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SOUTH AFRICA: ANC improves candidate registration but election troubles remain

Table of Contents

  • The African National Congress (ANC) appears to have largely closed its self-inflicted candidate registration gap this week, but the party's electoral troubles do not end here.
  • With just under six weeks to go to the 1 November municipal elections, several factors could conspire to push the ANC's vote share below 50% overall and in key big cities.
  • While President Cyril Ramaphosa remains far more popular than his party, a poor election performance would generate speculation about his re-election as ANC leader in 2022 and the 2024 national elections.

ANC troubles

With less than six weeks to go before the elections, the 2021 municipal polls will be characterized by an unusually short campaign period as well as Covid-19 restrictions, increasing uncertainty about voter intentions and turnout.

On 22 September, the African National Congress (ANC) announced that it had submitted the names of candidates for all 4,468 wards and for 257 municipalities to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) ahead of local government elections now set for 1 November. The full picture of the ward and PR registrations will only become clear once the IEC has reviewed and finalized all lists, which will be published on 29 September. This will show more conclusively to what extent the ANC capitalized on its second chance to register hundreds of missing ward and PR candidates after the IEC decided to reopen candidate registrations – a decision challenged by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) but upheld by the Constitutional Court on 20 September.

The ANC's registration challenges signal that its troubles are far from over. The campaign faces serious financial strain (with the party owing three months of staff salaries). Further disputes and legal challenges over nominations – as well as the perceived legitimacy of these candidates – may undermine the ANC's electoral performance, including in Gauteng and North West province, some of which may only be resolved after the elections. This could depress turnout among ANC voters, especially in areas where factional strife is rife.

Another concern is political violence. Over the weekend, ANC councilor candidate meetings in eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg (KwaZulu-Natal) were marred by violence, with at least three people killed. Although this reflects a longer-term trend, the violence is all the more concerning in the context of the unprecedented July riots, which were triggered by the arrest of ex-president Jacob Zuma. Tensions on the ground are driven by a combination of local ANC leaders being squeezed out of party lists, ongoing legal wrangling over Zuma's prison sentence, and the corruption trial of ex-eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, some of whose backers have lost ward nominations or have been forced out by the ANC's step-aside resolution. While the 17 September Constitutional Court judgment rejecting Zuma's recission application will fuel further tensions, the more important legal battle may now be the one over Zuma's recently granted medical parole. These political dynamics may well depress turnout and may benefit smaller parties in the province.

Bottom line

Similar to a recent Ipsos poll, internal ANC surveys also expect the ruling party's overall support to decline below the 50% mark – which would be a new record-low after the 53.91% margin under Zuma in 2016. The party is also expected to struggle to reach 50% of the vote in many of South Africa's eight metropolitan municipalities, particularly in Tshwane, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and perhaps Ekurhuleni. In eThekwini, a traditional ANC stronghold where the party won 56% of the vote in 2016, the ANC's majority could come under threat, particularly if pro-Zuma voters stay away. The DA (with 27% in 2016) is unlikely to close the electoral gap, but smaller parties will try to drive the ANC below 50% to force a coalition. Cape Town, of course, remains a lost cause for the ANC, even if the DA were to see its majority shrink this year. The only metros where the ANC's majority seems safer are Mangaung and Buffalo City, but even there, ANC sources fear vote losses amid service delivery grievances and infighting.

As a result, up to five of eight cities might not be won outright in this year's election, signaling a period of tough coalition negotiations. A drop in the ANC's vote margin well below 50% (particularly if it were to slump to around 45%) would likely trigger speculation about Ramaphosa's re-election at the 2022 ANC elective conference as well as the possibility of the 2024 parliamentary elections requiring the first national-level coalition.

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SOUTH AFRICA: ANC improves candidate registration but election troubles remain

The African National Congress (ANC) appears to have largely closed its self-inflicted candidate registration gap this week, but the party’s electoral troubles do not