Zuma is the loser, despite ANC poll win
FOUR big questions arise out of the local government elections: who won; who changed their votes; will the results pull the African National Congress (ANC) economically leftwards or rightwards; and how do the results affect President Jacob Zuma?
The first shouldn’t be a question at all, but the results have a “glass half full, glass half empty” character. The ANC won convincingly, but nevertheless lost support. Consequently the question is whether this is aberrational — as the ANC would have us believe — or the start of a new trend — as the Democratic Alliance (DA) would have us believe.
The situation is unnecessarily complicated by the fact that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has, incredibly, got the results wrong. Most of the reporting on the election results was based on the IEC’s calculation of the proportion of national support won by the parties. To do this, the IEC averaged out the percentage support gained by the parties in the proportional representation (PR) vote, plus the aggregate ward vote, plus the district council vote (at a lower weighting due to fewer voters being eligible to vote for these councils). By this count, the ANC got 63,65% of the vote, and the DA 21,97% for example.
This seems reasonable, but isn’t. Voters who live outside the metros get a third vote for a district council. Because the ANC has high support in rural areas, this third vote weighs in favour of the ANC. The IEC did not include this calculation for the 2006 elections, so most of the comparisons are with the PR vote from 2006, when the ANC got 65% support. From this perspective, it seems the ANC didn’t lose much — a bit more than one percentage point.
But it did. Exclude district councils, so now everyone has the same two votes, and the ANC comes in at just below 62% — double the decline the IEC suggests. Likewise the metro-heavy DA wins 23,9% of the vote, not 21,9% as the IEC says.
Even judged by the correct figures, the ANC’s fall does not seem calamitous. But in this election, as in the previous general election, the ANC was saved by the Congress of the People’s implosion, and by the dismal showing of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The IFP gained only 16% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal, compared with 38% in 2006. Even with the amazing performance of the IFP breakaway, the National Freedom Party, the ANC is now the clear majority party in the province at municipal level, with just under 57% support, compared with 47% support in 2006. But even this is actually lower than its share in the 2009 general election, when it won 64% of the vote.
The ANC is right to say this is not a cataclysmic setback, but is faking when it claims the results mean nothing at all. The ANC lost ground in all provinces except KwaZulu-Natal compared to the previous local election, and declined everywhere compared to the general election. It has almost totally lost the support of all three ethnic minorities. And in terms of power on the ground, the effect is also more than it might seem. The DA controlled outright six councils before the election, and now controls 18, with more to come through alliances. The DA’s proportion of the black vote increased from 1% to about 6%.
So something is happening, but we don’t quite know what it is. That question could be answered somewhat if we had a clearer idea of the profile of the people who changed their votes.
South Africans like to explain support shifts in ethnic and class terms, but DA strategist Ryan Coetzee tells me neither really works. Black DA voters are not necessarily upwardly mobile “black diamonds” or aspirant mid- dle class. More than half don’t have matric; half earn less than R2 000 a month; a third live in rural areas; 60% are under 35.
Coetzee says the divide is more what might be called “psychographic” rather than “ethnographic”. Hence, the success of the DA’s new “Mandela-esque” campaigning method.
The oddest thing about the election is ANC heavyweights scratching their heads about losing the votes of ethnic minorities and wondering aloud why such a thing would happen. I’m not sure that the ANC has become the party of black nationalism, but it has moved in that direction, or allowed itself to be portrayed that way. The ANC having done that, it is not surprising the turkeys have decided against voting for Christmas, and ethnic minorities have peeled off. But the ANC also lost black voters who don’t share the party’s “chip-on-the-shoulder”, mistrustful, victimised outlook. And those people, happily, come from all classes.
So, will this small shift cause any change in economic policy? It’s possible to argue this all ways. A further slide left could be justified by the need to “shore up the defences” and “consolidate the base”. A shift right could be justified because it can now be demonstrated that the ANC’s decision to entertain nationalisation, for example, is a vote-loser. Or it could be argued that economic policy was not really a fac- tor in this election, partly because local elections are more focused on bread-and-butter issues.
Nationalisation is a thermometer issue, but in some ways, it’s a bad example. The ANC Youth League’s support for nationalisation is really an issue of black nationalism rather than economic policy. Simply put, the argument is that whites own too much of the economy and the way to resolve that is through nationalisation. That’s politics, not economics.
Yet nationalisation is symbolic of a range of policies that have hardened the ANC’s economic dirigisme, from opposing the Walmart investment, to keeping interest rates a bit lower, to licensing restrictions, to opposition to free trade, to the virulent opposition to privatisation. But sadly, there seems to be no sign that the ANC is interpreting these results as an economic critique. Rather, it’s seen as a “service delivery” critique and, depressingly, the connection between economic prowess and performance is not being made.
There is no doubt that Mr Zuma is weakened by all this. The “man of the people” president is no more popular or able to solidify the party behind his leadership than his reputedly ascetic predecessor. He is indistinct as a leader, buffered by factions, organisationally all over the place, and consequently struggling to connect.
The new leadership race in the ANC has now begun.