Author name: Martin W. Lewis

South Africa’s Western Cape Exceptionalism and the Coloured Vote

Western Cape is South Africa’s most politically distinctive region by a wide margin. It is the only province that has never given majority support to the African National Congress (ANC). In 2024, it gave less than 20 percent of its vote to the ANC, awarding 53.4 percent to the centrist, non-racialist Democratic Alliance, which has long dominated the province. As the second map posted below shows, every municipality in Western Cape gave majority or plurality support to the DA in the 2024 national election, whereas only three municipalities in other provinces did the same. Western Cape’s political differentiation is so pronounced that it supports an active independence movement that sometimes polls above 50 percent.

Map of the Democratic Alliance vote by province in South Africa 2024
South Africa 2024 DA Vote by Province Map

Map of the 2024 South African Election Vote by Municipality
2024 South Africa Election Vote by Municipality Map

South Africa’s White community heavily supports the Democratic Alliance, favoring its non-racialist stance. Not surprisingly, Western Cape has South Africa’s largest percentage of White population by a significant margin. But at 16.4 percent, it is still relatively low and as such cannot account for the DA’s success in the province. Instead, most DA voters in Western Cape are members of the mixed-race, Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community. At 42 percent, the Coloured community forms a strong plurality of the population of Western Cape. But the figure is identical in neighboring Northern Cape (see the second map posted below), which gave only 20.9 percent of its vote to the Democratic Alliance and awarded plurality support to the ANC. As it turns out, the two provinces are quite distinctive in other regards. Western Cape has a more productive economy and a higher level of social development. Northern Cape also has a much smaller White population percentage than Western Cape (7.3, as opposed to 16.4) and a significantly larger Black population percentage (50, as opposed to 39).

Map of South Africa's White Population by Province
South Africa White Population by Province Map

Map of South Africa's Coloured, or mixed-race, population by province
South Africa Coloured Population map

But racial identity is not the only factor in determining voting patterns, and none of South Africa’s racial communities votes monolithically. In the 2024 election, many Coloured voters swung to Patriotic Alliance, which was formed in 2013 to favor the interests of their community. As can be seen in the map posted below, Patriotic Alliance took a healthy 7.8 percent of the vote in Western Cape and 8.6 percent in Northern Cape. As its support comes mostly from the Coloured community, its vote-count elsewhere in the country ranged from small to negligible. Nationwide, it took 330,425 votes, a huge increase from the 6,660 votes it received in 2019.

Map of the vote share of South Africa's Patriotic Alliance in the 2024 Election by province
South Africa 2024 Election Patriotic Alliance Vote Map

Wikipedia describes Patriotic Alliance (PA) as a rightwing party, as its name might suggest. But the same article notes that PA’s economic stance is generally centrist. Some of its social policies, moreover, including those on housing and healthcare, tilt to the left. It also aims to reduce South Africa’s wide wealth and income disparities, which is generally viewed as a left-leaning position. But Patriotic Alliance is skeptical of immigration, takes a hardline stance on corruption, wants to reinstate the death penalty, and favors more socially conservative policies. It has also expressed solidarity with Israel in its struggle with Hamas, which is not a popular stance in South Africa’s Black community. Critics of Patriotic Alliance accuse the party of “gangsterism,” noting that its two founders are convicted criminals and contending that party leaders have worked with criminal organizations in an effort to reduce violent crime. Patriotic Alliance leaders have also advocated using veterans of the former Cape Corps, which had been a Coloured military organization, to help control gang violence.

Overall, it is difficult to classify the political position of Patriotic Alliance. It is not alone in this regard. Over much of the world, parties that defy the traditional left/right division are gaining support. A good example is Germany’s new political party Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW), which emerged from the far-left but now takes an anti-immigration, populist, and nationalist stance. In the 2024 European Parliamentary election in Germany, BSW took 6.2 percent of the vote, whereas Die Linke (The Left), the party from which it emerged, took only 2.7 percent. Political realignment seems to be rapidly gaining strength in many countries.

