ANC support in Metro down 18 percent from 2006 to 2009, says Bobby Stevenson

THE question of whether the Democratic Alliance will win the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro on May 18 has suddenly become a talking point. The recent remarks by the secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, that the DA could take the Bay have dramatically catapulted this matter onto the national political stage.

How realistic is a DA a victory? Could the “unthinkable” occur and the DA deal a political blow to the ANC in its heartland by snatching the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro from the ANC? The provincial ballot shows that ANC support in the metro dropped from 66.7 percent in 2006 to 49.15 percent in 2009 – a loss of 18 percent. Meanwhile the DA, in 2009, polled 28 percent of the vote and the Congress of the People 17 percent. The next biggest party, the Independent Democrats, has now aligned itself with the DA at local government level which could further boost DA support in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas.

In March this year a TNS research survey indicated that 62 percent of residents in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro were unhappy with service delivery as at November 2010 – up from 42 percent in February of that year, whereas in Cape Town the same survey indicated 61 percent of residents were happy. Many people have tended to write off the possibility of a DA-led coalition victory because of Cope’s decline in support. This thinking ignores the fact that Cope still has support in the Metro on the one hand – even if it is not at 2009 levels. On the other hand it also ignores the fact that the DA is gaining ground among voters where it previously enjoyed small support.

By-election trends across the country have also shown a swing to the DA in areas that traditionally did not support it.

It should also be noted that Cape Town provides a precedent for a massive leap in support. There the DA polled 27 percent of the vote in 2004 which increased to 41 percent in 2006 .This provided it with a basis to lead a seven party coalition. It ultimately provided the party with the springboard to win the Western Cape provincial government.

What are some of the push and pull factors moving voters away from the ANC and attracting them to the DA?

First of all with regard to push factors, voters are fed up with poor service delivery. In Nelson Mandela Bay Metro there is a housing backlog of 83 000 units, 22 500 bucket toilets and a 38 percent unemployment rate with 109 000 families living below the poverty line. There is also a massive water crisis. The capital budget has recently been cut to the bone; the municipality is cash-strapped and cannot borrow anymore. Roads are in a poor state. The current ANC government has run the municipality into the ground and voters know it.

Secondly corruption is rife and the mayor has recently called in the Special Investigation Unit and Public Protector to probe a number of directorates. The explosive Kabuso forensic report’s full findings into corruption and wasteful expenditure still need to be made public.

A culture of jobs for pals and contracts for the connected chase away investors.

Thirdly political infighting between warring ANC factions has resulted in the party taking its eye off the governance ball. There have been indications that ANC voters may stay away from the polling booth due to internal dissatisfaction.

What then are the pull factors attracting voters to the DA? For the first time the DA is campaigning on its record as a party of government and this is gaining traction among voters who never supported it before. Issuebased politics is beginning to define the narrative of the election rather than race-based identity issues. The diversity of people supporting the DA was evident at the rally this week at the Orient Theatre in East London.

In terms of its governance record, where the DA governs it delivers. The success of Cape Town has been reproduced in the DA governed Baviaans Municipality in the Eastern Cape. The province, to its credit, recently gave it the award for the municipality with the best record of service delivery and revenue collection.

Clearly the DA is on track to take into Nelson Mandela Bay – either alone or as part of a coalition.

Bobby Stevenson is the DA leader in the Eastern Cape Legislature