The news headlines on the recent municipal elections in South Africa have one thing in common: that the governing African National Congress (ANC) lost and hence is losing its dominance of the country’s political landscape. The 2016 municipal elections elected the members of the district, metropolitan and local municipal councils in all 9 provinces, who, in turn, will elect the mayors of the municipalities.
Yes, the ANC won less than 60 per cent of the national vote for the first time since South Africa’s first multi-racial election in 1994. The results are the worst performance in any elections by the ANC, which won 54 per cent at the municipal polls. In the 2014 general election, the ANC received 62 per cent, down from nearly 66 per cent in 2009. The party has ruled virtually unopposed since it ended White-minority rule in 1994.
A lot of reasons have been advanced for the dwindling electoral fortune of the ANC: scandals involving President Jacob Zuma and corruption by members of his party, poor service delivery and the bad state of the economy which is not creating enough jobs for young people. All these reasons are valid.
However, a very important factor often overlooked is the increasing sophistication of voters, especially the young, educated and urban Black voters. This group is no longer beholden to the ANC as the liberation party but demands tangible results from the governing party and will vote whichever party it deems capable of offering the country the best deal, say analysts.
That more and more Black voters are backing the White-dominated opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which scored 26 per cent of the overall vote across the country, and the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which won 8 per cent, analysts say, will shake up South Africa from its de facto one-party state which has arguably led to complacency and corruption in ruling circles.
And that the DA is attracting Black voters in increasing numbers point to a future of a deracialized politics in the country, with people voting on issues and not swayed by sentimental factors like race. The DA’s election in 2014 of a Black leader, Mmusi Maimane, also seems to have worked even though at the time, the ANC ridiculed him as a stooge.
The 2016 municipal elections show a maturing of South Africa’s democracy, as President Zuma rightly said.
Since coalitions would have to be built in the three key metropolitan areas: Johannesburg, Tshwane (which includes Pretoria) and Nelson Mandela Bay already indicates a shift from what has effectively been a one-party dominant system since the end of apartheid.
This shift, analysts say, will reshape the political landscape in South Africa ahead of the 2019 national election, and may also embolden Zuma’s rivals within the ANC to challenge him.