The 2016 municipal election was a watershed moment for South African politics, dramatically changing the face of the political landscape. After 22 years of almost complete electoral dominance by the African National Congress (ANC), signs began to emerge that their grip on power was starting to wane, and a more competitive multi-party framework was beginning to emerge.
Of South Africa’s nine Metropolitan Councils, the ANC only managed to win an outright majority in four; of South Africa’s four major metropolitan councils, the ANC now only has a majority in one – eThekwini in the region of Durban. It had once controlled all nine Metropolitan Councils, and in the previous Municipal Election in 2011 had won an absolute majority in eight of the Councils. In 2016, the ANC lost control of South Africa’s capital city (Tshwane), its economic hub (Johannesburg) and its surrounds (Ekurhuleni), and the major Metropolitan Council of Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth in the province that is often regarded as its political heartland (the Eastern Cape). Less surprisingly, it also once again came a distant second to the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the City of Cape Town. Perhaps most strikingly, the ANC’s overall share of the popular vote fell to just 53.3%, down from 62.2% in the general election in 2014. Whilst one must be wary of extrapolating the outcome of local government elections into the national sphere, 2016 was a clear indication that the ANC’s electoral dominance is not infallible.
Despite its losses, only one opposition party was able to win an absolute majority in one of the councils, with the DA retaining its firm grip on the City of Cape Town. The ANC, just one seat short of a majority, was able to retain control of Ekurhuleni through a coalition with the African Independent Congress (AIC). However, in the other three ‘hung’ major Metropolitan Councils, the opposition parties rallied together to vote the ANC out of power, electing DA mayors in Tshwane, the City of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.
As a result of this significant shift in power, coalition politics is now an integral part of South Africa’s political scene, and voting trends and polling suggest that it may play an even bigger part in provincial and even national politics in the years to come.