An almost 10% drop in support for the ANC, a stable performance by the DA, and the EFF becoming a visible factor in local government – this was how analysts summarised election results in the Free State, where trends in other parts of the country have been mirrored.
The ANC managed to get just over 60% of support in the province, the DA around 20%, with the EFF, contesting its first local government elections, in third place with just under 10%.
“The ANC has to be worried about their decrease in support in the Free State,” said Professor Theo Neethling, head of the department of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State.
“This has always been a strong province for them where they were used to being a 70% party. Premier Ace Magashule is also a key figure in the party’s national structure, part of the so-called ‘premier league’ that is instrumental in keeping President Jacob Zuma in power. This fall in support here has to hurt them.”
The ANC in the province welcomed the results.
“It has always been our intention to retain control over all municipalities in the Free State, and we have done so,” said Thabo Meeko, provincial spokesperson for the ANC. “We are a little bit disturbed about the low voter turnout, which was mainly because of extreme weather conditions. But our campaign has been intensive and we are generally happy with what we achieved.”
Meeko attributed the almost 10% drop in ANC support in the province to the challenges that were inherent to running municipalities in rural areas.
“It’s a continuous struggle when there is just no fiscal capacity to pay for services. Residents are unemployed and many get services for free. People are then quick to blame the government for the situation. We need to re-look the basic structure and operation of our municipalities carefully now that elections are over.”
Meeko said they were not perturbed by the EFF’s growth in the province or the DA’s consistent performance.
“We experience no substantial threat to our leadership in the Free State. We are more concerned to strengthen our local government structures to respond to challenges. We face abject poverty in large areas in our province like in Xhariep (Southern Free State). We are not focused on only controlling municipalities where there is money and economic development. We are also concerned about people in depressed areas, where we want all spheres of government to work together to uplift people. And in that sense I think we have done well.”
Neethling attributed the decrease in ANC support in the province to “problems around President Zuma”, but added that he thought the party was the main victim of the relatively low voter turnout (around 44%) in the province.
“This can obviously be a result of the bad weather conditions on voting day. (It was bitterly cold over large parts of the Free State, with storm winds and even isolated snow falls). But my suspicion is that there was also quite a large stay-away vote at work. Many staunch ANC supporters are disillusioned with their party but not prepared to vote for anyone else.”
Neethling said it had become clear the DA was not the main beneficiary of the ANC’s poorer performance, as their support had remained roughly the same.
“We are encouraged by our consistent results and even a slight rise in our support in the Free State,” said Patricia Kopane, provincial leader of the DA.
“We managed to take two wards from the ANC, one in the Mangaung metro and one in Ladybrand. So I’m excited by our performance. Especially if you keep in mind that we are competing with a ruling party that uses state resources to further its goals.”
She was also disappointed by the low voter turnout.
“It clearly shows that people are not interested in voting. Many people in the Free State still don’t know the power of their vote. It is something we need to work on.”
Kopane said a lot of focus has been on winning the big metros in these elections.
“In 2019 we will concentrate more on the small municipalities, and in securing some of the votes that were wasted on smaller parties,” she said.
As elsewhere in the country, it was the EFF that seemed to have gained the most by the ANC’s drop in support.
“At around 10 percent, their support in the Free State is not huge, but certainly significant. In contrast, smaller parties like Cope and the Freedom Front Plus seem to have reached the end of the road here,” said Neethling.
The FF Plus managed to get just under 2% of votes, losing their only seat in the Mangaung metro, while Cope could not even muster up 1% of the vote.
“The Mangaung metro can be seen as a barometer of what is happening in the rest of the country, namely that the ANC is losing support in cities while remaining strong in rural areas. Compared to 2011, the ANC lost 10% of its votes in Mangaung, which is an even bigger blow than in the rest of the province. The DA has not managed to do much better than in 2011, while the EFF has become a visible force in the metro.”
Neethling predicted a continued slow downward trend for the ANC in the province.
“As cracks are appearing in the ANC’s dam wall, more people will seriously consider leaving the party. But this trend will be slower in rural areas. One must remember that the average voter in the Free State has a rural profile. They are maybe not so informed about economic models and the like. But they do watch TV and are aware of President’s Zuma’s tarnished image, which will eventually influence how they vote.”
– African News Agency (ANA)