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What is the political future of our small towns?

12 May 2014, 07:34
Similar to our local weather defying predictions from afar, our politics is capable of interesting quirks. Knysna and Bitou (Plettenberg Bay) are both DA-run municipalities but were previously under ANC control. Neither side has a convincing margin to ensure a definite win in the municipal elections in 2016. Consequently, it's interesting to investigate their voting patterns in the 2014 national election for possible insight into the direction these towns may take.

There is, unfortunately, no way to avoid the colour of our skins when it arrives at the reality of politics. Traditionally, Black voters tick ANC whilst Whites opt for the DA. These votes are sometimes made according to fear, hate and culture (it has been rare for this blogger to encounter substantive reasoning).

This dynamic places political stress on the DA as more and more black South Africans leave the Eastern Cape and settle in these towns which are the first encountered as you cross the provincial border. Helen Zille, leader of the DA, took a lot of flack for defining these settlers as "economic refugees" but it fits, not as an insult but as a statement of fact (poverty is the reality for many South Africans and all deserve the right to improve themselves). Despite extreme economic hardships and the lack of service delivery in the Eastern Cape, citizens there are overwhelmingly supportive of the ANC (possibly furthered by presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki having come from there). It is reasonable to accept the possibility that their political leaning is carried here.

The Coloured vote is divided between not only those parties but COPE too (the latter got a councillor in both towns). In Bitou, the ANC won the Ward 4 by-election in 2013 by only 37 votes, denying the DA a majority and entrenching the power of COPE's lonely seat which votes with the DA.

In Knysna, the DA's outright majority was helped when Ntombizanele Grace Sopeki, an ANC councillor, rebelled and successfully ran as an independent after the ANC left her off their candidate lists. Will she return to the ANC fold? It's rumoured that Eleonor Bouw (ex-Bouw-Spies), the previous ANC Mayor, may run for office again but whether it will be as ANC or independent has yet to be determined. ANC Provincial Committee Member, Ralph Stander, may run locally too.

After the sudden death last week of Magda Williams, a DA Councillor, there will be a by-election. Despite alleged, unethical pressure by the ANC in the area, DA support is strong.... but finding a strong candidate won't be easy.

A central point is that what happens with COPE counts. However, COPE seems all but destroyed nationally, infighting reducing their support from 7.42% to 0.67%. In the Western Cape, they are even lower at 0.59%. The worst example of their failure may be in Bitou where they plummeted from 15.67% to a miserable 1.27%. Contrastingly, the political micro-climate of Knysna has them dropping from 11.62% but hanging on at 4.76%. Despite COPE normally voting with the ANC in council, it would seem, from the election results below, that the majority of their electorate has switched to the blue of the DA.

Knysna's ANC-run, Ward 6, which is mostly comprised of Hornlee (South of Wing-West of Harker/East of Protea/North of Sunridge, Hlani, Donkerhoek, Hornlee), has given their  "X" to the DA. The results were DA 35.50%, ANC 33.26% and COPE 24.80% (showing, again, how important COPE's swing-voting can become). The ward is currently run by Clive Witbooi whom i sent a message to for comment (as there are no 2009 figures available to compare to) but he has yet to respond.

An important boost to the DA was the consumption of the ID. Most don't realise it but it was only with this election that the deal between Helen Zille and Patricia de Lille was finalised. This, hypothetically (looking at past results) gained the DA 4.02% in Knysna and 3.87% in Bitou.

Let's move onto the results where the DA was the most supported in Knysna whereas the ANC led in Bitou.

How Knysna voted nationally in 2014 (2009 result in brackets for comparison):

DA - 13 278 / 49.89% (10 568 - 39.26%)
ANC - 10 554 / 39.66% (11 141 - 41.38% )
COPE - 1 268 / 4.76% (3 129 - 11.62% )
ACDP - 356 / 1.34% (357 - 1.33%)
EFF - 352 / 1.32% (new party so no 2009 results)
VF+ - 305 / 1.15% (243 / 0.90% )

How Bitou voted nationally in 2014 (2009 result in brackets for comparison):

ANC - 8 992 / 48.13% (9 030 / 46.66%)
DA - 8 242 / 44.11% (5 981 / 30.91%)
EFF - 397 / 2.12% (new party so no 2009 results)
COPE - 238 / 1.27% (3,032 / 15.67%)
VF+ - 170 / 0.91% (126 / 0.65%)

Note that having more voters does not mean winning a town. That comes down to winning wards.

In both towns, less voters turned up than in the previous election. This conflicts with the increase nationwide and in the Western Cape. It's a possible expression of the growing frustration residents have with both the DA and the ANC. Concurrently, the conservative VF+ would likely have been fed by the DA whilst the far-left-win, EFF, would have scored from the ANC.

Important to keep in mind that 46 000 people voted in the Knysna municipal elections held in 2011. Similarly, the turnout in Bitou was far greater. This shows, convincingly, that the public believes democracy more effective locally than nationally and that daily issues are more motivating than matters thought to be "out of their hands).

What is the political future of our small towns? I don't know... but it will be challenging and interesting.
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