–59 years is added, they constitute 70% of the electorate. The party which can mobilise them the best, will be in the dominant position.
What is then the most likely outcome? Ekurhuleni is the most predictable, mostly possibly with an ANC-coalition administration. In Johannesburg, the ANC has an advantage on its own, but its disadvantage is that it does not have readily available coalition options.
In Tshwane, the DA is in a stronger position, even if they lose votes to the FF+, because they will remain within the same coalition. The ANC’s organisational problems undermine its prospects, and it did not perform over the past five years as an opposition. The eight months of provincial government administration also discredited the ANC.
The end result: no radical changes are in the pipeline. The details of the results will, however, give us a better clue of 2024.
*Kotzé is a professor in Political Sciences at Unisa.
**The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.