We identified four wards of interest out of eight that will be contested in the May 6 by-elections. But that’s only a third of the 27 wards available on the day. Most of the wards earmarked for the by-election are in Mtubatuba – all 19 of the municipality’s wards will be contested following the dissolution of the municipal council.
First, some geographical and historical background: Mtubatuba is a municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in the uMkhanyakude district. The map below shows the province, district and local municipalities:
The district is in the north-east corner of KwaZulu-Natal, bordering both Swaziland and Mozambique (north of the district). It ticks the boxes for the ‘rural’ stereotype: geographic isolation, low population density, poor health and education outcomes.
The northern half of the province contains a large portion of the former KwaZulu independent homeland / bantustan. It’s where the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was traditionally strong – the party controlled most of the district and the Zululand district directly to the west.
Mtubatuba was a lot smaller and less populous in 2006, and still controlled by the IFP. Before the 2011 municipal elections a municipal redemarcation saw the municipality absorb a big chunk of the Hlabisa local municipality (also in the uMkhanyakude district, just to the west).
The other, more important change to the political landscape was the creation of the National Freedom Party (NFP). Its leader, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, was once seen as one of the IFP’s shining stars: mayor of the Zululand district; chairperson of the party; and its candidate for provincial premier in the 2009 elections.The NFP broke away from the IFP just before the 2011 municipal elections and formed a working coalition with the ANC.
We won’t go into the reasons for the split and formation of the NFP here, but the effects have been devastating for the IFP. The party held 20 local municipalities on the eve of the 2011 elections. Post-elections, that number had fallen to just one: Ulundi. (I have written about the IFP’s decline and partial recovery in this research note.)
The NFP tore a strip of votes out of the IFP’s hide, often splitting the vote enough to push the IFP below a majority in a number of municipalities and wards. Although the NFP hasn’t won many ward seats in KwaZulu-Natal, its share of proportional representation (PR) seats has often been enough to form a majority coalition with the ANC in many councils. At the ward level, the NFP often splits the vote enough to hand the ANC victory with a plurality of the vote.
The table and graph below summarise the state of the Mtubatuba municipal council. There are 38 council seats (19 ward and 19 PR):
Mtubatuba is a great example of a municipality that has been delivered from the IFP into the hands of an ANC-NFP coalition. Although the ANC and IFP each won about half the wards, the NFP’s share of the overall vote gave it enough PR seats to push the IFP into a minority position. The IFP’s strength is in the western and northern wards, including those wards that were transferred from Hlabisa before the 2011 elections.
A more detailed breakdown of the 2011 ward voting shows how the IFP’s power has been eroded at both the ward and PR level:
Almost half the wards were won with less than 50 per cent of the vote in 2011. Clearly, there are opportunities for both parties to pick up wards in the upcoming by-elections. The ANC will feel it has a chance in Wards 10, 11, 12, 16 and 18. The IFP will hope it has a shot in Wards 4, 8, 14 and 15.
If you look at Wards 4, 5, 14 and 15 where the ANC won with less than 50 per cent, you can see why the IFP feels aggrieved. If we assume that most of the NFP’s vote comes from former IFP voters, the party of Buthelezi would believe that those wards would be theirs if not for the splitting of the vote. The IFP would have an extra four wards, plus a greater share of the PR vote, giving it a majority in council.
So that’s the background for the municipality. Why was the municipal council dissolved in February? Well, the municipality has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for some time. In October 2014 the municipal manager was suspended and the municipality was placed under administration by the province. This decision was preceded by extremely poor service delivery in the municipality, at least according to the provincial government.
Speaking in February after the decision to dissolve the council, the provincial MEC for co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Ms Nomusa Dube-Ncube had a lot to say about Mtubatuba’s woeful state. Her statements included the following:
“[The municipality has been in the] spotlight for a while, with allegations of internal bickering, maladministration and poor financial management.”
“[The municipality has been plagued by] power games which disrupted the delivery of services and spilled over to the community leading to community protests.”
“Since 2012, the municipal council remained largely dysfunctional. Instead of decent service delivery and clean administration, the community has only witnessed pure political theatre,”
“This political instability and the poor leadership resulted in weakened oversight and deteriorating governance and compliance in this municipality.”
But wait, there’s more: now the EFF wants to contest wards in the municipality – a whole six of them. This is the first set of by-elections that the party is making a formal showing (it also wants to contest a couple of the other wards outside of Mtubatuba on the day). This could be a bit ambitious as the party didn’t win more than 7 per cent of the vote in any part of Mtubatuba in the 2014 general elections.
The DA and African Independent Congress (AIC) have also announced their intention to contest wards in the municipality but it’s unlikely that either party or the EFF will make much of an impact in the by-elections; the combination of the ANC, IFP and NFP ward vote was between 92 per cent and 100 per cent in every ward in the municipality in 2011.
The ANC-NFP coalition is expected to retain control of the municipality in the by-elections but there are two factors that could lead to an upset. The first is the weakening of the ties between the ANC and NFP. The honeymoon period between the two parties was very short after the 2011 municipal elections. Less than a year after the elections, a top ANC official described the coalition as a ‘most horrible decision’. Also, there is evidence that rank-and-file NFP members are happy to work with their IFP counterparts, in defiance of the top-down relationship that the NFP has with the ANC.
The second factor is the current round of xenophobic violence that began in the province. It’s not clear what effect this will have on the voters but it could result in a backlash against the incumbent coalition.
Whatever the final outcome, there are definitely chances for all three parties (ANC, IFP and NFP) to increase their showings in the municipality. It remains to be seen whether or not the parties can capitalise on this opportunity.