Western Cape by-elections: DA has reason to worry, ANC must pull up its socks

2019-01-21 18:00
Die slagspreuk vir vanjaar se verkiesing.   Foto: Christopher Moagi

Die slagspreuk vir vanjaar se verkiesing. Foto: Christopher Moagi

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The DA has reason to be seriously worried ahead of the national and provincial elections coming up in May, while the ANC needs to pull up its socks if it wants to capitalise on the DA's loosened grip on the Western Cape and smaller parties might also see some gains.

This is the conclusion one can draw after looking at the results of the by-elections in the Western Cape on Wednesday. Sure, one would be irresponsible to take by-election results as ironclad indicators of what will happen in an upcoming election, but it does give an indication of shifts in electoral support when seen in context.

The by-election that garnered the most interest to election result geeks like myself, is the one in Cape Town's Ward 31 – parts of Bonteheuwel and Valhalla Park.

De Lille feud haunts DA

Ward 31's voting patterns over the past few elections and demographic make-up are similar to many wards on the Cape Flats, which has been key in the DA winning the metro and the province.

As the DA's feud with its then mayor Patricia de Lille escalated last year, the DA saw a drop on average of about 9% in by-elections across the province. The by-election in Ward 31 was the first in the metro since De Lille's departure from the DA. Furthermore, the election came about as Johnathan Cupido resigned as councillor and DA member in solidarity with De Lille. De Lille formed a new party, called GOOD. The party, still in its infancy, did not put up a candidate.

When the ballots were counted, the DA saw their support in the ward drop by about 20 percentage points compared to the 2016 elections. They received 61.82% of the votes cast, compared to the 81.17% received 3 years ago.

The ACDP on the other hand, which got about 1% in 2016, soared to a relatively impressive 20.56% of the vote. The ANC rose from 10% to 14%, while the EFF maintained its 3%.

Winning a ward with 60% of the vote isn’t bad, but it will be that 20 percentage points' drop that should worry the DA. The ANC will also be disappointed that their support only grew with four percentage points, while the ACDP grew with a whopping 20 percentage points.

Given that the DA's loss and the ACDP's growth are more or less a similar figure, it is a safe assumption that many of the people who voted for the ACDP, would previously have voted DA.

Taken with the ANC's relative small growth, one can say that there was a sizeable group of people who don't want to vote for the DA, but would still rather vote for a party other than the ANC.

It is therefore a pity (from an election watcher's perspective) that De Lille's GOOD didn't participate, as the result could have been an indication whether her party will receive electoral support come May.

Furthermore, the voter turnout in Ward 31 was pretty low, at 26.75% of the registered voters in the ward, compared to the turnout of 61.2% in 2016. While it is not unusual for by-elections to have fairly low turnouts, it is also indicative of the failure of the DA and ANC, the two biggest parties in the province, to mobilise their voters and get them to the polls.

The DA did, however, take Bergrivier's Ward 5 back from the ANC. It won the ward in 2011 and 2016, but lost it to the ANC in a by-election in August 2017. On Wednesday it got 44.71% of the vote, which is about 6 percentage points less than it got in 2016 election, when it got 50.87%. This is in line with the trend in last year's rural by-elections in the Western Cape, where the DA support dropped off from the levels it achieved in 2016. Interestingly, this by-election had a fairly high voter turnout for a by-election of 55.34%.

In the other by-election, Ward 101 in Cape Town – Kraaifontein's Bloekombos area – the ANC maintained its support in a stronghold, with the DA failing to make an impression.

I visited several voting stations in Ward 31 on Wednesday, and I was left with the impression that the ANC didn’t go all out in this ward. For instance, there were far more DA and ACDP posters on the lampposts as I drove through the neighbourhood.

Granted, the ANC has basically admitted that it is a DA ward it doesn't expect to win, and might have decided to put their scarce resources to use elsewhere. Keep in mind that their full, expansive election machinery will click into gear for the national and provincial elections, which is clearly not the case for by-elections.

Can ANC deliver knock-out blow?

From an ANC perspective, the DA is in a weakened position (much of its own doing), but it is not down and out. The ANC will have to up its game to deliver a knockout blow.

Even if the ANC doesn't win the province outright in the upcoming provincial election, a strong showing in the province could benefit them on a national level. A large chunk of the DA's national votes comes from Western Cape, and a poor showing in the province will translate to less seats in the National Assembly, strengthening the ANC's hand on a national level. This can become important with a constitutional amendment on expropriation without compensation on the cards for the Sixth Parliament, and the ANC and EFF at odds on what that amendment should look like.

The DA has some serious soul-searching to do. As things stand, there is enough evidence to suggest that there is enough voters in the province who previously voted DA, but whose votes the party can't take for granted in 2019.

You might wonder why I haven't mentioned South Africa's third largest party, the EFF. The by-election results show little movement in their nominal support in the province. A national campaign might bring them more success, but maybe the people of the Western Cape aren't ready for their brand of fascism just yet.

- Jan Gerber reports on politics for News24 from Parliament.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  acdp  |  election
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