Last week I tweeted that the ANC would lose its majority in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in next year’s elections. That tweet was a response to this Business Day article describing the EFF’s reception in Port Elizabeth, also earlier this week.
I’ve broken my golden rule about not making predictions in public, so I thought I’d better post about the metro and its political fortunes to explain myself. I think it’s one of the safer predictions to make, a full year ahead of the elections, but I could be wrong.
Here’s what I find interesting: I made my prediction based on a vague idea of the politics in the metro but a pretty good understanding of the voting numbers (2011 municipal elections, 2014 national/provincial elections and all the by-elections since 2011).
I thought I would just write about the voting patterns and throw the bones a bit, and I will. I mean, maps and numbers and bad music puns are what give this blog its distinctive smell. But while I was putting together the background information for the municipality and all its elections I found some interesting things, things that I missed completely when I originally reported on the by-elections in the metro.
In short, the divisions and schisms that are playing out within Cosatu and the broader tripartite alliance (ANC, Cosatu and SACP) at the national level are reflected in the metro. It could even be more than that: the metro may actually be a bellwether for the national picture of the alliance, leading the trends rather than just repeating them.
So this post will look at the 2011 municipal elections and subsequent by-elections, plus we’ll dive a bit deeper into the timeline of internal politics in the metro. I’ll put forward my thesis, with a few external links, and you decide if you agree or not.
Hopefully at a later stage we’ll go through the 2014 voting numbers and assess their predictive power for next year’s elections, and we’ll talk a bit more about coalitions and things.
Maps and votes
Here’s the map of the metro:
The metro is in the Eastern Cape. It has a population of about 1,2 million people and includes the city of Port Elizabeth, the towns of Despatch and Uitenhage, and the townships of Ibhayi and Motherwell (both in Port Elizabeth)
In 2011 the ANC won the metro in a nail-biting finish, receiving just 52 per cent of the vote and 63 seats in the 120-seat council. Here’s a summary of the seat allocation after the elections:
The ANC won 63 seats in the 120-seat council, giving it a narrow six-seat majority in council. Just before the 2011 elections, my then-colleague Thato Molewa wrote a review of the metro, in which he called the ANC vote pretty well. The map below shows the results of the ward voting in the 2011 elections:
The ANC’s constituency is in the centre of the metro, particularly on the eastern side of the municipality. On the eastern side, support is clustered around two areas: the southern cluster of ANC wards includes the townships of Ibhayi, New Brighton, KwaZakhele and Kwanoxolo. The northern cluster includes the township of Motherwell. On the western side of the municipality, the party has support in and around the township of Kwa Nobuhle.
The DA’s support is mostly in the south-east of the municipality, in Port Elizabeth and surrounding suburbs. (The ANC ward in the middle of the deep blue covers the township of Gqebera and the industrial area around Port Elizabeth Airport.) The party has support further inland in the coloured townships of Sanctor, Chatty and Arcadia, and up north in the town of Uitenhage.
Since the 2011 elections there have been by-elections in ten wards in the metro (6 ANC, 4 DA). The table below summarises the results of the by-elections:
The ANC and DA lost a ward each. The DA lost a very marginal ward to the ANC after the incumbent councillor was elected to the provincial legislature. The ANC lost a ward after it expelled its councillor for Ward 42, Mr Andile Gqabi, who then successfully ran as an independent candidate.
On balance the ANC has the same number of council seats that it won in 2011, and it’s not clear that Mr Gqabi would support any coalition of the opposition. It could be argued that the ANC’s position in the metro is slightly stronger now. But that would be a narrow reading of the party’s strength.
A brief history
We’ve looked at some events between the 2011 elections and the last by-elections in the metro – roughly a period between mid-2011 and the second half of 2014. Let’s go back a bit further.
Mr Gqabi, before he was an ANC ward councillor, was a Numsa man. He was elected secretary of the Uitenhage branch of Cosatu in 2007 and was made the national deputy gender chairperson of Numsa shortly after that. He is a former Numsa shop steward at the Volkswagen SA plant in Uitenhage. There’s your man: a ward councillor who lives in his ward, with a union pedigree.
Now, back to the metro. In 2006 Zanoxolo Wayile was appointed to serve as mayor of the metro. Mr Wayile was also the Chairperson of Cosatu’s Eastern Cape region and the provincial representative of Numsa at the time.
All this time, or at least in a few short years, the divisions and factions within the province were expressed in the choice of this or that candidate for executive positions within the metro. By November 2012 the provincial Numsa leadership were furious with the ‘unholy alliance’ between some ANC councillors and opposition (DA, COPE and UDM) councillors who proposed a motion of no confidence in Mr Wayile. We’ve seen that story before of ANC councillors aligned with a certain faction voting with opposition councillors to remove a sitting ANC mayor.
By February 2013 the provincial Numsa leadership was speaking openly against the redeployment of Mr Wayile. It even warned against handing the metro to the DA ‘on a silver platter’. By the following month Mr Wayile had been kicked upstairs to Parliament.
Back to Mr Gqabi. He was expelled from his seat by the ANC in August 2014 – and won it back in November – but calls for his expulsion had started in late-2012 and had intensified by mid-2013. Pressure was exerted on Mr Gqabi at exactly the same time that it was exerted on Mr Wayile. Coincidence? Numsa thinks not.
The ANC claimed that Mr Gqabi’s original nomination back in 2011 was irregular, but Mr Gqabi alleged that he was the victim of a witch-hunt. Here’s another kicker: there are rumours that Numsa even bankrolled Mr Gqabi’s re-election campaign.
So we’ve filled in a lot of the blank spaces between 2006 and 2014. What’s happened since November 2014, when Mr Gqabi won back his seat?
Oh yeah. Numsa was expelled from Cosatu. And Cosatu in the Eastern Cape immediately broke ranks with the national body, condemning the expulsion.
We all know broadly what’s happened since then. Numsa is talking about forming a United Front and contesting the 2016 elections in some kind of structure outside of the alliance. It’s a big chunk of votes that Numsa is able to mobilise in the metro.
We’ll crunch the numbers in a follow-up article and talk about coalitions and possible outcomes. But the story of Mr Gqabi is what I keep coming back to.
There’s been divisions in the alliance for a while, and not just in the metro or even just the province. In the North-West there have even been high-profile political murders where the intra-alliance frictions have become too hot. The ANC has kicked out councillors in Tlokwe for voting against their own mayor.
Mr Gqabi is the first instance I can think of where an unhappy alliance partner could have provided ground cover to a councillor who had been kicked out of the nest. Sure, a lot of it is rumours and supposition. But the narrative makes sense. The unhappiness of Numsa in the metro is no secret. The open factionalism is no secret.
If this is how it went down then the expulsion of Numsa was preceded – just, and maybe only technically – by a decision by the union to defy the ANC at the polls. It may have been small and relatively subtle, but Numsa took the decision to formally stand in opposition on the electoral battleground, with Mr Gqabi already a physical manifestation of an opposing army.