BY PAUL BERKOWITZ & WAYNE SUSSMAN
IN ONE of the busiest rounds of by-elections since the 2011 municipal elections, South Africans took to the polls in 22 wards on Thursday. The African National Congress (ANC) enjoyed its day out, winning a ward from the Democratic Alliance (DA), another from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and a third from an independent candidate.
More than half of the contested wards had been vacated by incumbents who assumed higher office after the May elections, either in the provincial legislatures or the National Assembly.
Most of the wards were safe incumbencies, having been won with 60% of the vote or more in the 2011 elections, but six had seen marginal victories and held potential for upsets. Three of these wards changed hands:
- The DA won ward 40 of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in 2011 with 54% of the vote to the ANC’s 40% and its margin of victory in the May election was just three votes. On Wednesday the ANC took the ward with 51% of the vote. The DA polled 49%.
- In ward 4 of Indaka (Waaihoek) in KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP lost its defence of a seat it had won with 40% of the vote in 2011. On Wednesday the ANC won with 60% of the vote and the IFP polled 21%.
- In 2011 an independent candidate won ward 25 in Rustenburg with 50% of the vote. The ANC won the by-election with 74% of the vote and another independent candidate could poll only 21%.
In Polokwane’s ward 20, the ANC won in 2011 with 48% of the vote to the DA’s 41%, and the DA won it in a 2012 by-election with 63%. On Wednesday the DA retained its seat and marginally increased its share of the vote.
The DA had a white-knuckle ride in ward 32 in the City of Johannesburg, which it had won with 51% of the vote in 2011 (ANC 46%). On Wednesday the party retained its seat with 56% of the vote.
In ward 13 of Mossel Bay the DA polled 59% in 2011 (ANC 32%). The municipality had seen violent service-delivery protests in the week leading up to the by-election. The party squeaked home with just over 50% of the votes cast.
The DA increased its share of the vote in 15 of the 18 wards it defended. It also consolidated its power in the City of Cape Town.
The ANC successfully defended two wards and picked up three wards in strategic constituencies. Its wins in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro and Rustenburg are important as these have been key battlegrounds for the party.
The ANC’s win in Indaka may have repercussions for its coalition partner, the National Freedom Party (NFP). The ANC and the NFP each held six seats in the 20-seat council, and the IFP had eight seats, but with the ANC’s victory it is now the senior partner in the coalition.
There may be implications for long-time mayor Nkosinathi Mchunu, formerly of the IFP and currently an NFP member. Mr Mchunu may lose his council position to the ANC.
The smaller political parties fared poorly in the by-election.
The IFP and the NFP both lost power to the ANC in Indaka, and the Freedom Front Plus treaded water in Mangaung and lost ground in the other wards it contested.
The Economic Freedom Fighters set sail on its maiden voyage as a municipal force, contesting the Port St Johns ward, but could barely muster 5% of the vote.
The ANC and the DA are still dominating municipal elections and continue to gain at the expense of other parties.