South Africa’s Western Cape Exceptionalism and the Coloured Vote Read More »

Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors in the 2024 Vote for the African National Congress in South Africa

As noted in the previous GeoCurrents post, South Africa’s leading political party, the African National Congress (ANC), suffered major losses in the 2024 general election, although it still significantly outperformed all other parties. Today’s post briefly examines the geographical patterns of the ANC’s 2024 showing, looking for correlations with socio-economic and demographic variables.

ANC vote share 2024 South Africa Election

As comparing the map posted above with the  first map posted below shows, at the provincial level the ANC won higher-than-average levels of support in regions with lower-than-average per capita GDP. It did best in Limpopo and Eastern Cape, the two provinces with the country’s lowest levels of economic output per person. Intriguingly, this pattern is not found with South Africa’s most leftist major party, the communist-oriented Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). EFF’s vote-share was relatively evenly distributed across the country, although it fared poorly in the country’s two most electorally aberrant provinces, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Intriguingly, EFF had its highest vote share in North West Province, which has a relatively high level of per capita economic output.

Map of South Africa 'sPer Capita GDP in 2022
South Africa Per Capita GDP 2022 Map

Map showing the vote share of the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa's General Election of 2024
Vote of EEF South African General Election 2024 map

Per capita GDP, however, can be a misleading indicator, as it does not necessarily capture differences in basic economic wellbeing. The somewhat elevated GDP figure of South Africa’s North West province, for example, largely reflects its productive mining operations rather than its basic economy. In the more revealing Human Development Index (HDI), North West province falls into South Africa’s lowest category, along with Eastern Cape. In contrast, Western Cape has South Africa’s highest HDI figure – and also had the second lowest level of support for the ANC. At the local level as well, the more prosperous parts of the country tended to vote against the ANC and for its most important rival, the Democratic Alliance. This pattern also has a strong racial component, as we will see in a forthcoming post on the Democratic Alliance party.

Map showing the Human Development Index of South Africa's provinces in  2021
South Africa HDI by Province 2021 Map

The African National Congress is closely associated with South Africa’s majority Black population, and unsurprisingly performed relatively poorly in the two provinces that are not demographically dominated by Blacks, Western Cape and Northern Cape. But the ANC’s performance was middling or poor in several provinces with large Black majorities, as can be seen by comparing the map posted below with the first map posted above. As was noted in the previous GeoCurrents article, ethnic politics help explain the ANC’s low level of support in KwaZulu-Natal.

Map showing the percentage of the Black population in South Africa's provinces
South Africa Black Population by Province Map

By delving down below the province level, we can find an interesting correlation between the ANC’s 2024 vote strength and South Africa’s ethno-linguistic divisions. As the paired maps posted below show, the ANC did very well among two ethnic groups: the Xhosa of the south-central region and the Venda (Tshivenda speakers) of the far northeast. The Xhosa – the country’s second-largest ethnic group, after the Zulu – have long been closely aligned with the ANC. The high level of support among the Venda is linked to the fact that the ANC’s current leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, is of Venda ethnicity, although he has born and reared in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Paired maps showing South Africa's ethnolinguistic geography and the results of its 2024 election
South Africa 2024 Election and Language Maps

Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors in the 2024 Vote for the African National Congress in South Africa Read More »

The Zulu Exception in South Africa’s 2024 General Election

In South Africa’s general election of May 29, 2024, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party received only 40 percent of the vote. This election marked a stunning reversal of the party’s fortune; in 2019 it took 57 percent of the vote, while in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014 it took over 60 percent. Economic problems, persistently high levels of crime, allegations of corruption, and growing opposition to immigration have turned many South Africans against the once-dominant party that brought an end to apartheid and successfully democratized the country.

Despite its relatively poor showing, the ANC still did much better than any other party. The centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) came in a distant second place, with only 21.8 percent of the vote. The previously third-ranking party, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), took less than 10 percent, losing five seats in the National Assembly. Several new parties gained seats, particularly the left-populist uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, founded by the disgraced former president and previous ANC leader, Jacob Zuma. Zuma’s MK party took a healthy 14.6 percent of the vote, gaining 58 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

