Lower voter turnout, ANC losses and our “KZN problem”

By Imraan Buccus

This election has seen the lowest voter turnout in the democratic era; just 46%. And about 15 million people, mainly the youth, did not bother to register. People are fed up. Disillusioned.

The ANC has suffered losses across the country and has come, for the first time, below the 50% mark.

KwaZulu-Natal has always been a politically important province. During the Zuma period the country was, as journalist Niren Tolsi first noted, effectively run from Durban. The province continues to have huge influence in the ANC as a result of its high number of ANC branches. Tragically it has exported its penchant for political violence into other parts of the country leading some to observe that ‘South Africa has a KZN problem’.

At the time of writing the votes in this week’s election have not been completely counted but there are some clear trends. The most dramatic of these is that, following trends in the rest of the country, huge numbers of people stayed at home in disgust at the collapse in the political integrity of the ANC.

KZN had about 5,4 million registered voters out of a potential 7,5 million million eligible voters. With a 30% turnout it means that only around 1,6 million people voted in KZN. Of that, the ANC is expected, at the time of writing, to get about 730 000 votes (of 7,5 million eligible voters). This means that the ANC has the support of only around 10% of the electorate. Interesting coalition talks lie ahead.

This is an extraordinary indictment of party that was once held so dear by so many and has now collapsed, perhaps irreversibly, into outright gangsterism in KZN resulting in a collapse in service delivery and leaving many smaller towns in ruins.

The big story in the province is the dramatic decline in support for the ANC, with support for the ANC set to drop below 50% in the eThekwini Municipality. It was not a good election for the Zuma family. Duduzane Zuma lost to the DA in the ward that he contested in Durban and in Nkandla the IFP won by a large majority. ActionSA made a strong showing here and there, the IFP continued its return and the EFF made significant strides. At the time of writing the DA appears to be bucking national trends and to be set for a small increase in support in Durban.

The votes for ActionSA and the IFP are a local version of the general swing to the right seen nationally, and indeed internationally. The vote for the EFF shows that while there is some support for RET style politics it is limited, especially if EFF votes are looked at in terms of the total number of potential voters.

The small increase in support for the DA is probably driven by a desperate desire to oppose the ANC at all costs. Despite the party’s appalling posters in Phoenix, it has not been uncommon to hear black professionals saying that they were going to hold their noses and make a tactical vote for the DA for the sole purpose of giving the ANC a wakeup call.

But the vast numbers of people who stayed away, the clear majority, have shown no stomach for a rotten ANC, its mirror image in the EFF, or the right-wing options of the DA, IFP and ActionSA.

Most of the people who stayed at home would probably vote for the ANC if they could, as now seems highly unlikely, ‘self-correct’. But with millions of unemployed people, especially young people, the political market must be wide open for a credible left alternative. This is, clearly, the most pronounced gap waiting to be filled in electoral politics.

There are a number of left organisations with significant membership in the province. This includes the trade unions in Cosatu and Saftu, the SACP and, of course, Abahlali baseMjondolo which is a powerful actor in Durban and some of the smaller towns in the province.

If all these organisations could put aside their differences and form some sort of left party a large number of the people who didn’t bother to register or to vote could be attracted back into participation in electoral politics, and existing voters disenchanted with the ANC would have an option on the left as well as the existing options on the right.

Dr Buccus is Al Qalam editor .

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