One of these Johannesburg wards is not like the others

17 March 2015
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When we think of gerrymandering we think of a deliberate process of manipulation that will benefit some political party. The old Nats definitely fixed the system to win a majority of seats in 1948, 1953 and 1958. There were accusations before the 2011 municipal elections that the ANC and DA were fixing ward boundaries in Gauteng and the Western Cape respectively. The current process of municipal and ward re-demarcation, in preparation for next year’s municipal elections, is dogged by similar accusations.

Could there be such a thing as accidental gerrymandering? Can the machinations of one political party actually end up benefitting another? Have a look at the City of Johannesburg political map to see why I ask this question.

Here’s the map of South African municipalities again, with the Gauteng municipalities in yellow and the City of Johannesburg metro in red (in case, like me, you once failed Geography):

Map of Gauteng and the City of Johannesburg

Map of Gauteng and the City of Johannesburg

Here’s the map of the City of Johannesburg again in more detail, at the ward level. Wards won by the ANC in the 2011 municipal elections have been coloured yellow, wards won by the DA are coloured blue:

Ward map of Johannesburg, with ward winners

Ward map of Johannesburg, with ward winners

Wards are delineated according to the number of registered voters, meaning that the wards within a particular municipality should have roughly the same number of voters, or at least be consistent across a given range (wards in metro municipalities have between 10 000 and 18 000 registered voters).

Although the map is mostly blue, it doesn’t mean that the DA has a majority of wards or votes in the City of Johannesburg. You’ll notice that many of the yellow wards are much smaller than the blue wards, particularly in Soweto, the CBD and Alexandra. Smaller wards indicate a higher population density – remember that wards are delineated by voter population.

It’s clear from the map that apartheid spatial planning still has an effect on the voting patterns in many wards. The historically white suburbs still vote for the DA and the old townships still vote for the ANC (although there have been some recent shifts which I hope to cover in the future).

What’s that sliver of red to the east of the CBD? Why, it’s an IFP-controlled ward. What’s it doing so far to the north-west of KwaZulu-Natal?

The IFP won the ward in 2011 with a plurality, but not a majority, of the vote: the party ended up with 40 per cent while both the ANC and the NFP received 26 per cent. Most of the NFP votes can be assumed to have previously been IFP votes.

The ward, Ward 65, covers the industrial suburbs of Denver and Benrose. These areas historically housed many migrant workers in hostels. The history of the migrant labour system in South Africa is too complex to cover in the post (with my Standard 7 history, nogal) but migrant workers tended to cluster along geographical and ethnic lines. They still do – stories on the Marikana tragedy mention that many rock drill operators came from Pondoland in the Eastern Cape.

Apartheid spatial planning being what it was, it’s not surprising to find an island of Zulu-speaking, IFP-supporting miners on the edge of the East Rand rust belt. The couple of DA wards to the south of Soweto are in Lenasia, Eldorado Park and Ennerdale, which were designated areas for Indian and coloured people.

I’ll bet even money that the IFP loses Ward 65 to the ANC in next year’s elections. The party of Buthelezi is a spent force outside of northern KwaZulu-Natal. Whether the DA can win in Soweto or the ANC can gain footholds in the leafy northern suburbs is another story.

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