South Africa


DA’s 2021 election dilemma: Is the record of good delivery enough to win votes?

DA’s 2021 election dilemma: Is the record of good delivery enough to win votes?
From left: GOOD leader Patricia de Lille. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Papi Morake) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach) | DA mayoral candidate Geordin Hill-Lewis. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

As political parties fire up campaigns for the local government polls, it is clear that a lot is on the line. While the ANC faces internal problems and a cash crunch, the DA may also find this a difficult election. It may not be able to improve on its previous performance, and might lose support.

This bad showing could have huge consequences. Already the party has lost several prominent black leaders. If it loses more black voters, the DA may well have to make difficult choices about coalition partners after this election. And those choices could have a big impact on how it does in the next national election in 2024.

With DA posters going up on lamp-posts all around the country, the party’s slogan “the DA gets things done” is being seen more and more often. The party obviously believes the focus on service delivery is correct and will win it more votes.

The one independent assessor we have of municipalities, the Auditor-General, is clear in her reports that the councils in the Western Cape are better run than in other provinces. And it is also obvious that service delivery in most other municipalities, run by the ANC, is almost non-existent.

DA members might well believe this sets them up to gain more support, that what President Cyril Ramaphosa called the “palpable sense of anger at the ANC” will surely help them. 

Within all of this is the recent DA strategy.

The party challenged the Electoral Commission’s decision to reopen the candidate registration process after the ANC failed to get all of its candidates in on time. It lost that application. It has also complained to the IEC that it believes there is evidence that the EFF is lying about the amount of money it has, after it failed to register any donations above R100,000.

This suggests that the party is continuing its long-term policy of using the rules to win political battles. While many voters might have supported its long-running legal battles against former president Jacob Zuma, this strategy might not win more votes now. Instead, it may suggest the DA is more interested in using the rules to remove players, rather than just play the game.

It may also leave the party open to the long-standing claim that it is good at criticising the ANC, but does not necessarily propose proper alternatives.

To be fair, the DA has generally spent much time on efforts to produce alternative policies, and believes it has solutions to solve the country’s problems. But these can get drowned out by the debate around race-based redress. 

It is worth restating that in a country where most voters may believe in race-based redress, opposing it is unlikely to help you win elections.

Worse, it allows the ANC and others to claim that the DA is not interested in real change and is defending the status-quo. The status-quo in this case will be defined as our racialised inequality.

Then there is the position of the DA’s leader. Steenhuisen is an experienced, clever and sharp politician. In Parliament he is very adept, and adroit at holding the ANC to account.

But there is no evidence yet that he is able to convince people who have never voted for the DA before to do so now. It may be that he is more comfortable with the DA’s base, or, to over-simplify, mainly with white voters.

This may be important in that the DA believes that it lost many votes in the 2019 election to the FF+ (considering the DA lost support and the FF+ grew this is very likely). 

But it is also not clear that all of the white people who voted for the DA in the past will vote for them again. Some white people may well believe in transformation and affirmative action, perhaps even thinking that affirmative action is an acceptable price to pay for the privilege they have.

There may be some evidence that many people voted for the DA because they believed in the leadership of Mmusi Maimane. His life story, growing up in Meadowlands, marrying a white woman and bringing up mixed-race children in our society may have been a symbol of what some people believe the future of our country should be. And his mixture of constitutionalism, upbringing and current life experience may well turn out to have been important for the DA.

Now, to have Steenhuisen posing next to a DA poster in isiZulu may allow its political opponents to ridicule him, fairly or unfairly.

All of that said, what happens on the campaign trail does matter. In a low turnout election the importance of getting your voters to polling stations is amplified. The DA is probably better able to do this than other parties. Especially when the ANC is battling in many communities. 

There are also the incidents within the elections and how the campaigning is done. Are there any mistakes on the trail, do the party’s leaders get sucked into identity debates, or can they keep on their service delivery talking points? These issues matter.

There is also scope for clever politics. The DA’s Cape Town mayoral candidate, Geordin Hill-Lewis is calling for the land occupied by Acacia Park, which houses MPs in Cape Town, to be released for public use. The person in charge of the land is the Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille. She is also the leader of the Good Party and former DA mayor in Cape Town.

 This may be effective. Hill-Lewis can argue there is a shortage of land for public use in Cape Town, and why should MPs get to occupy it? Especially when there is widespread anger at the political class. De Lille has to defend the current policy. She has already donned her verbal boxing gloves, calling Hill-Lewis’ “stupid” over his suggestion.

But Hill-Lewis shoots back that De Lille supported the plan when she was the mayor. This puts De Lille under pressure. She now has the contradiction of her previous position while possibly having to explain her decision to join the ANC-led Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the DA may face some very tough decisions after the elections.

It is possible that the result of the polls is that the DA and the EFF together can form coalitions. Or that the EFF could attempt to repeat its 2016 policy of voting with the DA for the position of mayors and speakers, and then support its administrations on a case-by-case basis. But the DA may feel that one of the reasons it lost support to the FF+ was the perception that it was working too closely with the EFF after 2016, particularly in Joburg.

This means that it may be risky for the DA to be seen to be doing business with the EFF this time around. 

In essence this could boil down to a choice between the short-term gain of being able to lead a coalition in councils and metros involving the EFF, and the long-term risk of some voters turning against the DA as a result in the national elections in three years’ time.

The DA may not be the only party to face difficult choices like this. Other parties may also find that the shorter-term decisions to make after the elections could carry longer-term risks.

