In seven by-elections this week, five wards were retained by the African National Congress (ANC) and two by the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Although some of the incumbent parties faced some challenges, a number of seats were retained easily.

In Ngqushwa, on the Eastern Cape coast, the ANC candidate won over 90% of the vote, a similar proportion to what the party had garnered in the 2016 local government election. Similar results were recorded in the by-elections in KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal and Umzimvubu in the Eastern Cape, with the ANC candidate easily winning in each case, either retaining the party’s vote share compared to 2016 or increasing it significantly.

However, two other by-elections in KwaZulu-Natal showed that the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) could be enjoying something of a revival. In Mpofana, in central KwaZulu-Natal, close to the Lesotho border, the IFP narrowly missed snatching a seat away from the ANC. The ANC won 40% of the vote, and the IFP 37%. The National Freedom Party (NFP) won nearly a quarter of the vote.

Something similar happened in Umzumbe in the south of KwaZulu-Natal. Here, the ANC saw its vote share drop from nearly 90% in the ward, to just over 60%. The IFP was once again the beneficiary, seeing its support jump from eight percent to nearly 40%.

Although one cannot read too much into these results, they will be a heartening sign for the IFP. The party will also be pleased that it is making inroads outside its northern KwaZulu-Natal heartland.

The DA had a fairly good result, given the party’s poor by-election results of late. In Blue Crane Route Municipality (Somerset East) in the Eastern Cape, the party’s candidate won Wednesday’s by-election with 54% of the vote, a slight decrease from 2016, when the DA candidate won 59%. In Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg), the DA held on to a marginal seat. In 2016, the DA candidate had won 44% of the vote, with the ANC securing 39% and the IFP 6%. On Wednesday, the DA saw its candidate win with 47%, with the ANC securing 41%, and the IFP 10%.

Overall, each of the two big parties will be fairly pleased, although there could be warning signs for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, which became one of the most solid ANC provinces under Jacob Zuma’s presidency. Since his ousting, however, there are indications that KwaZulu-Natal voters could be returning to the IFP.

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