Zuma is the loser, de­spite ANC poll win

Business Day - - THE BOTTOM LINE - Tim Co­hen tim­co­[email protected]

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.

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