Sell: August ‘biggest’ election since 1994 – no such thing as ‘wasted vote’.

There’s no such thing as a wasted vote, just ask anyone who’s not been allowed to vote (pre 1994). And while Zuma’s electioneering tactic of ‘don’t waste your vote on others’ may have be in jest, it does hint of desperation. As mentioned previously opinion polls are fickle, but in them lies a threat that the major metros – Tshwane (currently under siege following ANC’s new mayoral nomination), Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth – may be ‘lost’ to a coalition come August. Which in itself shows the value of a single vote. Graham Sell goes one further saying the upcoming municipal elections are without doubt the most important since 1994. So whatever you do, don’t waste your vote. – Stuart Lowman

By Graham Sell*

Graham Sell
Graham Sell

Jacob Zuma was recently quoted as saying “No one else is going to win the elections but the ANC. If you vote for any other party, what will you be voting for? They are not in government and they will never be so there is nothing that they will do for you. If you vote for them you are throwing away your vote, you are not investing it”. 

First of all, there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Even if your party of choice does not win, you have made a mark that might just translate into meaningful change. So NEVER give up on this right that is also a privilege. On the flip-side, looking at the fundamental numbers involved, JZ is more than likely correct in his assertion that the ANC will again be winners.

Even though they have been bleeding support for the last 10 years, generally shedding between 5%-7% in every election cycle, the ANC still holds a commanding majority in most local municipalities outside of the Western Cape.

For example, not counting the Metros of Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay, there are 37 local councils in the Eastern Cape, 36 of which were won by the ANC in 2011. On August 3rd, shifts in support away from the ANC of 5%, 10%, and 14% will lose them their first three councils, but the next closest potential loss will take a shift in support of a possible, but unlikely, 22%.

A combined total of 63 councils in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Free State were all won by the ANC in 2011. It will take a decline in support of 16%, 18%, and 21% respectively for them to lose control over the first 3 local councils, one in each province. A 27% decline is needed to lose control of the Manguang (Bloemfontein) Metro, and 28% before another 3 local councils are surrendered. On the surface, not too much for the ANC to worry about in terms of control, but plenty for them to worry about in terms of the potentially devastating erosion in their support base.

The ANC seem to be most at risk in the Northern Cape where in 2011 they won 22 of the 27 local councils, but with smaller margins. A 2% shift will see them lose two councils, a 10% away shift and they will lose another one. The biggest change in control will occur at a 14% drop in support where they will lose an additional 7 councils. A shift in support of up to 18% will see the ANC lose 3 more, amounting to a potential loss of 13 councils across the province.

As the DA is traditionally weakest in these predominantly rural provinces, any drop in support for the ANC is likely to be picked up by the EFF or other smaller opposition parties. Even so, it still seems unlikely that the ANC will lose control over the majority of municipalities outside of the Western Cape – unless their campaigning completely implodes.

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The real excitement of these elections, though, swirls around control of the Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro councils. The DA would have us believe that they will win all three outright, but can this ambition be realised? Unfortunately it seems destined to remain a pipe-dream, not because the swing away from the ANC is too big to overcome, but rather that the DA needs unrealistically large swings in their favour to take outright control of these Metros.

In Nelson Mandela Bay for example, a relatively small 7% decline in support will see the ANC lose control of the Metro, but conversely the DA requires a much larger 25% increase in support to fulfil their ambition of taking unfettered control.

Control of Tshwane requires a 13% drop in ANC support coupled with a corresponding 28% increase in DA support, while Johannesburg requires a 17% drop in ANC support with the DA needing an improvement of 44% over their 2011 result to take outright control.

Read also: Graham Sell: The legislative defect – SA’s disproportional political system

Add the EFF’s inauguration into the local government power-shift equation and it can be reasonably assumed that, should the ANC lose control of any or all of these Metros, then coalition politics is the most likely outcome. An unfathomable aspect is who the coalition bed partners will be, and for how long they will remain faithful to each other, particularly in view of the ideological gymnastics needed to ally in the first place.

In Nelson Mandela Bay it is also difficult to fathom who will get on well enough with Athol Trollip to form a meaningful coalition, and Tshwane is a basket case that needs a serious political overhaul before any alliance might work effectively.

Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, a coalition between the ANC’s Parks Tau and the DA’s Herman Mashaba might be just what the City of Johannesburg, and the country needs. A demonstration that the ANC and DA can make things happen when the requirement is to think together, not just automatically contradict each other.

These elections are without doubt the most important since 1994. Investing your vote wisely may or may not provide immediate returns regarding municipal control, but a hard enough hit to their support base may prove to the ANC that their only viable damage control mechanism is to recall JZ sooner rather than later. No matter what happens on August 3rd, if you keep investing your vote wisely, then positive returns will ultimately be realised.

Then again, after all the hype and hope has evaporated, focus must be returned to changing the electoral system for the next round of National and Provincial elections in 2019, and Local Government elections in 2021. Never forget that we have just voted, once again, to pay for at least twice as many politicians than are needed to run municipalities. This before a single cent is spent on service delivery.