The Gauteng elections: An analysis

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen says the province and its metros are suddenly in play

Gauteng was the key battleground in last week's election. Furthermore, if the election was about the extent of the shift away from the ANC and the rise of opposition parties, Gauteng gave the key answer.

The swing away from the ANC of 10.5 percentage points on the 2009 election was the largest in any province and well above the national drop in support for the ruling party by 3.75 percentage points.

This matters for South African politics and to the ANC. Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokoyane told the Sunday Times that Gauteng, "is a very strategic province, which is key for the country, and you can't claim to be in charge of the country without having Gauteng." She added that the ANC did not have a "comfortable majority" in Gauteng.

To be sure, the ANC still rules in Gauteng with 53.59 percent of the vote, down from 64.04 percent in 2009, but the party has taken a serious hit from the Democratic Alliance, DA, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF. The DA won 30.2 percent of the vote, and increased its share by 9 percentage points. Newcomer EFF polled 10.3 percent.

Were the ANC to lose Gauteng, it would join the Western Cape as the second province out of its hands.

Gauteng is South Africa's most populous province, accounting for about a quarter of the country's population. As it is the country's economic hub and also overwhelming urban, drawing residents drawn from all over the country, the province could point to the future. These factors mean that any shift in Gauteng's voting patterns reverberate across the nation. Last week's shift away from the ANC thus creates a new dynamic country-wide.

Barring miracles, it presages a further drift away from the ANC in the province in the 2016 Municipal elections, which in turn raises the likelihood of coalition governments for the metros of Johannesburg and Tshwane. It also raises the stakes on the 2019 national and provincial elections in the province.

There is also the question of what the Gauteng result means for the province's anti-Zuma faction, led by the Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile. Mashatile's relatively poor showing, as opposed to the relative triumph of the Zuma faction in KZN must have an impact on Mashatile's standing inside the ruling party.

Voter apathy cannot be used as an excuse for the ANC'S Gauteng decline in 2014. Gauteng's voter turnout was 76 percent -- about three percent higher than the national figure. Township residents flocked to the polls to send a message. Yes, the ANC retained control but the party's reduced majority can only be interpreted as a desire for stronger opposition. The suburbs went to the polls in numbers because they have had enough of corruption and believe the DA can govern better.

That said, the electorate still gives the ANC broad credit. In Johannesburg, results show that the ANC did particularly well in Soweto, parts of which bear little resemblance to their condition 20 years ago. Almost all roads are tarred. There are countless new RDP houses, lighting, upgraded schools, clinics, and grassed parks with playgrounds, and even malls. There are free clinics, social grants, free schooling and free students' uniforms. Some Sowetans vote ANC simply because they are proud to have a black government.

The ANC did not hesitate to use the power of incumbency. In the run-up to the election, the state-controlled SABC screened several documentaries on the apartheid-era, helping remind voters from where they had come. Brand SA, a government agency that promotes the country, ran feel-good ads on radio.

The ANC's campaign war chest dwarfed that of its rivals. Anyone in Soweto who asked got a free ANC T-shirt and Gauteng was covered in party posters and massive billboards with the face of the President. In zones like Protea South, posters bearing the image of President Jacob Zuma were up in nearly every yard. Those who raised the matter of Nkandla were told not to worry as the party is bigger than Zuma.

That is why the ANC achieved more than 75 percent at many township voting stations. Even in Bekkersdal, the scene of violent anti-ANC protests this year, the party won 80 percent of the vote. But the days when it could count on up to 90 percent at township stations appear to be over.

The ANC's fairly high support confounds some media pundits who insisted that unemployment, corruption and e-tolls would slash far deeper into the ANC's majority. What we saw instead was a fairly large swing towards the DA and a stronger one toward the radical EFF whose 10.3 percent was markedly larger than the seven percent won by Congress of the People, COPE, in 2009.

After heavily investing in Gauteng, the DA was hoping for a better outcome. Putting forward Mmusi Maimane as Gauteng Premier candidate gave the campaign impetus, but it was not enough to vastly increase votes. Maimane is good at campaigning, but for some reason he seldom made headlines. Also, Maimane is a newcomer, although he ran as Johannesburg Mayor in 2011. Post-election it seems likely that his career will be at national level, which leaves a gap in the province for the party after so heavily investing in him there.

