My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Please excuse me while I crunch the latest by-election result numbers – I love this geeky kind of stuff. I decided to have a look at the results after the ANC seemed to have gotten a big fright this week, losing two by-election in the Western Cape to the DA.
The most interesting results came out of Cape Town in a ward which encompasses the traditional “African” suburb of Gugulethu and the traditional “coloured” area of Heideveld. The DA won 60% of the vote in this election compared to the 38% of the ANC. In the previous local government election the ANC won 53% of the vote and the DA 26%. There was therefore a huge swing towards the DA in the by-election.
There seems to be at least three reasons for this dramatic swing towards the DA.
First, the ANC’s support amongst “coloured” voters in the constituency collapsed dramatically. In the local government election the ANC attracted about 15% of the vote in these traditional working class communities. This collapsed to below 1% at some voting stations this week. The racial nationalism of Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma obviously holds no attraction for coloured voters in the Western Cape.
Second, the Independent Democrats (ID) did not contest the election and its voters did not stay home but voted for the DA. One can probably assume that this means support for the ID is collapsing and that its voters are now supporting the DA. Based on the results of this by-election the DA seems to have consolidated its support amongst working class coloured people in Cape Town.
Third, many people who voted for the ANC in the previous local government election, decided not to vote at all. At the two Gugulethu voting stations the ANC obtained 3244 votes in the previous local government election. This week only 2214 people voted for the ANC at these two stations. One third of the voters in Gugulethu who voted for the ANC in the previous local government election therefore decided to stay at home.
What did not happen, was a significant surge in support for the DA amongst voters in Gugulethu, where the party made only very small gains. In the previous local government election the DA polled 22 votes – less than 1% – at these polling stations. In the by-election this week it polled 79 votes, which is about 3 % of the votes cast at these polling stations.
This means that the party has not yet managed to convince significant numbers of African voters in Cape Town to vote for it. Faced with a choice between the DA and the ANC, many African voters simply stayed at home. Helen Zille has a lot of work to do to convince “African” voters that the DA is not fundamentally opposed to their interests.
What does this mean for the local government elections next year? Well, it might mean very little, as by-elections are notoriously bad indicators of how voters would vote during an election fought nationally. The Western Cape is also unique in other ways: Support for ousted President Thabo Mbeki is particularly strong here and distrust of Jacob Zuma probably higher than elsewhere. So it would be premature to extrapolate these results in Cape Town and to assume they would be reflected nationally.
But the by-election results this week in other parts of the country do suggest that the ANC is in some trouble and that many of its traditional voters are disillusioned with them and are prepared to demonstrate this. In Groblersdal the ANC candidate lost to an independent candidate who polled more than 50% of the vote. In the previous election the ANC candidate had polled almost 60% of the vote.
In Greater Tubatse [Burgersfort/Ohrigstad/Eastern Tubatse] the ANC candidate won with 65% of the vote but the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania candidate obtained almost 30% of the vote. In the previous local government election the ANC had polled almost 90% of the votes in that district. Only in KwaZulu/Natal is the ANC’s vote holding up well.
If these trends continue and many voters who voted for the ANC either stay at home or cast a protest vote for one of the smaller parties, the ANC could face massive losses at the next local government election in 2011. Although it would probably retain control of most metro councils, it could become a close run affair in places like Pretoria and Johannesburg.
These results suggest that the corruption, arrogance, nepotism and mismanagement that is rife at local government level in Municipalities controlled by the ANC is finally beginning to affect the voting behaviour of the voters who traditionally voted for the ANC. However, because the official opposition is still perceived as a “white” party who may not represent the interest of the African majority, smaller parties may benefit disproportionately from a protest vote cast by “African” voters.
If the DA slightly improves its performance along with improved performances for smaller parties like the PAC, and if the ANC fails to convince voters to come to the polls and to vote for it (even after spending obscene amounts of our money), 2011 might just be the year in which the ANC gets the wake-up call it so badly needs. That would be a good thing for democracy and for South Africa.
But the ANC has made so much money through crooked tenders that it might yet be able to buy off the electorate this one more time. Only time will tell.BACK TO TOP