South Africa’s municipal election results are mostly in and they point to a popular vote of no confidence for the ruling African National Congress. For the first time since the anti-apartheid party swept to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994, the ANC failed to secure more than 60 percent of the nationwide vote.
I see that the ANC says 54% is a "ringing endorsement"
And that kids, is how you polish a turd.
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) August 5, 2016
The opposition Democratic Alliance, meanwhile, succeeded in making races competitive outside of its stronghold in Western Cape province, which contains Cape Town. Reuters has some analysis on what the DA’s success in a few key municipalities will mean:
Daryl Glaser, lecturer in political studies department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said he expected the DA to be the biggest single party in Nelson Mandela Bay but to fall short of a majority.
“In the case of Tshwane and Johannesburg the ANC will be the biggest party – but very significantly, it will fall below 50 percent, so we are looking at a major setback,” he said.
“We are into an era of coalition politics.”
So who will play kingmaker in these municipal elections? In many cases, it’s the radical far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, whose incendiary leader Julius Malema previously served as president of the ANC Youth League before splitting from the ANC.
— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) May 11, 2016
The smart money is saying that the EFF will back the DA on the municipal councils, which in turn elect the mayors for urban areas.
— Alfa Ibn Muslim (@AlfaAllahguide) August 5, 2016
Why would a far-left movement that expresses admiration for chavismo and draws support mostly from poor black voters ally itself with a market-oriented center-right party that is still struggling to shed its reputation as the “white party”? EFF voters feel like the ANC has left them behind, and many of them would view it as a betrayal for their movement to back the corrupt and disappointing ANC status quo. Further, it’s worth noting that the EFF and the DA are concerned with many of the same problems—namely unemployment, slow growth, and corruption—but they dispute how best to solve them. One thing to watch: how much the DA will have to compromise to win over the EFF’s support on the local level.
On Wednesday, the DA surmounted the first hurdle on the way to achieving its ultimate ambition: breaking the ANC grip on power and winning the presidency. The coming years will provide ample tests for the DA. How well will the DA uphold its promises to crack down on corruption and improve service delivery in the cities newly under its control? Will the DA keep expanding its appeal beyond white and mixed-race voters? Will the ANC, under greater electoral pressure, clean up its act? Even when we know the answers to these questions, South African democracy will no doubt be just as noisy and cheeky and cringe-worthy and charming as ever; those are words to describe a working democracy just about anywhere.