ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, President Jacob Zuma and Dr Malinga celebrate the partys victory at Library Gardens in Joburg. File picture: Itumeleng English

Election results show ANC’s strategists have work to do, writes Jonathan Faull.

Johannesburg - Much ink was spilt here and elsewhere about how voters would revisit their overwhelming endorsement of ANC rule at this year’s ballot box.

The booing of Zuma, his slide into mediocrity and his penchant for scandal, the Marikana massacre and the brutal killing of Andries Tatane, a rising tide of service delivery protests, the scandals of Nkandla and Guptagate, and stubbornly persistent intergenerational poverty and deepening inequality were all cited as evidence for an impending ANC denouement.

Needless to say, we are not what we tweet and for the moment, the ANC’s fate remains shrouded in the unknowable future. The party ultimately won three in five votes (62.2 percent); an overwhelming majority in any polity, and one the ANC will interpret as a clear mandate to govern.

But the party should not be complacent.

The outcome disguises challenges within the ANC and its support base. It has lost ground, but this is largely accounted for by a significantly lower turnout in a number of heartland provinces where the party is relatively uncontested, as well as a dramatic fall-off of support in Gauteng.

In Limpopo, turnout was down 6.3 percent to 63.3 percent compared to 2009; the Eastern Cape was down 6.4 percent to 70.3 percent; Free State was down 4.5 percent to 72.5 percent; and Mpumalanga was down 4.7 percent to 75.7 percent. In all these provinces, turnout fell to a greater extent than the national downturn of 3.8 percent and the ANC lost support in each contest, haemorrhaging a cumulative 235 559 votes across these four provinces.

Critically, in the context of the final electoral outcome, in all these provinces, with the exception of Mpumalanga, provincial turnout was lower than the national average of 73.5 percent.

Had the turnout trend held in Gauteng and KZN where the ANC won 44.2 percent of its national ballots, we would have seen more significant movement in the outcomes to the detriment of the ANC.

As it is, despite an above-national-average turnout of 76.5 percent in Gauteng (an almost 4 percent reduction on 2009), the party still lost 292 265 votes to the triple threat of apathy, the DA and the EFF.

However – and critical for the ANC’s final takings – KZN with nearly 77 percent turnout (a 3.9 percent reduction on 2009, but above the national average for this year) and an ascendant ANC constituency at the polls, offset comparatively poor turnout that would have hurt the ANC in the final analysis. In KZN, the ANC won 274 579 more votes this year than in 2009.

The only other provinces where the ANC managed to increase its vote – more modestly – were the Western Cape (70 996) and the Northern Cape (25 276).

The ANC can be pleased: Superficially, the odds appeared to be stacked against the party to perform as well as they have. It has an unpopular leader, but belief on the part of a majority of the voting population that the party can rejuvenate itself and continue to lead the country means it remains the custodian of the aspirations of the vast majority of South Africans.

If one scratches at the sheen of the victory though, there are grounds for serious concern for the strategists at Luthuli House.

Nationally, the ANC lost 213 827 votes in these elections compared to 2009. While this has translated into a modest loss of 3.75 percent of the share of the total vote and represents just 1.8 percent of their 2009 total vote, if one allows for the increase in the population of registered voters this year, the party has effectively lost 11.36 percent of its support relative to 2009.

While the ANC was able to win Gauteng with 53.59 percent, despite losing over a quarter of a million votes since 2009, there is evidence to suggest some voters in the province did use their vote strategically to weaken the ruling party’s provincial hand.

If one compares the ANC’s vote in Gauteng on the national and provincial sides of the ballot, the ANC won 173 448 fewer votes in the Gauteng provincial race than it did Gauteng national endorsements. One would expect parties to win more national votes in urban centres as voters outside their home province cannot vote in provincial elections if they are out of their provinces (overall 167 795 fewer votes accrued to all parties in the Gauteng provincial race).

But, alarmingly for the ANC, this trend does not hold for its primary competitor, with the DA winning 39 139 more provincial votes in Gauteng than it did national votes. This outcome represents solid evidence that some ANC supporters split their votes across the two ballots; a lead indicator of voting intention the DA will be particularly pleased with.

Moreover, the ANC can expect competitive races in Joburg, Tshwane and the Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) metro municipalities in 2016.

In all three metros, it lost votes across the two elections, winning 52 percent of the provincial vote in Joburg (down from 62 percent in 2009), 49 percent in Tshwane (from 59.95 percent in 2009), and 48.81 percent in NMB (down from 49.64 percent in 2009). In real terms, these losses represent an 11.25 percent reduction in the ANC’s vote in Joburg, 5.25 percent loss in Tshwane and a 5 percent loss in NMB.

However, when one takes into account the increase in the population of registered voters, the ANC losses are stark: 20.31 percent down in Joburg, 24.71 percent in Tshwane and 9.4 percent in NMB. Over the same period, the DA’s real gains are profound – 48.19 percent in Joburg, 35.72 percent in Tshwane and 35.73 percent in NMB, and compounding the ANC’s worries is the rise of the EFF, especially in the Gauteng metros.

The DA will be confident of their chances in pushing the ANC hard in these three metros – if not to win them outright, they could force coalition governments that either include or exclude a weakened ANC. The dynamics of local government elections favour the DA’s ground game that effectively mobilises urban supporters, and the DA benefits from disproportionately higher turnout among relatively wealthy voters.

Should the DA win Joburg or Tshwane, it will make for fascinating political posturing in the run-up to 2019: Gauteng has three metro municipalities, and if the ANC retains Tshwane and/or Ekurhuleni, showcasing governance will be an interesting exercise. Given the political geography of the province and the high levels of population mobility, citizens will be presented with an opportunity to compare notes on different party administrations.

* Jonathan Faull is the elections analyst for the Institute for Security Studies.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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