South Africa


It’s a dry white season for Cape Town’s mayoral race

Good party's mayoral candidate for Cape Town, Brett Herron. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | The DA's mayoral candidate for the City of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis. (Photo: Supplied)

In a province where the majority of voters are neither white nor male, both the DA and the Good party are fielding white male candidates for their Cape Town mayoral campaigns. It is a gamble that will not escape the notice of the ANC and other parties.

Both the DA and the Good party have described the internal processes that led to the selection of their mayoral candidates as exceptionally rigorous. Though this may be true, neither selection was a surprise. The Good party’s choice of Brett Herron was a forgone conclusion for a party with exactly two (Patricia de Lille and Herron) visible representatives; while it was known months ago that Geordin Hill-Lewis was the favoured candidate of Helen Zille and other members of the DA top brass.

Yet if you had been asked a few years ago, few might have predicted that in 2021, two parties would have opted for white and male candidates in a province where the majority of voters are neither white nor male.

Zille, as one of the DA’s primary thought leaders, has made clear her abhorrence of identity politics. The selection of Hill-Lewis confirms the supremacy of that worldview within the party. The gamble they are taking is that Western Cape voters feel similarly.

Historically, however, the DA has not taken a campaign step without doing extensive research in the form of focus groups and so on. If its past reliance on evidence-based campaigns holds, the party may have good grounds for believing that Hill-Lewis will be a palatable candidate for the majority of Cape Town voters.

Just what those grounds are is admittedly rather hard to perceive from the outside. There is no doubting the fact that 34-year-old Hill-Lewis is smart, likeable, and a very shrewd political tactician. But he has no governance experience, and his face may be familiar only to those who are frequent viewers of Parliament, where he played a lively and important role in the DA caucus.

Where the mind starts to boggle in particular is in the thought of the campaigning Hill-Lewis attempting to win hearts and minds on the Cape Flats or in Cape Town’s townships. Accepting the party’s nomination on Monday, Hill-Lewis said: “I look forward to meeting you in your community and neighbourhood in the months ahead.”

In perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that his may not be the most recognisable face, he added: “We will get to know each other well as we build our city, our home Cape Town, together.”

Hill-Lewis has said that he intends to begin campaigning on the ground immediately, so it will be interesting to see how he is received – particularly in places like Ocean View, where current Mayor Dan Plato was caught on camera in an embarrassing verbal tussle with a resident.

It is unclear whether Hill-Lewis speaks isiXhosa, but what is clear is that he speaks Afrikaans at about the level of most English-speaking white Capetonians – which is to say, not brilliantly. This is at a time when the DA’s losses in by-elections among coloured and white Afrikaans-speaking communities have been most pronounced.  

A point to consider further is that Hill-Lewis as mayor would mean that the DA has two white men running the city and the province, since Alan Winde is Western Cape premier. This while, of course, the national party leader – John Steenhuisen – is yet another white man. The message that sends about representation – again, in 2021 – is frankly bizarre, even if South Africa turns out to be a place where many people of colour are indeed willing to vote for white male leaders at this point in time.  

From the DA’s perspective, there may be a sense that the gamble is not too large since the party traditionally performs better by some margin in local government elections than national elections. In the former polls there is a sense that service delivery – at which the DA markets itself as outperforming the ANC – is the critical issue more than in the latter, where issues of identity and heritage may be more significant.

When it comes to the Good party’s selection of Herron to stand against Hill-Lewis, it may sound churlish to say that the decision must have stemmed at least partly from a lack of options. (To be clear: the Good party does have more leaders than Herron and De Lille, but I challenge you to find many people who can name them.)

Yet the Western Cape is clearly the Good party’s power base, with the reputational pull of De Lille its major drawcard, and Herron is by far the most senior and publicly visible Good figure after De Lille, so it would have been astonishing if Herron had not received the nod.

In political terms, Herron’s greatest currency is his previous proximity to power as a DA councillor in the Cape metro. It means he has been a thorn in the side of the DA ever since Good launched, constantly pointing out unfinished DA projects or unfulfilled promises. Through Herron, the DA has faced substantive criticism on a scale and frequency the party has been totally unused to from the relatively weak opposition of the ANC and EFF in the province.

It does mean, however, that Herron’s political reputation is now mainly staked as being anti-DA. Negative campaigning can be highly effective in politics, but will voters see Herron and his still-tiny party as plausibly able to wrest power from the DA? That’s while Herron will face the same limitations as Hill-Lewis in his personal capacity as a white man, even though he has the advantage of not being a member of a party considered quite as racially problematic as the DA.

