Mitchells Plain By-election

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There may be a slight shift in the balance of power in Cape Town towards the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the near future. Sheval Arendse, one of the Independent Democrat (ID) councillors for Mitchells Plain has resigned his seat. He’ll probably contest the seat again but this time as a DA candidate. He won it in the previous election by a mere 66 votes but may actually do considerably better this time around for the DA, especially seeing how Patricia has recently destroyed the ID’s credibility after she went against her word and allied herself with the ANC.

A few thoughts.

Sheval shows guts to resign to fight another election, especially for another party. He had a secure seat for five years so it’s doubly courageous to want to fight an election so soon. On the other hand, it isn’t a question of whether the DA will win the seat, but rather by how much.

As a result this by-election could be a bellwether of the ID’s fortunes to come, following their bizarre behaviour after the March election. Indeed, they may be badly hurt if events play out they appear likely to.

The stability of the DA-led multi-party government of Cape Town itself would be improved in the interim as the opposition vote is weakened by one vote while its strength will be further improved if the DA actually takes this seat. The DA would no longer have to rely on the Pan Africanist Congress’ neutrality, which seems increasingly shaky following the Municipal Manager vote.

The three other ID ward councillors (not to mention their PR list councillors), who are waiting for the floor-crossing window next year, will be nervously watching this by-election. If the DA does well, we may expect further ID ward councillor resignations or defections.

Finally, and most tellingly, it will be interesting to see if the African National Congress (ANC) fights this ward. If it were not for the ID, the ANC would definitely contest all wards in Mitchells Plain but the existence of the ID in a tight by-election makes their decision extremely difficult.

If they do contest the ward they could split the vote, and that will further damage the ID’s chances of taking the seat. If they do not contest the ward, they’ll be sending a message that they stood aside to allow the ID to fight. That would be an electoral gift to the DA’s campaign, demonstrating clearly to voters that the ANC and ID are in alliance, and one and the same.

The ANC’s campaign manager must be struggling with that decision. However, if I was the ANC’s campaign manager, I would choose to fight the ward. In the long run, the ANC only has its credibility to lose, if they appear deferential to the ID flash-in-the-pan.

Overall, it’s important to stress how badly the ID split the non-ANC vote in Cape Town. For example, all the Atlantis ward seats went to the ANC on March 1st. However the ID and DA votes combined handsomely outnumbered the ANC votes in Atlantis. Were it not for the ID, the DA could actually functionally govern the city with one or two other parties, and not via this shaky coalition. The ID has functioned as nothing more than a wrecker, both on election day and in every manoeuvre it has used since the election. This may be a chance to rectify the problems the ID created.

Mal Morrow