2019 ELECTIONS: UNPACKING RESULTS

The FF+ and EFF: Poles apart but both making gains

By Carien Du Plessis 9 May 2019

The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) desk at the IEC's National Results Operations Centre (ROC) in Pretoria, 9 May 2019. Photo: Leila Dougan

The Economic Freedom Fighters on the one end, and the Freedom Front Plus on the other – both parties are smiling.

There have been some important shifts in the 2019 election, even as the final results still remain to be tallied. It appears that more people than before have moved beyond their comfort zone to vote for other parties. That much was evident in the large numbers of undecided voters even in the week ahead of the elections. Those that did go to the polls thought more carefully about who to vote for.

The results are likely to show that more people have deserted the ANC – and in conversations with voters, it appeared that they were less hesitant than before to say that they would shun the ANC at the ballot box, and more open about who they will be embracing. And although DA voters often accuse ANC voters of being unthinking, it appears that many white people have been voting for the DA unthinkingly too. A party official said that white people “outsourced” their politics to the DA to deal with, much in the same way as they use private security firms to keep their homes safe.

So the EFF and the FF Plus will both probably emerge as winners.

FF Plus leader in the North West Michal Groenewald said it’s the first election where voters were not ashamed of acknowledging the party representatives at their tables outside polling stations on polling day.

In the past the guys walked circles around our gazebo, somewhat shy to be associated with the FF Plus, but [on voting day] it was a completely different matter as people walked up to our gazebo and laughed while they shook hands,” he said, “so there was a complete change in attitude towards the FF Plus compared to our experience in the past.” He said he believed the party “will do significantly better than previously”.

The party’s Slaan Terug(“hit back”) posters were everywhere, but its campaigners were focused on Rustenburg, Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom, which are its strongholds in the North West. Its leader, Pieter Groenewald, hails from Stilfontein not far from Potchefstroom, where its former leader Pieter Mulder is from. The party also had more resources this year to focus on smaller dorpies, he said, adding that he believed the FF Plus would get more support in these towns.

The FF Plus appeals to the DA’s traditional voters “because the message the DA has been giving to traditional voters has changed completely to what the voters were used to”, he said. This was because the FF Plus concentrated on “values, and where we are going to”, also on possible future coalitions. The FF Plus came out strongly against land expropriation without compensation, the killing of white farmers, and black economic empowerment, whereas the DA was wavering or more nuanced about these issues.

Having lost votes to the FF Plus in a by-election in Krugersdorp months before 8 May, and having picked up the same trend in its internal polling, the DA launched its own fight back programme against the FF Plus by getting Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to also campaign outside the province (she was supposed to have been in the dog box because of her tweets on colonialism), as well as roping back former DA leader Tony Leon, who appeared to thoroughly enjoy having an opportunity to make the DA great again. Early results in the North West province show that the FF Plus is doing better. Its results kept hovering at around half of the DA’s percentage throughout – at almost half of the votes counted, the DA stood at almost 10% while the FF Plus stood at 4.8% – while the two were much further apart in 2014 with 12.73% and 1.72% of the votes respectively.

Some have also ascribed the softening attitudes of white voters towards the FF Plus to the Afriforum-friendly Maroela Media, which is a popular paywall-free Afrikaans news site – as opposed to Netwerk24, which requires a subscription.

President of the EFF student wing Peter Keetse told Daily Maverick journalist Greg Nicolson that the swing was due to the right to his own party’s rhetoric.”The question on the land expropriation without compensation has really awakened white people, now that they know the bread is leaving.” A lot of the EFF’s rhetoric have targeted white people as the extremes on the political spectrum are becoming more polarised. “White people are coming out in their numbers and voting FF Plus, and that is their own constituency. There is no way we could have got more votes from the white constituency as the EFF.”

While both the EFF and the FF Plus are on the up in this election, it’s also true that the ANC remains the mainstay of most black voters, while most of the white vote still resides with the DA. DM

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