South Africa resets: ANC dodges a spray of bullets, DA slumps and EFF keeps on trucking

2019-05-09 22:44
South African main opposition party Democratic All
South African main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane (L) reacts at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Results Operations Centre on May 9, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa. - South African Presidents ruling ANC will retain its parliamentary majority after polls but with diminished support, complicating efforts to revive the embattled party and the countrys flagging economy, results showed on May 9, 2018. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

What exactly happened on Wednesday? It seems South Africa chose to give the ANC a light tongue-lashing, while DA support declined for the first time ever. The EFF keeps chugging along while the Freedom Front Plus is making a comeback. The national results centre in Pretoria was an interesting joint on Thursday night. Pieter du Toit reports.

There were some big smiles among senior ANC leaders at the IEC’s Results Operational Centre at the old Pretoria Showgrounds in Soutter Street on Thursday evening.

“It could have been worse,” one ANC figure, tipped to play an increasingly prominent role in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, said as he was mulling about in the cavernous hall. He seemed relieved.

And he had reason to be. The governing party, beset by corruption, capture and poor governance looks set to settle on 57,1% of support and will quite possibly hold on to Gauteng. Sure, the ANC lost support (five percentage points ain’t nothing to sneeze at) but it wasn’t anywhere near the collapse some predicted and others wished for.

Over on the DA’s side things were testy. The party, that has shown exponential growth since 1994 (and seems perenially poised for a breakthrough among black voters), was faring badly. News24’s elections analyst projects that it will shed support and come in below its number of 22% in 2014.

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Maybe not disastrous, but certainly a calamity. Almost 350 000 white voters desterted the party, most of them in favour of the conservative Freedom Front Plus. “You guys always make a fucking mountain out of a molehill,” DA federal chairperson Athol Trollip responded when asked about their losses. “Why don’t you make an issue about Ramaphosa losing votes?”

And Dali Mpofu, the EFF’s chairperson, said they’ll “definitely” break the magical 10% barrier. “But we’re going to double our support… oh yes, double,” he said when visiting News24’s makeshift office at the ROC.

Who were the winners in this election, and who were the losers? Before the public went to the polls, analyst Ralph Mathekga said he’d be disapppointed if South Africans’ voices don’t come through loud and clear. Results suggest Mathekga won’t be happy.

***

The ANC entered this election in a perilous state.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was the only – the only – redeeming factor in a party that has been ravaged by internicine battles, where its own secretary-general (besides being the central figure in a capture network) was working against its leader and on the back of a disastrous era under former president Jacob Zuma.

Its scandals have been front and centre of national discourse for years, its finances are in a dire state (the party is allegedly preparing to lay off staff) and the government it leads is paralysed by poor policy, a poor economy and even worse governance.

To be clear, 57,1% is hardly a triumph. Slumping to below 60% in a general election could hasten its demise and the 2024 election could very well be the one where it might just lose its majority. The party has been on a downward trajectory since 2004 (69,69% under then president Thabo Mbeki) and the slip from 62,15% to 57,1% is the largest in its electoral history.

The EFF, a party born out of the ANC and blessed with the African nationalist DNA of Africa’s oldest liberation movement, was the direct beneficiary of the ANC’s decline. In almost all the northern provinces ANC losses translated to EFF gains.

Gwede Mantashe

And on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, where the ANC historically nurtured one of its most loyal voting blocks (more than 2,5m voters) the EFF quadrupled its support and the ANC declined from 85% to 73% among its traditional supporters. That’s significant, because KZN is where the party’s support is anchored. And the EFF made serious inroads.

But in Gauteng it looks as if the rapid decline between 2009 and 2014, and expected to continue apace, was stopped just short of the electoral cliff. The ANC in the province have had a torrid time of it since 2013 when it openly turned against Zuma. It shed more than 10 percentage points in 2014 and in 2016 lost control of the metropolitan municipalities of Tshwane and Johannesburg.

And even though it looks set to lose another three percentage points to take it to the brink, it isn’t half as bad as the previous drop.

***

They might not admit it (and Trollip didn’t want to) but if the DA cannot capitalise on the malaise in the ANC, during a time when the governing party is at its absolute weakest, bereft of authority and staring down the barrel, will they ever be able to?

There is a realisation in certain quarters of the party that the last 18 months were “a shit show” with, among other issues, the Patricia de Lille debacle and the party’s management of the Afrikaans teacher at Schweizer-Reneke. And its initial uncertainty on how to deal with Ramaphoria and the “new dawn”.

IEC results centre

That it managed to put together a coherent campaign and didn’t shed three or four percentage points was sold as evidence of the party’s resilience.

But it lost in the region of 350 000 white supporters which will in all probability translate into a net loss in the final tally. And it hasn’t seemed to offset those losses with noteworthy gains among the black electorate.

“It’s a winning loss. We lost some conservative voters,” one DA operator explained.

But how is a net loss a winning one? “Depends on who you ask in the party,” he said.

And what about the loss in support? Do you want those voters back? “That’s a debate the party is going to have to conduct.”

And were the (negligible?) gains among black voters worth the loss? “We don’t know.”

Already there’s talk of some DA figures mobilising and asking questions of the party leadership.

When he visited the ROC on Thursday night DA leader Mmusi Maimane looked tired and under pressure. And he seemed to snap at a question by News24’s Tshidi Madia about the DA’s bloodied nose among the white electorate. “We’ll never become a nationalist party, we’ll never be a party for only black or white or coloured or Indian. I’m comfortable and content where we are… we didn’t compromise our principles.”

Wouter Wessels, a FF+ MP, said his party capitalised on white frustration on issues like race. And the DA seemed weak on that score. “Yes, the Schweizer-Reneke incident was a game changer for us,” he said.

***

What about the EFF? Mpofu seemed upbeat, but a 100%, 120% increase in the party’s support was very, very far off.

The party will increase their support and send a stronger contingent to Parliament. It will also be the official opposition in a number of provinces. But will its increased support indicate a strong swing away from the ANC towards the party?

South Africa will reset itself next week. New battles will begin as a new Parliament and a new government readies itself to take up the cudgels.

The ANC leader who admitted “it could have been worse” left the ROC breathing a sigh of relief and muttering a silent “amandla”.

A highly-strung Maimane left the ROC with an irritable Trollip in tow.

And on the floor of the ROC, Mpofu was massaging the assembled media pack, with nary a sign of Julius Malema.

Find everything you need to know about the 2019 National and Provincial Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections. Make sure your News24 app is updated to access all our elections coverage in one place.

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