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Durban - The African National Congress (ANC) is expected to maintain control of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Legislature after the May 8 general election, but there is speculation of growing discontent with the governing party among the province’s burgeoning black middle class. 

In next month’s election, KwaZulu-Natal will play a massive role on the final vote tailing, accounting for 20.65% (5 525 088) of the registered 26 752 822 voters - second only to Johannesburg’s 23.86% (6 382 879). The third and fourth placed provinces, in terms of registered voters, are Eastern Cape (12.57%) and Western Cape (11.70%).

Besides black middle-class voters who are, according to a political analyst, "frustrated" with the ANC, the resurgence of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the province’s vast rural population has also set tongues wagging.

KwaZulu-Natal-based political analyst Xolani Dube, of think-tank Xubera Institute for Research and Development, told African News Agency (ANA) he believed the ANC would secure no more than 55% of the vote in the province.

The biggest threat to the party in KZN was a deepening disconnect between the ANC and the growing batch of black middle-class voters, among other constituencies, said Dube.   

He said recent attempts by the party to reach out to black professionals and business owners in the province had not been successful, which was a barometer of trust levels.

“In the urban areas, the black middle class is more sympathetic to their [own] needs and not about the party’s history. There is growing discontent with how the urban municipalities are run, for example. This election is not about the ANC’s history but rather an audit for the last 25 years. The middle class is scared for the future as they have the most to lose,” said Dube.

He said this particular voting block would likely abstain on election day. Dube said the party was also squeezed between leadership committed to “modernity and fiefdom”, and that urban ANC voters were unhappy that those with “rural values” generally ruled the party.

Despite Dube's speculation, ANC KZN secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said just last month that he was expecting the party to garner its best results since taking control of the province. 

And according to ANC KZN chairman, Sihle Zikalala, who was speaking at the same event as Ntuli: “Post-May 8, the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature will have four parties. The ANC will lead and the opposition will share less than 35%." 

The ANC is seeking greater support in rural areas as urban voters move away from the liberation movement. But in those rural areas, they face stiff competition from the likes of the United Democratic Movement in the Eastern Cape and IFP in KZN.

Black Africans make up 86% of the population in the province and are the biggest voting bloc. 

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) says the largest voting age groups in KZN are those aged 20 to 29 and 30 to 39, totalling 2,789,486 people. Notably, 56.4% of all registered KZN voters are women.

In the 2014 general elections, with 3,887,840 votes cast in KZN and a turnout of 75.98%, the ANC won 64.52% of the vote, followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) (12.76%) and the IFP (10.86%).

But in the 2016 local government elections, the ANC secured 57.79% of the vote on a voter turnout of 3 333 298.

In 2016, there was also a clear sign of a resurgent IFP, which secured 20.22% of all provincial votes and won control either outright or through coalition of several northern KZN municipalities.

The DA in comparison only nominally increased its percentage share to 13.70% although they too came close to winning their first local municipality in the province, securing 41.02% of the vote in the uMgeni Local Municipality, as opposed to the ANC’s 55.81%.

Dube said it was likely that post-May 8, the IFP would secure the opposition benches.

“The IFP’s leader Velenkosini Hlabisa has a trustworthy look. It is a pity the party took so long to bring him out. This could cost them ground. The DA leader Zwakele Mncwango, on the other hand, seems disconnected from his constituency,” said Dube. 

“The DA will maintain or marginally increase its voter support base as its supporters are not too concerned about the leadership but rather the party’s policies and ideas. The EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] is capable of making an impact but its provincial leader Vusi Khoza does not represent its support base, who see themselves as Black Consciousness intellectuals.”

Dube said new participants like Black First Land First, the African Content Movement and African Transformation Movement could obtain seats in the legislature.

He noted that ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa had been largely absent from campaigning in KwaZulu-Natal, as it was a sure win for the party, and was instead focusing his energy on the battleground of Gauteng.

And, said Dube, while the Indian, white and coloured populations in KZN were small, they had the power to influence the workforce by telling them that certain ANC policy proposals could severely affect their employment and persuade them to vote for “anyone but the ANC”.

He said that talk of changing  BEE policy in favour of black Africans to the inflammatory “Radical Economic Transformation” was rhetoric that was usually anti-Indian and was one example that would drive minorities to vote for opposition parties.  

While the governing party has a strong support base in the rural areas, increased anger with service delivery failures could also be reflected on election day. 

On Friday, the province's MEC for safety and security revealed during a meeting of law enforcement agencies in Pietermaritzburg that between January and March this year, the province experienced 217 "violent public protests". 

"In view of the fact that we are approaching the elections, these violent protests might intensify," said Mxolisi Kaunda. 

African News Agency (ANA)