Another major political player in the province, the Freedom Front Plus, has yet to announce its mayoral candidate. Before the 2019 elections, the FF Plus wheeled out controversial political veteran Peter Marais as the party’s premier candidate. If the FF Plus decides Marais should front its mayoral campaign, Cape Town would be in the somewhat bizarre position of having the FF Plus as the only party to date to field a mayoral candidate of colour.

But all parties should also be keeping an eye on the ANC, which has completely revamped its candidate selection process going into these elections. For the first time ever, the ruling party has selected mayoral candidates following a nomination and screening process that will reportedly give weight to postgraduate qualifications.

Although the DA’s Steenhuisen challenged the ANC to reveal its mayoral candidates ahead of time – something it has never done before – the ANC’s Deputy Secretary-General, Jessie Duarte, told a media briefing on Monday night that although the party’s selection process was complete, it would not announce candidates at this point. DM


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All Comments 55

  • Interesting frame for an article in a “democratic state founded on the following values:
    (a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
    (b) Non-racialism and non-sexism.” (Constitution, 1996:s. 1).

    • Was just about to comment something similar. Since Mandela’s time we are supposedly striving towards non-racialism. Yet here we are, with a media that spews racialism at every possible opportunity…

      • Some authors at DM are heavy believers in CRT, which quite clearly posits that race is always part of absolutely everything, no matter what, and it always comes from only one source…Ill let you guess which one.

        • Noted. I’m still fairly new here so don’t know the authors that well.

          I am a little surprised though since CRT is, ideologically speaking, in stark opposition to our democratic dispensation in virtually every conceivable manner. Everything about CRT seems to aim at establishing an arbitrary tyranny short of actually using the word tyranny, and its motivations are disturbingly similar to Germany in the 1930’s. Not a good look for them.

  • So basically to sum up, it’s bad that there are just white candidates in the Cape Town mayoral race just because well you know they are white, but if it has to be someone white, Herron has your approval, because GOOD is against the DA, and everything against the DA is good….in your eyes at least. This of course is the same Herron that has been more worried about shaming people for their qualification (partially incorrectly even), than the governance and service delivery issues we face every day to the detriment of all, something the DA has excelled in for the vast majority of its wards ; in your words: “service delivery – at which the DA markets itself as outperforming the ANC”…it does a lot better than just market itself, it actually is outperforming all other parties in this regard by miles, just as the AG reports showed us yet again, and this in the midst of a pandemic and major fallout of revenue.

    Now, how about an article that deals fairly with experience,, skills and policy of the parties, and gives credit where it is due?

  • In a nation which is not majority white as a whole, does this mean that white people should never be given the nod for any political positions ever ?

    I am disgusted by the blatant racial comment that inevitably comes from the media, whenever the DA does anything. Hill Lewis was the ONLY white mayoral candidate of the DA. Yet, the colour of this one candidates skin is apparently the only thing which matters.

    Disgusting media reporting. I frankly expect better from the Daily Maverick.

  • It is disappointing but perhaps not surprising that the first real attack on Hill-Lewis’s nomination would come from Davis. She sees the DA as ‘racially problematic’, whatever that means, and finds having several white leaders in the DA ‘bizarre’. It is a wonder that this thinking does not just declare that white people should simply not be in politics or run for leadership positions, ever. What I find bizarre is that we are talking about this at a time when our country has been stripped of growth, with the reality of the incapable State laid bare and its impact on ordinary people’s lives clearly visible, yet the racial and gender choice of a party’s candidate is what troubles Davis. We are in deep trouble, and the only thing we should be focusing on now is competence and how to fix this mess. We’ve got one job to do and it needs every committed, capable South African to pitch up.

  • If we are trying to be a country where merit truly determines selection, why should being white and male be of concern? Unless of course if merit is not the prime concern but social engineering is?

  • What are you commenters talking about? I read this as an “observational” article about the very real risk the DA is taking. i.e. this is not about RD passing judgement, rather it is a look at the political landscape.

    It may not be in my lifetime but I do hope for a day when as a people we have grown up enough to vote in a meritocratic way; as it will prove best for you – the voter, regardless of your colour or ethnicity.

    • We do need Meritocratic voting. It would be nice, if political commentators woudl being contributing towards this reality by not focusing on the colour of a persons skin for the duration of an entire article. Focus on their skills and merit instead please.

      Many many South Africans have actually moved past this racial obsessiveness, and its about time some of our political commentators did too.

