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More Opinion and Analysis

Will the Northern Cape surprise in 2014?

2014-04-24 09:06
Every election I have forecast that something – SOMETHING – interesting would happen in the Northern Cape, and I have usually been proven wrong – the ANC has held it every election since 1994, with that first election its only real test. But if another province, along with the Western Cape, is going to flip from African National Congress control, you shouldn’t be surprised by focus on the Northern Cape.  

But why is that? A lot of us political types look at the Northern Cape every year and expect to see action, only to be disappointed. Perhaps it is because the ANC only won it by a ballhair in 1994, with 49.74% to the National Party’s 40.48%. Perhaps it is because Cope snared 16.7% of the vote in 2009 as a brand new party, and still managed nearly 12% in local government elections even while the party was being torn apart by its then two leaders.

Perhaps we look at the Northern Cape because it is the fiefdom of one John Block. Or perhaps it’s because a January Ipsos poll showed the ANC winning as low as 42.7% of the province’s vote (although it is worth noting that smaller numbers - the Northern Cape has the lowest population in South Africa - and more rural electorates come with an increase margin of error, and polls about South African voters are notoriously unreliable). And because of the national issues like education, Nkandla, the Guptas playing jiggery-pokery with South African sovereignty, a lack of jobs and inadequate service delivery. So there are numerous reasons to dig a little deeper into why we expect something to happen there every time.

ANC still a big player

The big player in this province will remain the ANC. The question is not so much whether the Democratic Alliance (perhaps with the tatters of Cope) can win the province, but whether it can actually push the ANC below 50% and govern in coalition, as it did with the Cape Town city council in 2006. The DA is straddling a certain ravine of “liberalness” which could still welcome folks from the right wing, so you can expect the miniscule religious parties – Vryheidsfront Plus, United Christian Democratic Party, African Christian Democratic Party etc – to join in the coalition. But the heavy lifting will have to be done by Helen Zille and Mosiuoa Lekota.

Although this is a national election, let’s break the province down a little into its municipalities and take a closer look at the numbers.

What is fairly obvious is that the Northern Cape is leaning away from the ANC. Take a look at this comparison from 2004 to 2009, which shows movement toward opposition parties.



Of course, that doesn’t tell us too much, as we already know that the ANC dropped over eight points between those two elections (68.83% to 60.75%), which is a huge drop in one election cycle. It is not inconceivable that this could happen again.

However, that map looks far better than it should. It is reflective of percentages, not actual numbers. Some of the above municipalities are almost barren and will have barely any effect on the election. And the major changes in the 2009 election were largely due to Cope, which was a fairly nonsense-free outfit back in those days.

Although the ANC, as reflected in the above map, dropped in places, it still holds a majority of over 60% in Sol Plaatjie municipality (Kimberley), over 56 000 of the 245 699 votes it received in the Northern Cape. In fact that municipality is responsible for nearly a quarter of all votes cast in the province. So make sure you look at that map in perspective. For example, the only municipality in which the DA won a majority of voters, in Namaqualand, as depicted below, had a total of 386 voters in the last general election.



There is evidence of an appetite for a party that is not the ANC in the Northern Cape; not necessarily enough to defeat the ruling party, but certainly something to build on. Outside Ga-Sengonyana (Kuruman) and Bo-Karoo, the ANC fell in every municipality from 2004 to 2009, losing more than 20 percentage points of the vote in five municipalities, and more than 10 percentage points in another eleven. The 2009 election was also the first one after the death of the New National Party. So where did those spare votes go?

Answer: Cope. Cope, in its very first election was competitive all over the Northern Cape. Although the DA saw an uptick of four points across the province as a whole, it was Cope that really mopped up spare votes. Where the ANC fell, and the NNP was no longer, the spoils generally went to Cope, in some parts even skimming votes from other parties.

That wasn’t a hard and fast rule: the Independent Democrats did increase in some localities, but Cope earned a similar amount or more than the drop in the ANC added to the non-existent NNP’s share in 18 municipalities. Cope was an alternative vote, but it wasn’t always against the ANC. In some of those districts it ate into the vote enjoyed by the ID. In De Aar and Prieska, the ANC’s vote hardly changed: Cope took the old NP vote and ate into the smaller parties.

Hesitancy to vote DA

The DA is the natural alternative vote in the rest of South Africa, but this has not been the case in the Northern Cape. Although it increased its share of the vote in many places, it was largely below five points (as observed by its total change from 2004 to 2009). Only in Namaqualand, Bo Karoo, Benede, Hantam (Calvinia) and Ubuntu (Victoria West) did it grow by more than five points, but those areas combined contested a total of 18 242 votes, out of over 420 000 in the province.

An alternative vote to the ANC is gettable, but there does seem to be a hesitancy to vote for the DA – voters flocked to the doors of the National Party in 1994 and Cope in 2009, neither of which proved sustainable opposition. They did both, however, manage to disrupt the utter domination that the ANC enjoys in provinces like the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga.

If the DA manages to do it in 2014, it will be proof Northern Cape voters really are keen for a change, because they haven’t drifted towards the DA en masse before. In the only election it didn’t face an energetic NNP or Cope (2004), the ANC stormed to its largest ever Northern Cape win.

Read more on: da  |  anc  |  cope  |  helen zille  |  mosiuoa lekota  |  kimberley  |  elections 2014

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