Barring some kind of miracle, the National Freedom Party (NFP) isn’t going to be contesting the upcoming municipal elections. It’s an ignoble end to the party’s 2016 campaign and it’s quite possibly the end of the party as a regional force in northern KwaZulu-Natal. All available information suggests that the party has been in decline since it contested the 2011 municipal elections.
At the moment the NFP is licking its wounds after losing its appeal in the Electoral Court to reverse its disqualification from the 2016 elections. It’s easy to forget that the party was the single biggest game-changer in the 2011 municipal elections.
The party was formed by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, formerly a rising star of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who had graduated within the party to the position of second-in-command behind Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Following the IFP’s poor showing in the 2009 national/provincial elections, kaMagwaza-sibi announced the formation of the NFP in 2011.
The NFP captured a significant portion of the vote in many northern KwaZulu-Natal municipalities (kaMagwaza-Msibi herself had served two terms as the mayor of the Zululand district since the 2000 elections) and decimated the IFP in the region. The IFP lost close to 20 municipalities in the region to a coalition of the ANC and NFP, retaining only two municipalities (Msinga and Ulundi)
Here’s the map of the NFP’s results in the 2011 elections:
The NFP did very well in the northern municipalities, particularly those in the Zululand district where kaMagwaza-Msibi was mayor – the party won eDumbe outright and won a plurality of seats in Nongoma. The NFP also had a presence in some of the inland municipalities in the western part of the province.
The party contested the 2014 elections, but apart from the odd ward in Gauteng and Limpopo, didn’t really extend its footprint through the rest of the country. The 2014 elections confirmed that the party only really had a regional focus.
Here’s a map of the NFP’s results in the 2014 elections in the KwaZulu-Natal .
The party won votes in the south of the province but not in any significant numbers. On the one hand, the 2014 elections featured more competition for the NFP and it might have seemed that the party was growing. However, a direct comparison of the 2011 and 2014 results shows that this was not the case.
Here’s the map showing the change in support for the NFP between the 2011 and 2014 elections. The red areas indicate growth of between 0 and 24 percentage points, but the cream and blue areas show where the party went into decline, losing up to 38 percentage points of the vote in some wards:
There’s more evidence of the party’s decline in the by-elections held between 2011 and 2016. The NFP’s share of the vote declined in over 80 percent of the wards it contested (including wards it declined to contest). In the few wards where it increased its share of the vote it didn’t make large inroads, typically advancing by less than five percentage points. It saw a significant increase of the vote in just four wards – out of almost 140.
Worse, it managed to lose four of the five wards it defended in by-elections. These were strategic wards in KwaZulu-Natal municipalities (UPhongolo, Hlabisa, Okhahlamba and Ulundi) where it either ceded control of the municipalities to the IFP or allowed the party to increase its lead.
The absence of the NFP from the 2016 elections won’t completely pave the way for the IFP to reclaim power in northern KwaZulu-Natal but it will make the job much easier for the party. If the ANC hopes to retain power in the region then it will have to trust that its campaigning in the province will have borne fruit, or that it can convince the EFF and other opposition parties to join it in new coalitions.