The strong showing of the new leftwing MK party coupled with the losses experienced by the African National Congress seem to indicate a profound level of dissatisfaction with the relatively moderate economic policies of the ANC’s current leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. But a geographical analysis of the election reveals a more complicated situation. As the map posted below indicates, MK did not emerge as a new party with national appeal, but rather one whose support is largely limited to the Zulu population. It received 45 percent of the vote in the Zulu heartland (KwaZulu-Natal), 16.8 percent in Mpumalanga, which is 24 percent Zulu-speaking, and 9.8 percent in Gauteng (the country’s core province, containing Johannesburg), which is 23 percent Zulu-speaking. Otherwise, MK’s level of support ranged from small to negligible. Its poor showing among the country’s other ethnic groups is not surprising, as its ideology is based – according to Wikipedia – on “Zulu nationalism” and “Zulu interests.”

South Africa 2024 election MK vote map

uMkhonto weSizwe is not the only South African political party that represents Zulu interest. The long-established Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) did relatively well in the 2024 election, taking over 18 percent of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal and gaining three additional National Assembly seats, for a total of 17. A socially conservative, anti-communist organization, the Inkatha Freedom Party finds most of its support in the more traditional north-central region of KwaZulu-Natal, as the paired Wikipedia map posted below show. It performed particularly well in the municipality of Ulundi. The town of Ulundi was once the capital of the Zulu kingdom and later became the seat of the Bantustan (apartheid-era pseudo-country) of KwaZulu. In no other province did the Inkatha Freedom Party exceed one percent of the vote; in the western third of the country it received less than one tenth of one percent.

2024 South African Election IFP vote map

2024 South African Election KwaZulu-Natal Vote Map

The 2024 election results show that KwaZulu-Natal stands apart from the rest of South Africa, its voters more inclined to support parties that favor Zulu interest than those who focus on national issues. As the paired maps posted below show, the only municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal that did not give plurality support to one the two Zulu nationalist parties are demographically dominated by Xhosa speakers rather than Zulu speakers.

South Africa 2024 election KwaZulu-Natal vote map

But KwaZulu-Natal is not the only South African province that stands politically apart from the rest of the country. As the first map posted below shows, the African National Congress received a relatively low percentage of the vote in three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng.  Elsewhere, it took a majority or near-majority of the votes cast. As a result, I have divided South Africa into four electorally distinctive regions (see the final map below). Coming Geo-Currents posts will explore these patterns in greater detail.

South Africa 2024 election ANC vote map

South Africa electoral regions map

The Zulu Exception in South Africa’s 2024 General Election Read More »

Another Geo-Quiz

Today’s post is another geo-quiz, which asks the reader to name an important geographical feature. Similar quizzes will be posted later this week. This quiz unfolds gradually, adding lines frame by frame until the feature becomes obvious and is named.

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Another line of the same type is added.

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Many lines of the same type are added and are colored blue.

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Straight east-west and north-south lines are added.

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Another line of the same type as the east-west and north-south lines is added.

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The answer is provided.

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Another Geo-Quiz Read More »

More Sea-Shape Geo-Riddles

The shapes of several water bodies are presented below, with accompanying riddles.  Answers are provided below each shape in the form of a larger, labeled map.  The riddles are explained at the end of the post.

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#1. The riddle refers to the waterlogged Birds Foot Delta of the Mississippi River, which is clearly visible and has the appearance of a finger.

#2. The Caribbean Sea together with the Gulf of Mexico is called the “American Mediterranean Sea.”

#3. The Persian (or Arabian) Gulf region has the world’s largest oil reserves, and the gulf itself has a lot of oil pollution.

#4. The Red Sea is linked to the actively rifting Red Sea Rift:

#5 China’s controversial Nine-Dash Line encloses most of the South China Sea.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine-dash_line

#6 The East China Sea is north-northeast of the South China Sea, which is #5 in this series.

#7. In the board game “Monopoly,” Baltic Avenue has the second lowest rents.

#8. Japan and Korea – North and South – tussle over the name of the sea that lies between them.

More Sea-Shape Geo-Riddles Read More »

Answers to Sea-Shape Quiz of May 13 – With Geo-Riddles

Today’s post provides labels for the water-body shapes that were posted on May 13. This “answer key” has two parts. First, each shape is replicated along with a hint in the form of a riddle. After each of these “geo-riddles,” the answer is given on a map that provides additional geographical context.

