Massive changes to the KZN political landscape

Article published on May 22 in the Sunday Tribune, just days after the local government election. The piece looks at how the performance of the NFP has fundamentally changed the political landscape in KwaZulu-Natal.

The article as it appeared in the Sunday Tribune, page 4, May 22.

To some, May 18 was nothing more than a public holiday. But to others, it was the day that changed the face of politics in KwaZulu-Natal, possibly forever.

A single mark, one each on a piece of stamped paper, is all it took for the world of politics in KwaZulu-Natal to be shaken off its hinges.

As Independent Electoral Commission officials began counting and releasing the results of the 7.4 million total ballots cast in all categories (ward, local council and district council) on Wednesday, it become clear that the political dynamic in the province was changing. Big time.

In the National Freedom Party (NFP), KZN saw how the young, energetic, determined child pushed and prodded its ageing father, the Mangosuthu Buthelezi-led IFP. And while the IFP (17.33 percent) received more support than the NFP (11.6 percent) overall and won more council seats, it was the way in which the IFP support was slashed that was most alarming.

It was only months ago, on January 25, when Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi left her political home and ventured out on her own. She had been abandoned, stripped of her position as IFP national chairwoman and removed from her post as Zululand District municipality mayor. She was fed up and wanted more. Thus the NFP was born on February 12 – and exactly 100 days later it will be the king-maker in KZN.

“People weren’t really sure what to make of the NFP at first. It was the dark horse of this local government election,” said political commentator Nhlanhla Mtaka. “But if you look at what the party’s done and the damage caused to the IFP, it’s remarkable.”

And while the NFP ate into the IFP support base, the ANC picked up the pieces and strengthened its position as the ruling party in KZN with 56.57 percent.
The DA (10.75 percent) also showed its support was growing, particularly among minority groups in urban and economic hubs such as Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Port Shepstone, Richards Bay and Newcastle – although the party did not win a single municipal council.

The official results showed the NFP won an outright victory in the eDumbe local municipality and was the leading party in Nongoma local municipality. Both are in the Zululand district kaMagwaza-Msibi once governed and are considered traditional IFP strongholds. But it’s in the “hung” councils where she will have the most impact.

In these 18 councils none of the parties managed the 50 percent needed for an outright victory, meaning coalitions will govern. These 18 account for nearly 30 percent of the municipalities in the province. How kaMagwaza-Msibi wields her newfound power is going to be key.

But where will kaMagwaza-Msibi put that power? According to UKZN political analyst Professor Mpilo Pearl Sithole, more than likely with the ANC.

GRAPHIC: LUKE MOLVER. This map of KZN shows the councils won by each party. The red shading indicates "hung" councils, where there was no outright winner.

“I think the NFP will find it much better to team up with the ANC given the recent history between it and the IFP. Besides, now that kaMagwaza-Msibi has made a statement of independence rather than a straight defection to the ANC – which some of her colleagues did – she is cleared from the betrayal accusation. The NFP might find a healthy marriage of convenience to be with the ANC,” Sithole said.

But Mtaka believes the NFP decision might not be that simple.

“We must remember that the NFP has not eaten into the ANC support base, only the IFP’s. Even if it takes all of the IFP vote, all we’re seeing is a change in who is the opposition party; the ANC will not be hurt. So whatever decision Zanele makes needs to be considered very carefully and with the 2014 election at the front of their minds. They must make a very carefully calculated and considered decision,” he said.

Should the NFP jump into bed with the ANC, it will mean the party has outright rule in one council and power-sharing|control of 19 others. This is remarkable for a party just four months old.

Mtaka said: “The NFP is having its Cope moment. It started very strongly, just as Cope did during the last national election. But look at where Cope is now; it’s a perfect example of how something so good can go so wrong so quickly.
“Zanele needs to make sure she sustains this good work and keeps going. It’s no good to do well now and then to just drop off. But we can say, for now, and no one can dispute it, that we are seeing the rise of the NFP. It’s a rise at the expense of the IFP and comes with joy from the ANC. Absolutely, the face of KwaZulu-Natal politics is changing.”

This leaves the IFP in the lurch, and the question must be asked: is this beginning of the end for the party that once ruled the province?

“The IFP has been warned several times about looking at its internal issues. Its future depends on how seriously it takes this warning now, having finally admitted it itself. A sincere reflection on its image – which has been, over time, projected as ethnic-based, male-chauvinistic and founder-dominated – and a move towards designing a new way of projecting itself are now quite urgent for it,” said Sithole.

Mtaka agrees.

“The future of the IFP is in its own hands. It needs to discuss the next election in 2014 honestly, even if it means inviting outsiders to come in and help it.

“But three years is a long time. Anything can happen in that time. Don’t write it off just yet. In 2014, the IFP has an appointment with history,” he said.

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