It was billed to be the most significant election since the dawn of our young democracy, but much like the magnitude of the Tory victory in the last UK election, or the success of the Brexit campaign, the extent of the drubbing handed to the ANC was largely unanticipated.
Following the election from afar – I flew to America last Wednesday after making my all important crosses – has afforded me an interesting perspective.
Our election cracked the front page of the International New York Times on Thursday morning, and it featured strongly on Sky News and BBC World news on Thursday and Friday. International interest in this election was at an all-time high, but assuredly for the wrong reasons: the reportage in general reflected the state and trajectory of our politics because of one man: Jacob Zuma.
Back home, while the focus of the hustings was on what each party could do in respect of service delivery, we all knew that this election was little other than a referendum on the rule of Jacob Zuma, and he was taught a lesson by a seriously peeved electorate.
While the ANC still managed to maintain a majority nationally – 53.91%, it was 9% down on the 2011 tally. (As an aside, this makes a nonsense of ANC deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte’s assertion that the ANC did better this time around than last time, because “the ANC got four million more votes this time”.)
She was, of course, comparing this election tally (up to three ballot papers a voter) with that of the 2014 national and provincial elections (two ballot papers a voter), which is akin to comparing apples with pears.)
This comes on top of a 3.04% decline in support between 2006 and 2011, and a 6% loss between 2009 and 2014.
Aside from eThekwini where it polled 53.06%, Buffalo City (58.75%), Mangaung (56.53%) it failed for the first time to take a simple majority in the remaining major metros where it has traditionally ruled: Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. Midvaal, which the ANC swore blind it would wrest from the control of the DA was held by 59.8% majority, 3.6% up on 2011.
Cape Town was returned to the DA with a majority previously only accorded the ANC (66.61%), and the ANC now controls not one municipality in the Western Cape.
With two weeks to go from polling day, during which the various municipal managers must convene the first council meeting in each municipality elect a speaker who will in turn supervise the election of a mayor, there is a desperate scramble for coalition partners by the ANC and the DA.
In Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, the DA polled the highest number of votes, and will quite easily craft coalitions with the usual political horse-trading that accompanies such accords.
The protestations of the ANC and the EFF about concluding a coalition agreement, and Mmusi Maimane’s insistence that the DA would not climb into bed with the ANC aside, reality suggests otherwise: politics is the art of compromise, and compromise is the lubricant of political intercourse.
In Ekurhuleni, although a simple majority eluded it, the ANC did poll a good deal more votes than the DA, so it will likely cobble together a coalition, although with which party remains to be seen.
In Johannesburg, although the ANC polled more votes (44.99%) than the DA (38.4%) if the DA hits the sheets with the EFF (10.94%) and either the IFP (1.71%) or the AIC (1.61%), it will be able to form a majority government, and push the ANC into the opposition benches.
The symbolism of the administrative (Pretoria/Tshwane) and legislative capitals (Cape Town), and the heartland metro of the ANC (Nelson Mandela Bay) falling into the hands of the opposition cannot be underestimated, nor can the delicious irony of the Nkandla ward being returned to the IFP with an increased majority: Jacob Zuma’s very neighbours want nothing to do with his ANC. The hubris of the ANC leadership over the outcome of this election aside, it is a seismic shift in our politics.
The distribution of votes in urban versus rural areas coupled with anecdotal evidence, suggests that urban voters – stupidly dubbed “clever blacks” by Jacob Zuma – punished the ANC by either not voting, or voting for an opposition party. The ANC’s national “victory” was therefore largely due to the rural vote, which Jacob Zuma so successfully wooed in 2009.
Whether or not this drubbing at the polls will translate into the ANC losing an overall majority in the 2019 election remains to be seen, but the numbers are not encouraging.
The ANC is a mere 3.91% away from losing control of the National Assembly, and by extension more than one provincial legislature.
If I am wrong – I predicted recently that the DA would reach the zenith of its electoral support in this election – the quanta of previous ANC incremental losses (6%: 2009-2014, 9%: 2011-2016) suggests that this is well within the realms of possibility.
The only way the ANC can avoid defeat in 2019 is to get its house in order by recalling the albatross Jacob Zuma, and setting about the painful business of excising the cancerous tumour of patronage he has so assiduously propagated.
The ridiculous assertions however, by so many ANC leaders who should know better, that the calamitous election results of the ANC cannot be ascribed to the actions of one man, suggest that this is unlikely to happen.
As hard as this may be to swallow, it would actually play right into the hands of the opposition.
If the ANC chooses to proceed business as usual, relying on its by now non-existent struggle dividend, in 2019 the electorate will, as Nelson Mandela suggested some years ago, “do to the ANC what [it] did to the apartheid government”.