In the 2011 municipal vote, the DA was able to achieve 33 percent of the Gauteng vote, nearly three percentage points higher than last week. Opposition parties invariably do better than incumbents in municipal elections. Still, the relative, albeit slight decline in the DAs vote on the 2001 local elections was unfortunate for the party which needs to show fast growth to show it will ultimately govern.

To gain substantially in Gauteng, the DA needed to take more of the black vote.  Some 40 percent of the black vote received by the DA last week was from Gauteng, showing its importance to the party.

In the event, around six percent of blacks supported the DA nationally. This is well up on the 0.8 percent recorded in 2004, but short of expectations. In the final analysis, the DA's six percent of the black 2014 black vote was about the same as in 2011. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the DA is increasingly popular among small business owners in the townships. One told me the country would end up "like Zimbabwe" if Zuma continued in power and the exchange rate further weakened. He was also annoyed by e-tolling.

In the townships, DA branches are growing, but the greater growth might be coming from those in the new middle class. These people do not tend to join the party or wear the T-shirt, but increasingly vote DA because they are worried about corruption and know the story of how the DA tends to run things better.

The DA's 2014 messaging focused on jobs and corruption. The party might have fared better if it had stuck with the message of jobs alone. The stress on corruption meant the DA sounded negative to township ears.

Also, the DA did not have a sufficiently effective ground campaign in the townships. Party activists in the townships were stretched and the management of the campaign was difficult. The DA National Head Office in Cape Town has yet to grasp the massive importance of ground campaigns in Gauteng.

And then there was the EFF factor. It is now clear that the DA and EFF were rivals for the anti-ANC vote.

In the townships, it is not ideology that counts. What really counts is passion in taking on the ANC. With its aggressive message, flamboyant rhetoric, dashing red-berets and para-military ranks, the EFF cut an appealing presence for those opposed to the ANC. The EFFs number of votes was about three percent higher than that of the DA at many stations in west Soweto. And the EFF did better in the more neglected areas of Alexandra and Tembisa, where it gained up to 20 percent in some cases.

The new squeeze on the ANC with the stronger opposition in the province raised the temperature of the election and in some instances stoked intense suspicions over the neutrality of the IEC. These came to a head in Alexandra, where rumours about the dumping of Inkatha Freedom Party, IFP, and EFF ballots sparked two day of violence. A tent voting station near a hostel heavily dominated by Inkatha was set alight and clashes between the IFP and ANC supporters followed. Suspicions were also raised after hundreds of ballots were found dumped in Alexandra and Diepsloot.

The signs are that the delay in announcing the Gauteng result was due to the high number of objections and a degree of ineptitude on the part of the IEC, say DA officials close to the matter. Some of these objections were serious. In one case, a voting station was reportedly closed during voting and only the police and IEC officials were allowed to enter.

EFF leader Julius Malema eventually accepted the outcome, but accused the ANC of "shenanigans" and said they "know in reality that they lost the province."

The DA also raised many objections in the province, often finding itself acting in alliance with the EFF. This creates an interesting new dynamic, with activists from both DA and EFF posing for joint photographs. "We are both against the you-know-what" an EFF activist told me.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa warned the EFF at the party's launch last year, that if they didn't watch out, they'd find that polling stations were manned by member of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, SADTU, the largest ANC-aligned union.

It is unclear how the EFF will play its game in Parliament and in the Gauteng Legislature. According to Business Day, Malema has said the EFF would support the ANC on land expropriation without compensation if they wanted to change the constitution, but may also support the DA's motion of no confidence in President Zuma.

The 2014 elections have provided both the DA and the EFF with a power base on which to fight the 2016 municipal elections. Malema's uncertain future before the law, the prospects for internal fighting over positions that will arise, and risks faced by newly formed political parties make it difficult to make predictions about the EFF. The party could play a large role in providing a home for radical trade unionists. But certainly, the party's strong showing in the province does open a chance that they could become the king maker in running the council's of Gauteng's metro areas, Johannesburg and Tshwane, after the 2016 elections.

How would DA or ANC voters feel about a coalition city government in these cities with the EFF or between the two larger parties themselves? The new strength of the opposition in the province creates new possibilities, but also could force some very difficult decisions.

The ANC might try to lure members of the EFF, but so might the DA. After all, the EFF have taken what might be considered a first step away from the party and might take the next to the DA.

Gauteng and South African politics are now more fluid than they have ever been in the past twenty years.

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen worked as a volunteer for the DA in the election campaign

This article was published with the assistance of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF). The views presented in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FNF.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter