Victory for Opposition Coalition Signifies South African Democratic Gains in Nelson Mandela Bay

Giovanni Poggi (Lecturer, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) | 9 September 2016

As the country and the African National Congress (ANC) sifts through the settling dust of the latest local government election season, there has perhaps been much more for politicians and civil society to reflect upon than ever before. The ANC, resting on its past laurels, managed to drag itself across the finishing line as the overall winner in terms of the aggregate overall statistics, and the local wards captured. Tellingly, however the embattled ruling party lost control of key metropolitans along the way, including Tshwane, the City of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandel Bay.

The growing trajectory of popularity for the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), in the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay has been impressive since the 2011 local government elections. The DA narrowly missed out on becoming a governing party in the bay via potential coalition in 2011 (IEC, 2011). The ANC at that time managed to muster 51.9% of the vote, providing them with the all-important +50% majority, which left any potential coalition triumph that would exclude them, unattainable.

In the 2016 Local government election however, the Democratic Alliance arguably threw more campaigning weight into Nelson Mandela Bay than they did in any other major South African city. Frequent visits by the party leader, Mmusi Maimane, and intensive canvassing in a diversity of bay areas proved to be pivotal in assuring them control of the metro. After the elections, Maimane postponed some responsibilities and return on the 6th of August to present the new mayor elect of Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip, in a jubilant post-election City Hall victory celebration (Chetty 2016).

Moreover, Democratic Alliance supporters came out in their thousands to vote in the suburban wards where the DA had already consolidated much of its power in 2011. The simple campaign slogan: "Vote and we can win Nelson Mandela Bay" emblazoned on lampposts throughout the city had clearly worked. An overview of post-election wards proves just how valuable consistent loyal member turnout can be:

Nelson Mandela Bay Party Ward distribution 2011 and 2016

Surprisingly, as can be easily deduced from the ward map, the Democratic Alliance was still unable to convert many wards that have been traditionally ANC dominant. In the top right corner of the map, it in fact lost wards in the Dispatch area to the ANC. However, the DA more than made up for this shortfall by winning more proportional representation (PR) votes throughout the wards. The DA also made modest gains in ANC strongholds.

However, the most significant factor remains the amount of people that turned out for the DA across all areas (especially in their stronghold areas):

Democratic Alliance Election Results in their  Stronghold Areas

As the table indicates, the strength of the Democratic Alliance in Nelson Mandela Bay's most affluent and middle-class areas (predominantly white neighbourhoods) remained strong from 2011 to 2016. There were a few slight variations, but the value is shown in the consistency in electoral support. Strangely, in Ward 1, which holds many Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University voters, the DA lost over 5% to its rivals. This might be attributable to the impact of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) growth on campus. It might also be described as a minor push back against the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation's (DASO) holding of office within the Student Representative Council (SRC).

Murmurs from within the party have suggested that the ANC lost this battle in part due to a voter stay-away and that there were various reasons for boycotts within party ranks. The first reason suggests a disgruntlement with the national executive leadership of the ANC for continuing to back Jacob Zuma, the criminally accused besieged leader of the party and country. Further indicated, has been the impression that Zuma forms part of the conservative traditionalist branch of the ANC, seeking to muscle out the modernisers that he has in the past alluded to condescendingly as "clever blacks" (Everatt 2016). This, however, is a debate that has been said to flare up ideological and factional concerns for the party more at the national level than during local government elections.

Additionally, the instability and factionalism that has plagued some of South Africa's major unions may be one other noteworthy factor. The bay area arguably, boasts the largest portion of South Africa's automotive industry, of which most of the workforce carries National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) membership. NUMSA famously defected from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 2015, the latter a tripartite electoral supporter of the ANC (Marrian 2016a). NUMSA and their members have been at loggerheads with the ANC ever since. Hence, there is enough reason to believe that many of Nelson Mandela Bay's blue collar workers did not turn out for the ANC last month.

Finally, there were claims that ANC supporters were urged to stay away from the polls by a faction who secretly did not endorse Danny Jordaan, the ANC mayoral candidate (Merten 2016; Marrian 2016b). Although he declared at the start of his short term in the mayoral seat that he wanted nothing to do with internal factionalism, his interim plan and corruption shake-up in the bay was not welcomed by all councillors in the party.

