In South African local government elections held on 18 May, the Democratic Alliance (DA) consolidated its support in Cape Town, Western Cape Province and the Midvaal municipality, to cement its place as the country’s chief opposition party. DA officials see it as confirmation that the tide is very slowly but surely beginning to turn against the governing African National Congress (ANC). Despite their optimism, a DA government in Pretoria is a long way off.
As the governing party in Cape Town, Western Cape and Midvaal, the Democratic Alliance was able to point to a demonstrable record in government. Focussing on the delivery of services, the DA’s campaign strategy was to contrast its achievements with those of the ANC. Although service delivery across the country has improved, there is a perception among many voters, regardless of race, that it has not. While the DA and the minor parties may not always benefit from such perceptions – and the DA’s record is not impeccable – the ANC tends to be their first casualty.
ANC concern at the DA’s strong showing during the campaign was reflected in the use of party heavyweights such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC youth leader Julius Malema and Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel in the tussle for Midvaal, some 60 kilometres from Johannesburg. An embarrassing semi-rural DA stronghold in the ANC heartland, Midvaal was named the top local government authority for service delivery in 2010 by the Gauteng Provincial Government.
Colourful rhetoric also featured, sometimes inflammatory, sometimes ridiculous. President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema described DA leader Helen Zille, a former anti-apartheid campaigner, mayor of Cape Town and current Western Cape Premier, as a ‘madam [who] moves around doing a monkey dance looking for votes.’ President Zuma implored black voters and party members not to desert the ANC as they would face bad luck, sickness and the wrath of their ancestors.
Voter turnout for South African local government elections is traditionally low across the board but particularly so among black voters, the ANC’s core supporters. White and coloured voters, seeing municipal elections as an area in which their parties stand a better chance against the ANC behemoth, tend to turn out in greater numbers. The 2011 poll saw a record number of voters take part and the DA increase its share of the vote to a record 21.97 per cent, to the ANC’s 63.65 per cent. In the 2006 elections, the DA polled 14.8 per cent; the ANC, 66.3 per cent. The ANC appears to have offset some of its lost support by gaining against parties such as the once-mighty Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. A showing of below 60 per cent would have called into question President Zuma’s chances for a second term in office.
This year’s result is indicative of both a growing electoral weakness in the ANC and the DA’s ability to point to a reasonable record in government. Looking ahead, in the national and provincial context, the legacy of Nelson Mandela may fade in time, particularly when contrasted with the populist antics of President Zuma and his likely successors in the ANC leadership cohort. The ANC’s role as “liberator” may come to resonate less with younger voters who were not brought up under apartheid, as they look for viable alternatives to the ANC incumbents. Regardless, the DA is unlikely to replace the ANC as occupant of the government offices in Pretoria’s Union Buildings for some time yet.
Leighton G. Luke
Indian OceanResearch Programme