      • Sadly skin colour is a voting reality. Hiding from it won’t change that, regardless of how much one would like it to. I’m fine with RD discussing reality, rather than what I would prefer reality to be.

        • I agree that is it a reality. But it is a reality which should be condemned and eradicated from our society with gusto. Instead RD seems to be perpetuating this racial focus throughout her article. Our political commentators should be better than this.

          • My sense from the comments is that these are largely white people hoping that an issue initiated by their ancestors will simply go away if not mentioned. It won’t. But I submit the concern expressed is largely irrelevant as the voters most at risk for the DA are very unlikely to be reading this article. This is just preaching to the converted, so breathe easy people.

        • Yes, you are correct. Skin colour is indeed a voting reality. However, for us to move away from this we need all participants (including the media) to put more focus on the real issues such as service delivery records of the contesting candidates/ parties.

    • Agreed one hundred percent. I’m actually more than a little concerned by the clear lack of any kind of objective assessment of the article displayed by many of the comments. White people see an article questioning the wisdom of the appointment of white candidates and immediately scream racism!

  • Thanks for this. A perfect example of the CRT-captured media’s obsession with issues which are irrelevant to local government issues in CT. Useful idiocy of a special kind.

    • It’s a political commentary article, commenting on the fact that two of the major political parties in the Western Cape have both fielded Cape town mayoral candidates that fall within demographic groups that are in the overwhelming minority in the province. In the current South African “race relations” climate, is that a smart political move by them?

      The defensiveness of some of the comments on this article (from clearly white commentators) is, to be quite frank, upsetting. And for the record, I am a white male.

      • If those are the most suitable candidates for the job, then those are the most suitable candidates for the job. That’s how meritocracy works. And the DA is in favour of meritocracy. Arguing if this is a good idea within the “current race relations climate” is simply muddying the waters that should be crystal clear.

        I agree with Morgan Freeman – if you want to end racism, stop talking about it.

      • A ‘political commentary article’ might be expected to address one or two issues of substance relevant to the candidates’ policies etc. rather than dwell exclusively on their race and gender (yawn).

        Obviously, as any fool knows, race is relevant in SA. But, as 25 years of obsessing about race to the exclusion of pro-poor delivery shows, it is a convenient distraction perpetuated by political parties – and lazy journalists – who have nothing else to offer and are hard-wired into racial-nationalist thinking.

  • The author’s contorted biases have subsumed her analytical and writing skills. She’s mean & nasty and a flag bearer for ad-hominem.

    • The irony in calling the author ‘mean and nasty’ while at the same time complaining that she is ‘a flag bearer for ad-hominem’!

    • You evidently missed the point of the article. It’s not a discussion about the mayoral nominees generally, it’s a commentary on the fact that two prominent parties selected white male candidates, and the wisdom of those selections (as in, will the majority of the voting populous be receptive to white male candidates, given that white males constitute a very small minority of the voters).

      • As you correctly pointed out, these nominations do not exist in a vacuum, but this comment…

        “The message that sends about representation – again, in 2021 – is frankly bizarre, even if South Africa turns out to be a place where many people of colour are indeed willing to vote for white male leaders at this point in time.”

        … ignores the fact that the DA’s mayoral candidate selection is incredibly diverse (2 black women, 1 black male, 1 coloured male, and 1 white male) and should not be viewed in isolation.

        • That it may do, but the fact is that the article is about the mayoral candidate nominations of two of the most prominent political parties in the Cape metro. The non-white nominees of the DA are candidates in other metros, so they’re pretty much irrelevant to the point of this article.

          • This implies that South Africa should never have a white candidate within any South African City ever.

  • Ridiculous. The mayoral role is complex and massive budgets and tens of thousands are employed in LG.
    We have witnessed the result of incompetence, and if the people of South Africa want to choose on the basis of race, they should consider the impact.
    Being mayor requires many skills and the ability to perform a complex task. Put the best in, and if they don’t shape up, fire them.

  • Why bring in race all the time? So what if the DA’s candidate is white? Surely more important would be his ability, qualification and ethical record?Especially at this time when we have seen what corruption in public service has done to this country.

    • ” … at this time when we have seen what corruption in public service has done to this country.” – You mean BEE and AA and anc Cadre Deployment.

  • Comments are quite a read here. Obviously race matters, you can bet you’re bottom dollar no one has thought about this more than the DA. My take away from this is the disappointment that there is no one of colour seen as competent in the DA. Helen has chased them all away, and this is the result of her unretirement. Obviously the DA will win this race, the question is just the margin. But long term this strategy has limited growth prospects. As a white male born on the 80s, I’m staggered that my mayor, my premier and their boss look just like me. I’m sure they are all very competent, but race matters.