Significantly, governance and local administration built on systems of internal party patronage and cadre deployment tend to create fragile bonds of loyalty driven politics (Masermule, Mokate & Vil-Nkomo, 2016). Often, as witnessed in many democratic administrations, these patron-client systems dictate and undercut the real business of effective governance. Ultimately, it may have been one or a combination of these aspects that provided enough ammunition to force a substantial ANC voter stay-away.

Needless to say, the alleged ANC supporter boycott might only have been half the story. The hanging albatross of the ANC tenure in Nelson Mandela Bay, the burden of unmet expectation of quality service delivery, may have been one of the most prominent factors accounting for the many PR seats won across all wards by the DA. The opposition-turned-governing coalition was seamlessly moulded within the first two weeks of August 3rd 2016, as DA candidate, Athol Trollip, took up the mayoral chair for the first time in the party's history.

In his inaugural council assembly as mayor, Trollip (2016) set out a buffet of enticing promises for the new DA-led coalition government and the future of Nelson Mandela Bay:

Over the past year I have committed to delivering three things if elected as your Mayor and now that this has come to pass, I must fulfil what I promised. I said we will: Stop Corruption, create jobs and deliver better services. [] There will be no more erosion of municipal resources due to corruption procurement practices. This municipality's money will be used effectively by stretching every tax rand to achieve optimum outputs in the direct interest of every citizen. We will establish an efficient, effective and highly skilled administration. One that is nimble and that will facilitate and attract the investment so desperately required to attract and sustain economic growth to get our city working.

There was little surprise that the theme of his speech would indeed be focussed on service delivery, effective governance, terminating corruption and alleviating poverty. These all appear admirable objectives, but it remains to be seen just how realistic the goals set by this new coalition government will prove to be in the next five years. Eradicating all inconsistencies in local government is an incredibly difficult target to set.

Will Trollip's compatriots beneath and beside him (and the opposition parties in the coalition) all toe the line? The ANC, the now official opposition for the first time, undermined and boycotted the proceedings before the first sitting of council had a chance to conclude. This action could be conceived as a psychological strategy that will be employed more than once against the new order in the bay. The ANC has firmly indicated that they are not willing to take this defeat at the polls lying down.

For the theoretical legitimacy of governance, the electoral events of Nelson Mandela Bay, along with Tshwane and the city of Johannesburg, prove pivotal for the consolidation of democracy in South Africa. Administrative overturn assists in diminishing the threat of a one-party dominant state evolving into a one-party autocracy.

Irrespective of the theoretical implications, Nelson Mandela Bay has been yearning for effective and clean governance for the best part of two decades. They're not willing to wait much longer. Civil society has set the challenge for this new coalition administration and they will not hesitate to remove them if these objectives are not suitably met by 2021.


CHETTY, A 2016 "Maimane and Trollip receive rapturous welcome in Nelson Mandela Bay 2016" IN Times Live (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

EVERATT, D 2016 "South Africa's ruling ANC is facing its sternest test. From the inside" IN The Conversation Africa, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION 2011 "Local Government Elections Results Summary"IN IEC, (PDF, accessed 9 Sep 2016).

MAGUBANE, K 2016 "DA should win in Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Joburg, latest poll shows" IN Business Day, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

MARRIAN, N 2016a "Civic choices show ANC balancing factions and competence" IN Business Day, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

MARRIAN, N 2016b "DA aims to woo United Front to Nelson Mandela Bay coalition" IN Business Day, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

MASERMULE, M Mokate, M. & Vil-Nkomo, S. 2016 "Tumultuous times for South Africa as it enters the era of coalition politics" IN The Conversation Africa, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

MERTEN, M 2016 "LGE 2016: After a bitter campaign, Nelson Mandela Bay might just make electoral history" IN Daily Maverick, (accessed 9 Sep 2016).

TROLLIP, A 2016 "Building a legacy of reconciliation and progress" IN Democratic Alliance Website [Speech], (accessed 9 Sep 2016).