(Riddle 3# is rather obscure; it asked whether is is sound to put south on the top of the map.)

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Answers to Sea-Shape Quiz of May 13 – With Geo-Riddles Read More »

Seeing the Shapes of Seas: One Easy Example and One Extremely Difficult One

The previous GeoCurrents post argued that even geographically informed people have a difficult time recognizing the shapes of seas and other large water bodies, due largely to our intrinsic tendency to prioritize land over water. But this tendency does not always come into play. The Mediterranean Sea, for example, is easily recognizable. But this is because we readily discern the large peninsulas that jut into it, rather than the sea itself. Lacking such peninsulas, the Baltic Sea is less seen (see the second image below).

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The shape of one sea is particularly difficult to identify, even though it is very large  (1,583,000 km2; 611,200 sq mi) and clearly defined. It is also the site of a significant and seemingly unresolvable territorial dispute between two powerful countries. But given its peripheral location for both of those countries, as well as the low population density of the lands that (nearly) surround it, it tends to slip off our conceptual maps. The four final shapes (below) reveal this sea in sequential stages.

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Seeing the Shapes of Seas: One Easy Example and One Extremely Difficult One Read More »

Do We See the Shapes of Seas? Test Yourself

The geographical imagination tends to prioritize land over water, which is hardly surprising. Water is generally in the cartographic background, conceptualized as something of a void.  As a result, people have a difficult time recognizing the shapes of seas, bays, gulfs, large lakes, and other major bodies of water, even those located in areas that they know well. This seems to be true even for people with extensive geographical knowledge. To test this proposition, I have traced out the shapes of a number of well-known water bodies and used them as a quiz with a few friends and family members. None of them has done very well. Readers can test themselves with eight of these images posted below. It is important to note that these simple maps are all drawn at different scales.

At the end of the article, a few hints are provided. Answers will be given later this week.

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Hints: All these water bodies are in North America. Straight lines indicate opening to the ocean or some other water body. If you are perplexed, focus on the shapes of islands and coasts rather than that of the water body itself.

Do We See the Shapes of Seas? Test Yourself Read More »

Sorry Michigan, But Your Lower Peninsula Is Smaller Than You Think and Your Upper Peninsula Is a Figment of the Imagination

A peninsula, Wikipedia tells us, “is a landform that extends from a mainland and is surrounded by water on most sides.Any body of water can count, the article claims, including rivers: “A piece of land on a very tight river bend or one between two rivers is sometimes said to form a peninsula. …” In practice, however, the inclusion of rivers occurs only at the local scale; a large extent of land bracketed by rivers is almost never called a peninsula, and for good reasons. Consider, for example, Mesopotamia, which is almost entirely “surrounded” by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Does it “extend from a mainland?” Is it ever depicted as a peninsula? An internet search returned exactly one instance of this usage, an article by Turkish authors on the “Vernacular Domed Houses of Harran, Turkey.” Perhaps they are not familiar with the vernacular definition of the world “peninsula” in English. Following such usage, ChatGPT insists that “Mesopotamia” is not a peninsula.

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ChatGPT 3.5: “Mesopotamia is not a peninsula. It’s actually considered one of the world’s earliest civilizations, located in the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which is in present-day Iraq and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran. While it’s bordered by water, it’s not surrounded by water on three sides like a peninsula would be. Instead, it’s known as a river valley civilization due to its location between these two major rivers.

(Unfortunately, the chatbot’s answer is not fully coherent: “Mesopotamia” was the location of “one of the world’s earliest civilizations,” not the civilization itself, and it was definitely “surrounded by water on three sides,” at least if one counts flowing water in the definition of the term.)

But in Great Lakes region straddling the border between the United States and Canada the vernacular English definition of the word “peninsula” vanishes. Three large peninsulas are distinguished in this area: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and Ontario Peninsula. All three appear prominently on political maps, but this is essentially an artifact of the division between the two countries. A non-political depiction of large water bodies in this region reveals only one large peninsula, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and it is not as large as it is conventionally imagined. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Ontario Peninsula are evident only if exaggerates the size of rivers and counts them as water bodies separating peninsulas from mainland areas. But if we were to follow this precedent, we would have to count hundreds of peninsulas that are never given that designation. The term “mainland” would also essentially lose all meaning.

