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1 November 2014 08:35 (South Africa)
South Africa

The DA's uphill climb to capture Gauteng

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa
sipho on The DA uphill climb

In two years, the country will go into national and provincial elections, and the Democratic Alliance feels it is tantalisingly close to grabbing Gauteng away from the African National Congress. Just how possible this might be in 2014 is still up for debate, but the province is the next prize if the party is serious about a shot at a parliamentary majority within the next 10 years – Even if that means settling for the lesser prize of a major metropolitan area. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The DA in Gauteng has often said that it plans to take the province in the 2014 national and provincial elections. Currently, the province is governed by the ANC, as are the three main metros Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and the Tshwane. The strategic importance of the country’s smallest province is obvious – it is the most densely populated and commands a third of the country’s gross domestic product and almost 10% of the Southern African region’s GDP. Besides embarrassing the ANC by taking the beating heart of Africa, winning Gauteng will go a long way to paving the way for a DA-lead South Africa.

The challenges between the party’s current 33.4% of the vote and an outright majority is a complex one: as fluid as the voting patterns in the province are (compared to the rest of the country), the party has so far failed to make serious inroads into the ANC’s traditional voting base, the relatively poor township dwellers.

Also, as democracy matures in the country, the changing pattern in voting as identity politics give way in certain circumstances to more rational voting does not always benefit the DA’s quest for a parliamentary majority.

In the 2011 local government elections, the ANC won 60.8% of the vote in the province, compared to the DA’s 33.4%. This compared to a 26.3% in the 2006 elections and a 30.8% in 2000. In reality, the growth between 2006 and 2011 looks more like a recovery than anything suggesting huge growth. The pattern works in the opposite direction for the ANC over the same three years – it goes from a 60-percentage, to a 62 and back to a 60.

However, the voter turnout for the DA outstripped that of the ANC by a sizeable amount in the last local government elections, even though general turnout defied expectations. Some 57.6% of registered voters turned up at the stations.

DA Gauteng leader John Moodey said that they were hoping to secure a 25% chunk of the vote that normally goes to the ANC. The size of that challenge is immense. The two largest concentrations of poor black people in the province both still overwhelmingly vote ANC. In Alexandra, the party only managed a 7.5% of the vote in 2011 (up by 3.8% from the previous election) while in Soweto it got 5.6% (a 3% improvement).

“Our campaign will be about taking 25% of a market that has traditionally voted for the ANC. It is possible because there is a lot of disgruntlement, hence the rising number of service delivery protests,” Moodey said.

He said that the newly launched economic policy document would be taken to the people. Moodey has placed faith in the document’s liberal market stance to resonate with the poor, who, he claims party research indicates, have placed poverty and unemployment as their highest priorities.

“The previous ANC voter understands that there has been 18 years of promises made,” he said. “And now people have realised that the ANC has not delivered. We are saying to people, ‘we can do it’.”

The new DA economic policy document proposes that labour market liberalisation, the incentivising of foreign investment as well as small local business through schemes like rewarding the labour-intensive approach and introducing tax breaks for certain behaviours, and better education are the best ways to eat into South Africa’s high poverty and unemployment rates.

Moodey said that the people his party are talking to generally understand that the opposition stance is a common sense one. Their awareness campaign is helping to present the party as a viable option to the ruling party. “The by-elections of the last year show a swing to the DA. It’s a small swing, but it is very encouraging,” he said.

DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane said that the gains the party made in the townships gave them a sense of optimism, even though there was hard work to be done. “In the last government elections we did really well. The ANC is shrinking,” he said.

The opposition party is not going to rely on what the ANC is doing wrong for votes to accrue to it, Maimane said.

Things are not that straightforward, said Ebrahim Fakir, head of governance at the Electoral Institute of South Africa. He believes that racial identity will still play a strong role, even as people rationalise their voting patterns.

He said: “Gauteng has always had the most spread when it comes to votes and political parties. The National Party did surprisingly well in the first elections. Even so, I’m not convinced that the DA will do that well in 2014.

“There are emerging cosmopolitan political identities where people are more likely to hedge their bets. So [in a local government election] they might vote as per the party whose vision they agree with when on the proportional representivity ballot, but will then switch to a party that they believe will deliver the best service when voting for a ward councillor,” Fakir said.

The test for support at a national and provincial level is still largely a question of vision, he said, and that means a strong rooting in identity politics. The modest growth of the DA in townships suggests that 2014 may still be a bridge too far. The party ought to start reaping rewards of its campaigning only after 2017.

Even though the DA has targeted the new voters as being crucial to their bid for power in the province, it will be a while before these become a big voting bloc. “If the DA is going to capture a portion of the new votes, they have to do so consistently so as to build a critical mass that will bring a majority in a generation at the current growth rate,” he said.

The only possible way in which the DA might take Gauteng as quickly as two years from now is for it to forge strong coalition partners with other parties. Even so, the prospects are slim: combining the four largest opposition party percentages in the last provincial government elections does not put them above the ANC.

The picture is not any brighter when the numbers are viewed through the prism of local government elections: The ANC and the DA were the only party to achieve meaningful ballot numbers. The third highest contestant and the only other one to make it above the 1% mark was the Congress of the People with 1.08% of the vote.

The task that the DA has set itself only looks more gargantuan the more the numbers are studied. Still, the optimism remains, according to Maimane. “The mood is changing as the province develops,” he said. “We are more optimistic about winning a metropolitan area in Gauteng than we are of gaining some rural backwater because of the voter profile here.”

The real puzzler for the DA is not so much how to communicate the immediacy or applicability of its macroeconomic omnibus to ordinary people in the province, but how to speak past identity politics and convince people to vote rationally even at the provincial level. The main consolation for it is that as problems escalate in the metropolitan areas of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni, the benefit of setting the heart aside and voting with the head will become more apparent. And a lot can go wrong in two years. But the worst thing that could happen for the DA is for the former disgruntled voters of the ANC to stay at home rather than turn up and vote for someone else who could be a lot better at service delivery. DM

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Photo by Reuters.

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • South Africa


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