    • Geordin Hill Lewis was the ONLY white person nominated by the DA yesterday. Every single other candidate had a different skin colour. That is the reality of the DA. Bu you won’t see that being reported here … doesn’t fit the desired narrative.

      • Absolutely so. Why don’t these commentators just come out say that there is NO place for a white male, regardless of merit, in contemporary South Africa. Not even in the private sector – which is now also littered with affirmative requirements. And we wonder why the country is going backward? It’s not because we’re advancing people who DESERVE to be advanced. It’s because, in the process, we are deliberately stifling real talent.

    • Just like white males in the Western Cape, sensible, non-emotive comments are in the minority in this comments section. Well done on showing a measure of objectivity and rationality.

      • David A, you have inserted yourself into 6 chats, repeating the same argument that all these ‘white’ commentators have apparently misunderstood the RD article. You appear to be saying that she is objectively debating the wisdom of two political parties selecting white mayoral candidates in a province where whites are in the minority. What the critics are saying, and far from misunderstanding, is why does this matter? Whites are a minority in every province in SA, so what is also being said is whether whites can therefore legitimately participate at any level in Government. These are substantive points, not hysterical cries of ‘racism’.

  • People mention everything from his sex to his race to how well he speaks in parliament.

    Nobody mentions whether he is skilled and experienced to be mayor. Or even lives in the city.

    This is what party list politics has done to our country.

  • If Hill-Lewis wins the election by a significant margin it will mean that most of those living in the WC and Cape Town have finally come to appreciate that the DA is the only party with the experience and track record of good governance in this country. If that result does come to pass, hopefully the focus on the race of candidates will cease to be the main determining factor for political office.

  • White men in politics. Oh the horror. Another racist rant. Now that is bizzare.
    Having moved from Gauteng to the Cape I thank my lucky stars that there is a competent party, the DA, in charge. And if there should be white men looking after the place. Good luck to them. Compared to the desert which the ANC and their black politicians have created in the rest of SA, I can only see a fruitful season in the Cape. Good luck to Brett and Geordin.
    What’s with this constant diatride against the DA from the DM.

  • Just hypothetically assume that these are the best qualified candidates. To what extent is the DA actively training up future, similar candidates of a more representative nature? Is there a place for ‘apprentices’ working with these qualified ones, in government? If the DA does nothing about this i suspect that they will continue to lose seats and thus positive influence in the wider context. And heaven help us Capies if any other party comes into power. Infrastructure will simply implode. And our rates will simply evaporate.

  • So men and whites and white men should just not ever be in positions of leadership regardless of their capabilities? Regardless of the fact that they are a part of the South Africa nation? Of the nominees revealed yesterday, Hill-Lewis was the only white person. As for the other parties selections, what does that have to do with the DA’s selection? Bizarre article. Wake up Daily Maverick and read the room.

  • I think it was Chairman Mau who said “We don’t care if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”.
    It is about time that we accept the best person for the job rather than looking for racial and gender problems.

  • Quick history lesson on the DA:
    “The historical predecessor of the modern-day Democratic Alliance, was The Progressive Party (PP), and was founded in 1959 when liberal members seceded from the United Party (UP). They could not agree with the inability of the UP to present an alternative to the National Party’s apartheid policy. The PP emphasized constitutional reform, a Bill of Rights, an independent judiciary and the evolution towards federalism. These reform proposals were combined with advocacy of a free market economy. In 1961 only Helen Suzman was elected in parliament. For 13 years she was the only opponent of racial discrimination and other apartheid regime’s abuses in the whites-only parliament, fighting against detention without trial, pass laws and influx control. From 1971 Colin Eglin was the party leader, without being a member of parliament himself. In 1974 the party won seven seats.”

    • Quick history lesson on the National Party:
      “In the 1994 elections it managed to expand its base to include many non-Whites, including significant support from Coloured and Indian South Africans. It participated in the Government of National Unity between 1994 and 1996. In an attempt to distance itself from its past, the party was renamed the New National Party in 1997. The attempt was largely unsuccessful and the new party was decided to merge with the ANC.”

      South Africans seem to have mixed up the NP history with the DA somehow, literally reversed it.

  • Omw- embarrassing article, cringe-worthy.
    I kept reading thinking the author would pull all the other relevant and obvious aspects into it when penning this.
    No relevance except the race and gender.
    Like going back in time, like way before Emmanuel Kant.

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