The by-elections on Wednesday 26 November are set to be the biggest since the 2011 municipal elections, and possibly the biggest in South Africa’s election history. There are a stonking 31 wards up for election, although five wards will be uncontested. Up to 81 candidates will contest all the wards. All but four wards are ANC incumbencies, with the NFP defending one KwaZulu-Natal ward and the DA defending three wards in the Western Cape.
A big chunk of the wards contested is due to the dissolution of two municipal councils: Inkwanca in the Eastern Cape (in the Chris Hani district) and Mooi Mpofana in KwaZulu-Natal (in the uMgungundlovu district). These two municipalities are responsible for eight of the 31 wards contested.
These ANC-controlled municipalities had their councils dissolved. Voters in these municipalities will be electing both ward and proportional representation (PR) councillors on Wednesday, effectively replacing every councillor in these municipalities.
A district municipality in the North-West, Ngaka Modiri Molema, was also dissolved. This district contains five local municipalities, including Mahikeng, the political capital of the old Bophuthatswana homeland. Voters in each of the five municipalities will only be voting to replace the district council, with the five local councils remaining unaffected.
In addition, the ANC has dismissed 13 (out of 31) ward councillors in the Mogalakwena municipality, in Limpopo. There will therefore be 13 ward elections in the municipality on Wednesday, mirroring the events earlier this year in the Tlokwe council.
The dissolution of the three municipalities is ostensibly due to the non-performance of their councils and poor financial management, but there are also signs of factionalism and infighting amongst the ANC and tripartite alliance structures. This seems to be a growing trend for the ANC and the alliance, with factionalism in the North-West a particular challenge.
The ANC’s defence of 21 of its 27 wards is therefore due to a combination of the formal dissolutions and the councillor dismissals. While most of the ward seats should be safe for the party, there are a couple of wards in Inwanca and MooiMpofana that are marginal for the ANC. The party also faces a challenge in the Mogalakwena wards from the EFF, which is now participating more fully in municipal government elections.
The NFP and the DA also face their own challenges: the NFP’s Ulundi seat and the DA’s seat in Ward 11 in Theewaterskloof are both up for grabs.
The ANC’s power is strong in the four municipal councils that are holding wholesale by-elections. The party isn’t liable to lose control of any of the councils but will want to end the year on a high note and not lose any momentum going in to 2015. Whatever the results on Wednesday, there’s no indication that the municipalities under administration will improve their situation if the ANC loses any of its seats.