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One can, of course, object to these claims by noting that geographical terms are often based on convention rather that strict definition. As the Infoplease article on peninsulas aptly states, “The definition of a peninsula can be a bit arbitrary, and has as much to do with convention and politics as any geographical rules.” I therefore have no problem with casually referring to northwestern Michigan as the “Upper Peninsula,” and I will continue to do so myself. But it is still important to draw attention to geographical conventions that defy geographical definitions.

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The prime example of a “geographical convention that defies geographical definitions” is portraying Europe as a continent. As Infoplease further notes, “On a map Europe may look like a peninsula that extends westward from the larger landmass of Eurasia, but historians and geographers have treated it as a separate continent for centuries.” Careful geographers and historians, however, no longer regard Europe as a continent. They insist that it is best regarded, like South Asia, as a subcontinent of Eurasia.

Sorry Michigan, But Your Lower Peninsula Is Smaller Than You Think and Your Upper Peninsula Is a Figment of the Imagination Read More »

Remapping the Great Lakes from a Hydrological Perspective

As noted in the two previous GeoCurrents posts, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are a single body of water, forming the world’s largest freshwater lake (by surface area) by a considerable margin. The Wikipedia article on this greatest of the Great Lakes explains the situation:

Lake Michigan–Huron (also Huron–Michigan) is the body of water combining Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which are joined through the 5-mile-wide (8.0 km), 295-foot-deep (90 m), open-water Straits of Mackinac. Huron and Michigan are hydrologically a single lake because the flow of water through the straits keeps their water levels in overall equilibrium. Although the flow is generally eastward, the water moves in either direction depending on local conditions. Combined, Lake Michigan–Huron is the largest freshwater lake by area in the world.

 

For casual purposes, there are no problems with regarding this single body of water as divided into two discrete lakes. For both scientific and comparative purposes, however, it is more useful – and accurate – to treat Michigan-Huron as a single lake. Not surprisingly, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hydrological diagram of the Great Lakes follows this model. But it also divides this massive lake into three basins: Michigan, Huron, and Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is conventionally regarded as part of Lake Huron, but it hydrologically functions as a separate basin.

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Given these complications, it seems worthwhile to experiment with remapping the Great Lakes. The first map posted below shows the standard five-lake model. The second map depicts Michigan-Huron as a single lake, while adding the much smaller but still substantial (430 sq mi) Lake Saint Clair, which is an essential component of the Great Lakes system. The third map divides Lake Michigan-Huron into its three separate basins. The final map shows how the Great Lakes would be depicted if we were to regard all deep embayments as separate lakes.

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Remapping the Great Lakes from a Hydrological Perspective Read More »

Remapping the World’s Largest Lakes

Wikipedia’s article on the world’s largest lakes by surface area features a fantastic map of the fifteen largest, using the dymaxion projection devised by the inimitable Buckminster Fuller. As can be seen, more than half fit into the category of the “Greater Great Lakes of North America” as defined in the previous GeoCurrents article. It is interesting that all these lakes except Ladoga are arrayed along a single sinuous curve that extends from Lake Malawi in southern Africa to Lake Ontario in eastern North America. But intriguing though it is, this arrangement is essentially just a feature of the map projection.

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Close inspection reveals that the Wikipedia map includes a significant “ghost”: the Aral Sea, which was until recently a huge brackish lake in Central Asia. It has largely vanished over the past half-century due to the diversion of most of the flow of the Anu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that feed it into agricultural fields. I have redrafted the Wikipedia map to show this lake as it existed circa 1960.  It was then, by conventional criteria, the third largest lake in the world (by surface area).

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The third map, posted below, takes this redrafting exercise two more steps. Limiting its purview to freshwater lakes, it deletes the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake by a considerable margin. (It does include Lake Balkhash in Central Asia; although the eastern part of this lake is saline, its larger western segment is fresh.) Using strict hydrological criteria, it also combines Huron and Michigan into a single entity, which can be called either Lake Michigan-Huron or Lake Huron-Michigan. This water body is actually the world’s largest freshwater lake.

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