South Africa as a coalition battle-ground: 7 insights into the 2021 local govt elections

Despite the 2021 Local Government Election witnessing the lowest voter turn-out in an election since 1994, the votes cast has heralded significant changes to South Africa’s political scene.

South Africa has continued to survive the turmoil brought on by the ANC in government, but the truth is that the economy has been left damaged, with millions of people being trapped in poverty. This problem was exacerbated by the party’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its failure to successfully tackle corruption. These experiences contributed to a rise in voter frustration, which caused the ANC to lose significant support in the local government elections held on 1 November. Here are seven insights into what happened in that election.


  1. For the first time in South Africa’s history, the ANC fell below 50%


After the election results were counted, there was one glaring result that proved to be a first in South Africa’s history. For the first time in our history as a democracy, support for the ANC fell below 50%. What this signals is that come 2024, the ANC might need a coalition in order to continue governing South Africa. This would be a defining moment in the country’s politics, as it could represent a break from the ANC’s corruption, patronage, and policies that stifle economic growth.


  1. The DA dropped from 26% to 21.62%, while the EFF grew from 8.19% to 10.32%.


In the aftermath of the 2019 provincial and national elections, the DA lost some of its support, putting a hold on the growth trajectory that has generally been the norm for the party. The DA saw its support decline from 27% in 2016 to 21.6% in 2021. South Africa’s second-biggest opposition party, the EFF saw its support  grow from 8% in 2016 to 10% in 2021 and can play an influential role in a number of municipalities around the country


  1. In 2021 voter turnout dropped to a shocking low.


A concerning trend that appears to be getting worse over time is voter turnout. In 2016, 58% of South Africa’s registered voters cast a ballot Just five years later, when it was time to elect new politicians, that figure dropped to a dismal 46%. What this communicates is that voters are losing their confidence not just in parties, but in South Africa’s political system as a whole.


  1. Some parties chose to enter into coalitions with the ANC:


Some voters did not want an ANC government. This caused them to vote against the ANC. Sadly, however, this stance was not reflected in the political leadership of some parties. Some organisations, such as the PA, chose to work together with the ANC. This should be a concern to South Africans, as it shows there are some parties that are willing to work with the ANC, despite receiving votes from people who didn’t want an ANC government.


  1. The DA lost its outright majority in some Western Cape municipalities, but retained its majority in Cape Town:


In the elections, the DA lost its outright majority in some of the municipalities that it previously governed. In Beaufort West, the party lost its majority in that town, as well as in Knysna and Cape Agulhas, to name a few. The election results were less bleak in Cape Town, as the party managed to retain its majority in the City of Cape Town, albeit at a reduced share of the vote.


  1. The ANC has effectively become “a rural party”:


The ANC’s future does not seem bright in any of the country’s major municipalities. In Cape Town, the party has failed to pose a challenge to the DA, while the party has continued to decline in other metro municipalities such as Johannesburg, Tshwane, and eThekwini. The ANC was relegated to being a rural party, as these were the only regions where the party’s support remained relatively firm.


  1. This election saw smaller opposition parties growing and increasing their vote share in councils across the country:


In this election, as the ANC and DA experienced decline while smaller political parties experienced growth. The IFP and Freedom Front Plus grew while debutant ActionSA also had a good first outing, particularly in Johannesburg. These parties will play important roles in municipal governments around the country.


The single insight that can be drawn from the 2021 elections is that voters have become less attached to certain political parties. South Africa is entering into an era where politicians will have more competition where vying for votes is concerned. This election could also be seen as the end of single-party dominance of the ANC over South Africa: the party needs to come to terms with the possibility that it might lose the national elections in 2024.