“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” and at the time of this writing, between 80 and 90 percent of the ballots in South Africa’s 2016 municipal elections have been counted. Most provinces have tallied over 80 percent of the vote, with the exception of Gauteng where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located. Nevertheless, it is likely that current trends will hold. If so, about 53 to 54 percent of the vote will go to the African National congress (ANC), vice 62.15 percent in the 2014 national elections; between 27 and 28 percent to the Democratic Alliance (DA), vice 22.23 percent in 2014; between 7 and 8 percent to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), vice 6.35 percent in 2014; and, between 4 and 5 percent to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), vice 2.4 percent in 2014. (The remainder is split among the myriad small parties.)
As of this drafting the vote between the ANC and the DA is very close in Johannesburg and Tshwane (Pretoria). The DA looks to have taken the former ANC stronghold of Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth). In Johannesburg and Tshwane, township votes, likely to be ANC or EFF, are often the last to be counted, which could result in an ANC “surge” near the end of the process
Commentators report that the elections were almost entirely violence free and were well-conducted. South Africa has a tradition of credible elections, and this one appears no different.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africans have tended to vote along racial lines. Blacks, 80 percent of the population, supported the ANC; Whites and Coloureds, each representing 9 percent of the population, overwhelmingly voted for the DA, joined by Asians. However, over the past several years, the DA has been attempting to expand its racial identity and appeal to black voters, especially within the emerging black middle class and among those born after the end of apartheid. The increase in DA votes in 2016 suggests some success; most of the DA’s new votes appear to have been black. The defections from the ANC similarly would mostly have been black. Voters appear to be moving beyond race and toward issues. The political system is opening up after years of ANC domination, both a cause and an effect of South Africa’s strengthening democracy.
Two surprises from the 2016 elections thus far: the first is the revival of IFP, a Zulu cultural movement as well as a political party. Its electoral support has doubled, perhaps reflecting ANC splits in predominately Zulu KwaZulu-Natal province. The other is the EFF. Many had expected that it would do well, perhaps gaining more than 10 percent of the vote, given the accelerating demonstrations in the townships with reference to poor service deliveries associated with ANC politicians. It did do better, but not as well as was expected.
The loser is the ANC. Its support has dropped almost 9 percent since 2014. South Africans widely saw the 2016 municipal elections as a referendum on the scandal plagued ANC Zuma government during a time of economic stagnation. Pressure within the ANC for Zuma to go will likely mount. But, Zuma is a wily tactician with a strong degree of control over the internal workings of the ANC party machinery. He may survive yet again.