Nelson Mandela Bay: The Most Politically Contested Metro in South Africa

Giovanni Poggi, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University | 27 July 2016

There is mild anxiety drifting in the air in Nelson Mandela Bay. This unease might not exceed the discontent shown in protests over the failures of service delivery, but it is tangible. Nelson Mandela Bay has reached a critical juncture and most of its inhabitants are wondering: who will lead us after the 3rd of August?

Democratic Alliance (DA) supporters seem more optimistic than most, having come fairly close to wrestling the metro away from the African National Congress (ANC) in Nelson Mandela Bay during the previous local government election. With approximately 40% of the vote, had other opposition parties fared slightly better, an opportunity for coalition rule may have been presented to the DA (IEC, 2011). This was not to be, as parties such as the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Congress of the People (COPE) failed to secure enough of the remaining seats to overturn the ANC majority in the metro.

Nevertheless, much has changed on the coast of the Eastern Cape in the last five years. Since 2011, the ANC has worked tremendously hard to claw back electoral support locally. The ruling party has had to mobilise energetically this year, particularly after the shock of the poorly attended manifesto launch at the Bay Stadium on the 16th of April - where only an estimated 30,000 of 110,000 expected attendees pitched for the launch (BusinessTech, 2016). In the weeks leading up to the 3rd of August, many ANC top brass, including President Jacob Zuma, have been making frequent visits to the embattled port.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), sensing the opportunity of an undecided target electorate has similarly attempted to dig in their heels in and around the bay area. There are at present a healthy and growing EFF Student Command at most university campuses. Along with a rising trend of national support, the EFF has also been vigorously campaigning in the Eastern Cape region since July 2016. Even Comander-in-Chief, Julius Malema, went on a provincial road-show in May (Macanda, 2016). Since then big hitters such as advocate Dali Mpofu have also visited Nelson Mandela Bay in recent weeks.

Evidently, the political playing-field appears fairly more open than one would assume heading into the August local government elections. Port Elizabeth (the alternative name used with intent) is an abnormal old city. Often characterised as a "post-industrial" city, it has in the last decade tried desperately (with limited results) to rebrand itself as a place for commercial investment and tourism. A place of future opportunity rings optimistically, but that doesn't detract away from its less endearing monikers describing it as a ghost city. Essentially what political parties need to promise the people of Nelson Mandela Bay is that this city can develop and grow under their stewardship and that that it is not a dead-end town with floundering employment statistics that chase young people north or west in search of a stable future.

It is easy to forget that "Port Elizabeth" is also a bastion of continued post-apartheid socio-economic segregation. Recently, it was rated as the least racially integrated city in the country in a survey by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA, 2016). The demographic placement expresses the maintenance of a wealthy white suburban core (Walmer Township the exception), with lower income communities and informal settlements scattered mostly on the outskirts of the city. These communities that formed during urban influx control during and prior to apartheid, are crowded with the alienated and excluded that fight constant basic service delivery battles on a daily basis. The most notable of these being the protracted conflicts and protests for desperately needed public education overhaul in the Northern Areas (Sain, 2016).

The statistics provide a distressing indictment of a civil society that through its lack of modern socio-economic transformation, threatens increasingly to disengage with formal political institutions and further turn towards variations of radical upheaval. This is also an important factor to bear in mind when considering an expanding ideological platform nationally. Manifesto indicators, for instance, suggest that the EFF would find it difficult to form a coalition with any other mentionable party in the region. Their firmly leftist policy orientation does not sit well with most of the leaning liberal policy rhetoric of most other parties in South Africa (Malema, 2016). While the DA is possibly more open to coalitions, manufacturing them might be easier said than done.

As Nelson Mandela Bay may earn the future tagline in South African electoralism as a "swing-metro", it becomes fascinating to ponder which parties might bend their policy stances in order to work together for the inhabitants of the city. Setting political differences aside post-election might be the most difficult task yet for the party juggernauts mentioned. The people of Nelson Mandela Bay, however, will want to see decisive action in service delivery and job creation in the next five years. Without it, an already volatile protest area might grow in discontent beyond that which any political party can mend.


BUSINESS TECH 2016 "Voters say no thanks to ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay" in, (accessed May 2016).

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION 2011 "Local Government Elections Results Summary" in IEC, (accessed 28 Jul 2016).

MACANDA, S "Malema takes EFF campaign to Eastern Cape" in Business Day Live, (accessed 28 Jul 2016).

MALEMA, J 2016 "Manifesto: Our plans for local govt - EFF" "OUR LAST HOPE FOR JOBS AND SERVICE DELIVERY" in Politics Web, (accessed 28 Jul 2016).

SAIN, R 2016 "PE parents protest at education department" in iol, (accessed 28 Jul 2016).

STATSSA 2016 "Mapping diversity: an exploration of our social tapestry" in Statistics South Africa, (20 May 2016).