The local government elections are upon us. And if things go according to the predictions of political commentators such as yours truly, and given the number of violent protests we have seen around the country over the past few months, the African National Congress (ANC) is in deep trouble.
It seems the ruling party is heading towards heavy losses, especially in metropolitan areas such as Johannesburg and Tshwane. According to the Democratic Alliance (DA), the ANC is going to lose Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni to the official opposition. In the 2011 local government elections, the ANC won 55.32% and the DA 38.65% in Tshwane. In Nelson Mandela Bay, the ANC garnered 51.01% and the DA 40.13%. In Cape Town, the DA won 60.92% of the vote and the ANC 32.8%. In Johannesburg, the ANC got 58.56% and the DA 34.62%. In Ekurhuleni, the ANC did much better and should retain the metro with less of a struggle than elsewhere, even if it suffers loses, compared with 2011. It garnered 61% and the DA 30%.
On the national front, in 2011, the ANC won 61.95% and the DA 23.94%. These national figures are the average of what each party won after adding the proportional representation and ward results nationally. This is what we may call the ‘popular’ vote. There is an expectation that the ANC’s measure of the popular vote will fall drastically in August, thus signalling the losses the ANC will suffer in the 2019 general election. In 2014, support for the ANC fell by an average of 10% in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. In fact, in Johannesburg, the ANC fell from 62% to 52% between 2009 and 2014.
If this momentum is carried into the August 3 elections, the ANC, at face value at least, will be trounced. Why has this view gained currency? There is a combination of reasons why people think the ANC will suffer serious losses in the August elections.
But what I like doing is to distinguish between whether the ANC will suffer serious losses and whether it should suffer such losses. The latter is much easier to answer than the former. I think it is common cause that the image and credibility of the ANC have been compromised quite badly, especially during the past 12 years. This credibility and image crisis has been worsened by the credibility and image crisis of President Jacob Zuma. But, while there is a symbiotic relationship between the credibility and image crisis of the President and that of the ANC, it seems, at least to me, that the approval rating of the ANC is much higher than that of the President.
If I am correct, the question is: Why is the image crisis of the President not causing enough collateral damage to the ANC? But is it not possible that there is a difference between the levels of collateral damage at national and local levels? In other words, is it not possible that ANC supporters are beginning to vote strategically? To put it differently, is it not possible that ANC voters may be less uncomfortable with the ANC at national level than they are with its performance at local government level? These questions also raise the possibility that a vote for the ANC is sometimes a vote against the opposition.
The ANC ‘should’ be trounced in this election, given the fact that many people think that it is corrupt. There is also the perception that people join the ANC for reasons that have a lot to do with self-aggrandisement. A lot of the factionalism and internal party battles are driven by competition and conflicts over power and money. As a result, corruption in the party causes corruption in the State. Weaknesses and failures in delivery have added to these negative perceptions.
It also does not help that the leader of the party and the country is a scandal magnet. The image crisis of the President has been worsened by Nkandlagate and Guptagate, both of which are about the abuse and capture of the State and State resources. The performance of local government and that of the economy are major drivers of violent protests. In fact, youth underdevelopment in this country is a disaster waiting to happen. In short, what is damaging the image of the ANC are the perceptions and reality of underperformance by the ANC government, the perception that there is a growing gap between the ideals of the ANC and what it has become, and the perception that Zuma represents a serious decline in the quality of leadership that is available to the party, the State and society.
Given all of this, the ANC should, as the DA avers, lose Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. Is the DA right? We’ll see.