NEW figures demonstrating how provincial membership patterns are changing in the African National Congress (ANC) have mostly been interpreted as a political boost for President Jacob Zuma.
The extraordinary growth in the number of new members in Kwa-Zulu-Natal where Mr Zuma is popular is an indication of the strength of his chances of a second term at the helm of the ANC.
But the corollary to that growth, the decline in the number of members in the Eastern Cape and several other provinces, is also an indication of serious problems for the ANC.
It appears some of the party’s leaders could be concentrating on one (albeit very large) province because it benefits them to the detriment of others. And when national voting figures are examined, this could be reflected in difficulties at the ballot box as early as 2014.
The key figures in Friday’s announcement were that KwaZulu-Natal’s membership had grown from about 244,000 members in January to more than 331,000 now. The Eastern Cape membership fell from about 225,000 to about 185,000.
The Eastern Cape has always been seen as the heartland of the ANC, being the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, Govan and Thabo Mbeki, and many other leaders. But there have been several conflicts within the ANC’s structures in that province and the party appeared to be lucky to retain the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (Port Elizabeth), with just 52% of the vote in last year’s local government elections.
Since Mr Zuma became ANC leader, the party has seen huge improvements in its level of support in KwaZulu-Natal. In 1994 it lost the province to the IFP; in 2009, it won with 62% of the vote.
Meanwhile, the number of members in the Western Cape continues to decline. The ANC now has just more than 38,000. Out of a provincial population of 4.5-million, that means just 0.84% of the population belongs to the ANC. In KwaZulu-Natal 3.33% of the population have ANC membership cards.
In Gauteng, which has grown this year to about 135,000 members, the percentage is 1.14%. Taken with the Western Cape figure, this could be an indication a split along urban and rural lines is beginning to emerge.
On Friday night ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the growth in KwaZulu-Natal could be explained through the "hard work" that had been done in growing a province. However, these ratios seem to show that this may not be the case. Instead, there may have been a realisation that Mr Zuma’s chance of staying on as ANC leader would be greatly improved by increasing the number of party members there.
However, the real problem for the party may come when Mr Zuma ultimately steps down as ANC leader. Were he no longer at the helm, there is no guarantee the newer members would stay with the ANC.
• Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk.