On 3 August 2016, South Africa held its local and municipal elections across the country and while the votes are still being tallied, it is clear that a political shift has occurred in parts of the country. The initial results indicate that at least 17 municipalities had hung votes meaning that coalitions will be needed to be formed in order to run local governments. At least one major metropolitan municipality, Nelson Mandela Bay, has been lost by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and is likely to be governed by the country’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), in a coalition with one or more smaller parties. The loss of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality has dealt a significant psychological blow to the ANC as the metro is the largest municipality in the Eastern Cape province which is a traditional ANC heartland and home to party stalwart’s icons such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Oliver Tambo and Albert Luthuli.
In addition, the ANC will likely fall short of winning majorities in Tshwane municipality ‒ which includes the executive capital, Pretoria ‒ and the country’s economic hub Johannesburg. In Tshwane, in particular, it appears that the ANC will not even be the largest party in the city legislature. On a national level, in 2016, the ANC’s share of the vote has fallen to less than 55% of the vote, from 61% in the 2011 local elections and 62% in the 2014 national election.
Notably, the ANC, which has dominated South African politics since the advent of democracy in 1994, continued to dominate the country’s more rural municipalities. This could be of concern to the party as South Africa is a rapidly urbanising country with over 60% of the population already living in the country’s cities. If these electoral trends continue, the ANC could risk becoming a primarily rural party and its national power may be under threat in 2019 or 2024.
On a more immediate front, the local election results could have profound effects on the country’s economic and political stability. The ANC’s comparatively poor showing in these elections will have ramifications within the party itself. Party spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, has stated that the results are concerning and that the ANC will scrutinise “what went wrong”. In addition, due to the party losing some municipalities and receiving a decreased vote percentage in others, potentially hundreds if not thousands of ANC city and ward councillors will lose their positions. For many of these individuals this will mean the difference between a middle-class lifestyle and poverty; for others, it will mean a loss of access to patronage networks. Accordingly, blame mongering may ensue amid efforts to delegate responsibility for these losses and contain internal anger within the ANC.
This being said it is unlikely that the ANC will take too drastic action or act on the feedback they will likely receive in their election autopsy. Research and polling by independent firms and media outlets indicates that many urban voters rejected the ANC due to anger over economic mismanagement, corruption and scandal fatigue over controversial President Jacob Zuma. Despite this, Zuma is unlikely to be removed from office due to his control and influence within the ANC. However, the ANC’s poor showing will likely increase tensions and infighting within the party ahead of the party’s electoral conference in December 2017 potentially distracting the ruling party from focusing on governance issues affecting South Africa.
From a security point of view, the major municipalities which the ANC loses in this election could see an increase in protests and civil unrest as unions and individuals affiliated with the ANC attempt to undermine the new opposition-led city governments.
Also of concern is if no party wins a majority of the vote in Johannesburg or Tshwane as it is likely that neither the DA nor the ANC would be able to form a majority coalition without the radical leftist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Given the EFF’s radical stance on issues of economic policy and its history of antagonism with other major parties, any alliance with the DA or the ANC will likely be uneasy. This would create an unstable environment within the city councils and undermine effective governance of the municipalities and the respective legislatures. In addition, the possibility that parties fail to form coalitions is possible, in which case a minority government would need to be formed. Such a scenario could lead to a city government which is not secure in its position and would require the support of a major opposition party to pass any legislation.
Another possible cause for concern has been the resurgence of the Zulu nationalist, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) province which had its best electoral showing in several years. This has the potential to result in a return of political violence in the northern areas of KZN where there has historically been extreme enmity between the IFP and the ANC.
The ramifications of the 2016 local and municipal elections will likely continue for some time as the opposition parties are feeling emboldened by their increased share of the vote while the ruling ANC is reeling from their worst electoral results since 1994. This has the potential to lead to a more aggressive opposition, while the ruling party is likely to begin a fightback campaign against opposition parties, while dealing with worsening factional infighting within the ANC itself. Accordingly, economic uncertainty, escalated political rhetoric and even violence could rise in the near to medium-term future.