ELECTION SET TO BE A TWO-HORSE RACE: MAIL & GUARDIAN

South Africa’s electoral landscape is changing. Polling data suggest that next month’s municipal election could go down as the first clear indicator of a shift in voting patterns, driven by rising unhappiness over service delivery, internal ructions in the tripartite alliance and the increasing consolidation of opposition around the Democratic Alliance.

Research done by local agencies and internal polling by parties showa noticeable shift in urban areas in the reasons why voters choose to vote for certain parties.

In the Western Cape the DA is expected to make a clean sweep, with the help of its newly acquired support from the Independent Democrats. Elsewhere, the ANC is expected to win most municipalities outside the Western Cape, but margins are likely to be much narrower than before.

The research also shows the election is increasingly becoming a two-horse race nationwide — with the exception of KwaZulu-Natal, where the Inkatha Freedom Party is the only credible opposition to the ANC in some municipalities.

Two-thirds of people in metropolitan councils are unhappy with service delivery, according to one survey. TNS Research Surveys targeted 2 000 people in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), Buffalo City (East London), eThekwini (Durban), Mangaung (Bloemfontein), Johannesburg and Tshwane in March.

The results showed 61% of black communities were unhappy with service delivery. “This makes it clear that anger in Ficksburg [where community leader Andries Tatane was allegedly killed by police during a recent service delivery protest] is the same in other areas too,” Neil Higgs of TNS told the Mail & Guardian.

Only slightly less than half the respondents (47%) said they would not vote for the same party as they did in previous elections, the TNS survey found. Because the ANC controls most municipalities, this could spell big challenges for the ruling party. Although 68% of respondents said they would come out to vote on May 18, Higgs said this is an “overclaim”.

“People think that is the politically correct thing to say, but I don’t think they will come out in such large numbers,” he said. Large cities such as Johannesburg would probably not fall to the DA, but there would definitely be swings in voter support, Higgs predicted. “In some areas it is clear voters want the ANC to be the party [in power], but they want different councillors. This indicates a switch from struggle politics to a focus on delivery,” Higgs said.

“We will see some swings in support because people are more focused on service delivery than on old loyalties and the levels of dissatisfaction are quite high.”

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The Eastern Cape, in particular, was “up for grabs”, Higgs said. “People there seem to be willing to think of change. [Former president Thabo] Mbeki’s not in power any more and it was his stronghold. The service delivery there is just so bad that things may swing there.”

Low voter turnout

Local government elections are notorious for low voter turnout. In 2006 only 48,4% voted: the lowest turnouts were in Gauteng (42%) and the Eastern Cape (56%). Higgs said a massive stayaway vote could not be firmly predicted, but if it materialised the opposition parties would benefit.

“If the threats by Samwu [South African Municipal Workers’ Union] to boycott the elections are true, this would have a major effect, and opposition parties will benefit,” he said.

DA leaders publicly predict victory everywhere they campaign but in the party’s engine room a more realistic picture of its election prospects reigns.

Party chief executive Jonathan Moakes said the DA’s internal polling showed growth in Johannesburg and Tshwane, but probably not by more than 10%.

‘In Soweto we expect to make some gains because we have more potential there than ever before,” Moakes said. Although big cities in the Northern Cape such as Kimberley and Upington will remain in ANC hands, the DA expects to make enough inroads there to win the province in the 2014 national elections. “With the Independent Democrats being incorporated into the DA, we expect to have the majority support in the Northern Cape in 2014,” Moakes said.

But the party is confident of winning municipalities such as Calvinia and Springbok. And the DA also expects to win the City of Cape Town with an outright majority.

The DA has never won a ward in Soweto. But James Lorimer, the DA national spokesperson on cooperative governance, said an informal survey in areas of Soweto such as Doornkop, Bram Fischerville and Dobsonville showed at least 40% of people supported the DA.

Defections

The party’s federal chairperson, Wilmot James, said the DA expected to attract about 800 000 votes in KwaZulu-Natal now that former IFP chairperson Ziba Jiyane had defected.

Jiyane dissolved his party, the South African Democratic Congress, an offshoot of the National Demo­cratic Congress, that is itself an offshoot of the IFP, and joined the DA this week.

The DA expects to have its support in KwaZulu-Natal reach double digits for the first time during these elections. In making this calculation, the party is counting on IFP voters who do not want to vote for the ANC because of historical difficulties between the two parties.

Meanwhile, Ebrahim Fakir, an analyst at the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy (Eisa), told the Mail & Guardian he was alarmed by a new trend in violent election-related incidents.

“First, you had the trend of parties fighting with each other and we had no-go areas and the like,” he said. “Then, especially towards [the ANC national conference in] Polokwane, we saw intraparty fighting. Now the two trends have merged and this is very worrying.”

Following the failure of the ANC to register candidates in seven wards in Potchefstroom, party members allegedly assaulted the mother of DA candidate Jabulani Makhunga in Ikageng, Potchefstroom, the M&G has learned.

The 54-year-old Nomoya Mak­hunga was allegedly hit in the face by a neighbour who Jabulani Makhunga said was a former member of Umkhonto weSizwe.

“He said the ANC gave her a house and a spotlight outside the house, so she can’t vote for the DA. He called Helen Zille a cockroach and then hit my mother in the face,” Makhunga claimed. A charge of assault has been laid at the local police station.

In other incidents:

* ANC members in Pretoria report­edly attempted to disrupt the DA’s Freedom Day celebrations in Mamelodi. The ANC denied there was an attempt at disruption and said it was merely an ANC group campaigning in the same vicinity, with no intention of disrupting the DA event. The Pretoria News reported on Wednesday that DA supporters were taunted and ANC supporters used an ANC T-shirt to clean the “DA dirt” from the Solomon Mahlangu statue on Freedom Square in Mamelodi.

* Midvaal DA campaigner Bongani Baloyi told the M&G he experienced similar incidents while campaigning in the Sicelo Shiceka township outside Meyerton. “They would take the DA T-shirts we are distributing and start washing their cars,” he said.

* In the Eastern Cape, DA party leader Bobby Stevenson said he was warned by bystanders while he was campaigning in a township that “they couldn’t guarantee the safety of his car”.

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) spokesperson Kate Bapela said the commission had received several complaints about parties trying to disrupt each other’s election campaigns but no more than in 2009. “These elections are closer to home for voters. We call it the intimate elections. No area is the same, so we are working closely with the security cluster and they look at the specific dynamics in certain areas,” Bapela said.