SA’s local elections are complete, the votes have been tallied, and not only has it been declared free and fair, but voter turnout was up, and party competitiveness increased, with greater movement towards a two-party system, rather than the reverse. Back in 2004, there was lots of talk of movement towards one-party rule, including this New York Times article.
What was unique about this election? Leaders and pundits, including President Zuma, are saying that the election was about “service delivery.” In other words, they are suggesting that people’s votes are a function of their levels of satisfaction with water provision, sanitation, roads, housing, etc. Well, there has certainly been more talk about these issues in the months prior to the elections, and a few years of protests about services. But it is far from clear that people with the worst services are the ones barking the loudest, or that those people are voting out the councils that provided those services. The notion that all citizens will use their votes to make politicians accountable, especially for using public resources for public good, is the great promise of democratic government. But the mere association of some isolated rhetoric about services with a somewhat more competitive election should not lead us to conclude that this dynamic characterizes South African politics just yet. This summer, I hope to do a bit of analysis of voting patterns relative to service delivery to provide some answers to these questions.
I will try to write more about the elections next week, when all of the results are in. But the ANC, of course, won a majority of the councils and seats around the country. Although the Nelson Mandela municipality had seemed in play, the ANC won it. The DA claimed victory only in Cape Town – the one metro that does not have a black majority. That said, it does seem, anecdotally, that race played somewhat less of a role in this election, as many voters focused on service delivery, at least rhetorically. But that will be a hot question to consider in the next few months.
In any case, it looks to have been a free and fair election, vigorously contested, with at least some attention to serious issues that face people’s lives. Apparently, Donald Trump stayed out of the fray.
Cape set for a record poll – CapeArgus – IOL. At least in the Western Cape province, turnout for this year’s South African local elections is likely to be the highest ever among registered voters. Very exciting news for the institutionalization of democracy in SA.
May 18 election hours away – The Star. Apparently President Zuma only started tweeting last week, while the DA leader Helen Zille has been doing it throughout the campaign. A recent survey shows 56.6 percent of registered and likely voters supporting the ANC, but the DA leads in its “online strategies” (I don’t know how they measure that… maybe followers online?)
Battle of the Bay – In The Paper – Mail & Guardian Online. The Mail and Guardian is reporting that the ANC may lose the major Eastern Cape metro – Nelson Mandela Bay. When my research team visited Nelson Mandela in 2009, we were unable to complete our survey of municipal councilors because of tense intra-party conflicts and suspicions of loyalty, and apparently that trend has persisted. It is very possible that we will see a DA-COPE coalition if the ANC fails to get a majority.
In anticipation of tomorrow’s local elections in South Africa, I am going to post a few items today about the campaigns in various localities, particularly from the provinces where I have spent time in the past few years (Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng).
When I traveled with several students to the Eastern Cape during the summer of 2009, we found lots of party in-fighting within ANC municipalities, and varied levels of support for the breakaway COPE party. We spent a fair bit of time in Makana municipality, which is centered in Grahamstown (home of Rhodes University).
In that municipality in 2009 we observed “democracy in action,” during several municipal meetings and issues were debated and sometimes thoughtfully considered, but we also saw instances of this type of “vigorous” and raucous politics crowding out thoughtful deliberation. The ANC may lose some seats, but is not likely to lose control of the municipality. Hopefully, the opposition pressure will lead to better performance rather than simply stronger rhetoric.