After the Party: The ANC missed the many varieties of the urban voter

According to EBRAHIM FAKIR AND ELNARI POTGIETER, the ANC ignored the working class in urban areas in the run-up the this year’s local election. 

The voting patterns of Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane enjoyed much attention this election season. Much of the focus has been on declines in ANC support in relation to support of opposition parties. This, of course, comes after incremental but sustained declines in ANC support since the 2006 local and 2009 national elections. This was consolidated in the 2016 Local Government elections where ANC voters largely stayed away (a stern rebuke to the ANC in itself). This was accompanied by the fact that, of those who did turnout – several voted for another party, the primary beneficiaries – being the DA (no matter how incrementally) and the EFF.

Diminution in ANC support, however, is not only evident in metros – but across the country as a whole. As a measure (and cognisant that aggregate percentage national support is merely an indicator of possible future trends, not determinant of support in municipalities) the ANC support in the country overall plummeted from close to 62% in the 2011 local elections, to just over 54% in the 2016 local elections. Support for the DA increased from the 2011 elections from close to 24% to just over 26% in the 2016 elections – with the party’s growth in support particularly evident in Tshwane and Johannesburg (where it faced a head-to- head race with the ANC), Nelson Mandela Bay, Ekurhuleni and (perhaps surprisingly so) eThekwini. Its support in Cape Town strengthened and consolidated even.

Shifting and/or Stay-away Votes

Disillusionment with the ANC, high “undecided” voters were said to be one of the most important factors in the lead up to the 2016 local elections. In some metros, voters shifting their support away from the ANC to opposition parties is clear – such as in Nelson Mandela Bay; in other metros – such as Tshwane, low voter turnout in traditional ANC wards/areas coupled with higher voter turnout in opposition wards/ areas, brought about a decline in ANC support proportionate to opposition support. Thus, in some instances, a “stay-away” vote is just as powerful a message as a vote for an opposition party, and the decisions of “undecided” voters to support opposition or stay away on election-day affects not only the voters’ immediate wards and metros, but also sends a clear message to the ANC through a decline in support for the ANC in the country overall.

Considering the party’s substantial losses in (urban) votes and/or supporters staying-away in the 2016 elections (despite an alleged R1 billion campaign in the lead up to the 2016 local elections), the ANC will need to reconsider its strategies in securing support prior to the 2019 national elections - should the party hope to bring the decline in support to a halt, and/or regain some of its voters (both stay-away and shifting voters, and in particular stay-away voters that may become shifting voters in future).

The ANC, leadership and factionalism

Never before in the lead up to an election has attrition within the ANC, as well as fractures in the tripartite alliance been this glaring.

Cosatu, the labour constituent of the ANC is both ideologically fragmented and orrganisationally in decline with eight affiliates leaving its fold, NUMSA being the largest. Its ideological and institutional attrition has  come at a cost to  workers interests and electorally, at a cost to the ANC. Cosatu no longer has either organisational muscle, nor a coherent message that supports the ANC. This, is in part due to the organised urban proletariat being out of political proximity – for organised labour’s message to both penetrate a social base and for its organisational apparatus to get the urban workers’ vote out.

Simultaneously, high unemployment and low (negligible) economic growth have rendered several of what was once the urban working class susceptible to both informalisation and casualisation in the labour market. This rendered them out of the density and reach of organised labour’s social network. Potential supporters were therefore no longer accessible and available to the social networks and workplace organisation – which mobilised support previously.

The ANC and the (changing) urban voter

Metros consist of four distinct classes:

  1. The urban middle class and/or more wealthy suburbanites – both highly mobile and sophisticated.
  2. The organised working class- increasingly sophisticated but on the decline due the successive ANC Government’s inability to preside over redistributive growth and job creation.
  3. A precarious proletariat – resulting from outsourcing, casualisation and informalisation
  4. The urban marginalised - which find themselves in the informal sector, and experience metros as a transient space.

Appealing to this variety of urban voter is a difficult and the ANC manifesto was unable to appeal to this voter in a catch-all way. The ANC’s core messaging for this campaign missed the different class configurations of the Metro voter.

The ANC and Metros as economic hubs

The loss of support for the ANC in the metros is most noticeable and perhaps most damaging – given that metros are the drivers of growth and jobs, meaning diminished capacity to reach and influence the thinking of an urban cosmopolitan political identity support in key economic hubs of the country. Elections SMC new 2This significantly weakens the ANC’s potential to negotiate a social compact on growth and jobs. The impact of this cannot be ignored and ought to compel party structures to rethink its alignment to factions premised on pursuing patronage and pork barrel politics and fracture the stranglehold of relapsing notions of party support drawn from the rural hinterlands and non-metropolitan provinces.

Featured image by Gulshan Khan