There’s only one merger in the Northern Cape but there are many municipalities that hang in the balance in the largest province in South Africa: 17 of the 27 local municipalities have a council majority of two seats or fewer. The swing of a single seat in any of these municipalities could deliver a change in government.
The province has the highest number of municipalities controlled by opposition (i.e. non-ANC) parties – not counting the idiosyncrasies of KwaZulu-Natal. After the 2011 elections three municipalities were controlled by a coalition of the DA and COPE. Over the next few years the opposition parties lost one municipality and won another two with the help of independent councilors.
Here’s a map showing the results of the 2011 municipal elections in the Northern Cape municipalities:
In each of the three municipalities controlled by an opposition coalition there was a majority of just one seat:
- In Nama Khoi the ANC won 8 seats, the DA 6 and COPE 3. The DA and COPE formed a coalition with nine of the 17 council seats
- In Hantam the ANC and DA each won four seats and COPE won a seat. The DA and COPE formed a coalition with five of the nine council seats
- In Karoo Hoogland the ANC won three seats and the DA and COPE won two seats each. However, with 31 percent of the vote to the DA’s 21 percent, COPE was the senior partner in this coalition.
In Emthanjeni the ANC won 7 of the 14 council seats and formed a majority coalition with an independent councilor. The DA won five seats and COPE won one.
Here’s a map showing control of the Northern Cape municipalities before the 2016 elections:
The by-elections in the province took place between December 2011 and June 2015 – the creation of three new municipal councils proves the volatility of many municipalities:
- In Thembelihle, where the ANC had won four out of seven council seats in 2011, the ANC ward councilor in Ward 1 resigned his seat, ran as an independent and won the seat from his former party. The independent formed a coalition with COPE (two seats) and the DA (one seat). The party had won the ward with 48 percent of the vote in 2011 (COPE 37 percent, DA 14 percent) and received 48 percent again in the December 2011 by-election, with the independent receiving 52 percent
- In !Kheis the very same thing happened: the ANC ward councilor of Ward 3 resigned his seat, won it as an independent in an Apri 2013 by-election, and promptly formed an opposition coalition with COPE (two seats) and DA (one seat) in the seven-seat council.The candidate had won the seat for the ANC in 2011 with 51 percent of the vote (COPE 26 percent, DA 21 percent), and retained it as an independent with 57 percent of the vote to the ANC’s 43 percent
- The ANC exacted some revenge the following month when it won Ward 1 in Nama Khoi from the DA in a May 2013 by-election, scooping up the municipality also with a clear majority.The DA had won the ward in 2011 with 50 percent to the ANC’s 47 percent but in the by-election the ANC increased its share of the vote to 58 percent, leaving the DA trailing with just 42 percent.
The three stories above are only the successful attempts at wresting control from the incumbents. There were a few near misses also:
- The ANC had to defend Ward 4 in Magareng twice: after the incumbent died a by-election was held in March 2013. The party’s share of the vote fell from 62 percent to 58 percent while the DA’s rose from 27 percent to 39 percent. The ANC polled much better in another by-election (in June 2015) where its share of the vote rose to 71 percent
- The ANC defended Ward 4 in Gamagara in November 2013 after its councilor died. If it had lost the ward it would have lost its majority in council and possibly control of the municipality. The party had only won the ward with 53 percent of the vote in 2011, with COPE (24 percent) and the DA (23 percent) splitting the opposition vote. The party comfortably retained the seat with 65 percent in the by-election
- The ANC came very close to losing its majority in Kgatelopele when its share of the vote in Ward 2 fell from 57 percent to just 51 percent. The party beat the DA by just 20 votes in a February 2014 by-election. If the ANC had lost the ward it would have held just four seats in the eight-seat council
- The ANC won a Kai !Garib ward off COPE in a July 2014 by-election, extending its lead in the municipality. In 2011 the party won just 38 percent of the vote to COPE’s 44 percent, but finished strongly with 64 percent in the by-election. COPE could manage just 8 percent
- The ANC had a close shave with Ward 3 in Tsantsabane, winning the seat with 59 percent in 2011 and retaining it with just 54 percent in a February 2015 by-election. If the party had lost the seat to an independent candidate, a opposition coalition consisting of the DA, COPE, the independent and the Tsantsabane Community Forum could have ousted the ANC.
Here’s the map showing the size of the current council majorities:
Roughly two out of every three municipalities (or exactly 17 out of 27 municipalities) could change hands with the loss of just one seat. At least one of these contested municipalities will be made safe by a merger: Mier, where the ANC has a majority of just one seat, will be merged with //Khara Hais, where the party has a five-seat majority:
The ANC won just 52 percent of the overall vote in 2011 in Mier, and the merger with //Khara Hais will virtually guarantee that the party will win the new municipality. The other significant boundary changes are the absorption of parts of Khâi-Ma and Karoo Hoogland into Hantam. It’s not immediately clear if these land swaps will have a material affect on outcomes in Hantam and Karoo Hoogland, both municipalities that are controlled by the opposition.