Amongst all the talk about Eskom and all the other political drama taking place nationally, a barely-reported but very significant thing happened in two key by-elections on Thursday. In the Western Cape, the DA lost a ward in Knysna, one of its traditional support bases, while the ANC held on to seven wards in by-elections in Kimberley. However, the ANC lost support in all those by-elections.
2/ Important note: The swing away from the ANC didn't go to the main opposition parties (DA and EFF). It mostly went to independents. Still a bad sign for the ANC though.— Dawie Scholtz (@DawieScholtz) February 14, 2019
The DA also held on to two wards in Seapoint and Camps Bay in Cape Town.
Why does this matter?
Respected elections analyst Dawie Scholtz pointed out on Thursday that by-elections can be an important predictor of how people might vote nationally.
Strongly disagree. In the aggregate, by-elections reflect voter preferences pretty accurately. Any individual by–election in isolation, I agree with you. But in the aggregate, across large groups of voters, they are very meaningful.— Dawie Scholtz (@DawieScholtz) February 14, 2019
The Western Cape and Northern Cape are incredibly important for the DA. The Western Cape, obviously, as it is the only province the official opposition governs. The Northern Cape is a province it has poured serious resources into over the past few elections, and it is right up there with Gauteng on the DA’s list of places it believes it has a shot at governing.
If Scholtz is right, then the DA is possibly losing some support in Knysna, where it is typically strong. But its supporters in upmarket suburbs like Camps Bay are safely in its corner.
The Kimberley, or specifically the Galeshewe (a suburb of Kimberley) by-elections are interesting. Seven ANC councillors were rejected from the party after a titanic political fallout in the local Sol Plaatje municipal council. The ANC held on to all seven wards, but it lost major support.
And this support did not go to the opposition – voters turned to independent candidates instead of the ANC. This is not good news for the likes of the DA, which flew in senior national politicians for the campaign.
This is interesting. And a measure of how seriously the DA is taking these Galeshewe by-elections today. They have senior leaders from across the country there to campaign. Athol Trollip (Eastern Cape) and Makashule Gana (Gauteng) is an unusual deployment for a NC by-election. https://t.co/MuONSF3o4W— Dawie Scholtz (@DawieScholtz) February 13, 2019
What’s going on?
Even though by-elections can be significant, it is hard to tell what’s happening on the ground. But it seems to indicate that people in Kimberley were willing to ditch the ANC, to which they have been fiercely loyal, to support candidates they liked. Or, from a faction of the ANC which they liked. They chose people or factionalism over the party. It probably indicates a larger truth in local government politics: the ANC is strong, but the politics of personality is stronger.