But the big risk to the party is that it suffers a significant loss of support in this election; greater than the loss it suffered in 2019. If that happens, it may well be the end of Steenhuisen’s leadership, and the start of greater turmoil within the party. DM

[hearken id=”daily-maverick/8706″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Actions speak louder than words. The DA are the only party to have proved they can actually do the job of running a City, Province and Country. It is the only party that is actually colour blind. It’s members are interested in one thing – a long term future for all people in this country. No short term opportunity to rob and pillage under the guise of redressing past wrongs…no outrageous promises to the poor living in shack settlements whilst robbing the bank to maintain a luxurious lifestyle in Sandton. No complicated red tape to hide the fact that you’re incapable of making decisions….the list is endless. South Africa needs to breathe again, trust in its politicians again, hope again, build again. There is only one party that can set us on this path!

    • Dennis Bailey says:

      A serious part of “doing” is getting the electorate to vote for it, which it has failed to do dismally to date. It needs to drop it preoccupation with Zila and race.

      • Andrew Spiegel says:

        Hear hear – and to drop its preoccupation with the crude capitalist ideology now being channeled through the misappropriated SAIRR.

        • Graham Anderson Anderson says:

          “To be fair, the DA has generally spent much time on efforts to produce alternative policies, and believes it has solutions to solve the country’s problems. But these can get drowned out by the debate around race-based redress”.
          However, it spends too much time litigating and insufficient time with potential voters.
          Just my opinion!!

    • Paddy Ross says:

      Jane, thank you for stating the plain facts. The negative comments to your post contribute nothing of substance and are probably posted by FF+ supporters who begrudge the electoral support that the DA achieves. Also, I am sure that the DA will have learnt their lesson from previous coalitions with the corrupt EFF and will not want to repeat that mistake. DA/Action SA coalitions would be a much more workable partnership locally and nationally.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    The word “may” appears a whopping 20 times in this article. Every phrase qualified by “may” is as true as the same phrase qualified by “may not”. Thus, while “…it may be risky…” is a true phrase, “… it may not be risky…” is also a true phrase. The article ends up telling us that the DA’s record of good delivery may or may not be enough to win votes.

  • Sam Joubs says:

    If good service delivery, especially at municipal level, is not good enough to win votes, then we are in deeper trouble than we think.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Why do journalists always retreat, and thereby perpetuate, the racial dichotomy? Ah, but the article has been grafted by Stephen Grootes, enough said!
    Every issue in this presentation is obfuscated by the racial element, normally to the detriment of the issue and, thus, the article!
    It is like an omelette with too much salt?

  • Peter Doble says:

    It defies all logic (but when was voting logical?) but the short answer is a resounding NO.

  • Alan Paterson says:

    There are fourteen political parties listed by parliament so we are really spoiled for choice. Or not. I know of only three contesting in November that have “defined” policies – ANC, IFF, DA. Two are terminally tainted by graft, corruption, incompetence and outright thuggery. I know little or nothing about the other eleven, if they are indeed contesting. Any suggestions as to where else I cast my ballot would be gratefully accepted.

    • Martin Ernst says:

      ActionSA has policies similar to the DA for those who are still race obsessed (with the exception of a perception of Xeonophobia and probably a willingness to work with the EFF and let them continue stealing)

  • Change is Good says:

    The ANC have siphoned an estimated trillion rand from the ficus over the last 10 years and it is still going on, nationally, provincial and municipal. I ask, what is wrong with us in not knowing who to vote for. Stop allowing the negative racial narrative to dissuade us from voting for the opposition party.
    Every South African regardless of race should have this in mind when they complain about a lack of service delivery from every single national government department, as well as the unemployment
    The DA have delivered in the Western Cape. Remember, your vote only lasts 5 years, you can change it next time around. This is the joy of living in a democracy. Something we need to keep in mind when a the ANC one party dominance shows us what corruption means.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The DA has great national policies. Pity, because they are irrelevant. The DA will as a white party never rule the country.

    At a local government level they do steal less and deliver more than ANC run councils but by no means deliver to my expectation and what I pay eye-watering fees for. But I will be voting for a Candidate not a Party in this election. The DA parachuted in one of their Golden List people to be my ward Councillor and appointed a lawyer from a different city to head up engineering services in my town. That’s their cadre deployment :/

    Local means local.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Johan Buys – How many votes have been cast for the DA? That is a lot more then the number of Whitre voters. So vote for the policies and not some conspiracy theory. The DA is the best, more voters will make it more racially divers, so go for it!

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    On that side there is:
    1/ ANC who have a record of theft and corruption.
    2/ EFF who has a record of theft and corruption.
    3/ The Good Party who has no good record at all, except that she has been in more parties than just about everybody.

    On this side we have:
    1/ The DA who have a proven record of good governance in Towns, Cities and a Province.
    2/ No other party has this record.

    Now Stephen Grootes is casting a bunch of “what ifs” to damage the chances of the DA! He even says in the article “to be honest” as tho’ the rest of his not honest!

    We either vote for the DA or get a bunch of tiny parties who will keep the ANC in power for longer than any decent person wants.

    Take your pick, but think before voting. Voting for a tiny party is like being an anti-vaxer. Mind-blind!

  • Trevor Pope says:

    Unfortunately the DA is playing by a different set of rules. They are making policies that they believe in and intend to implement. Their opponents are not bound by these rules, and the voters don’t seem to care. Which is why we’re in such a mess. Now that I’ve given up hope of change, I feel a bit more relaxed about living in another case study on post-liberation governments.

  • Karin Swart says:

    The DA runs my city, Cape Town, very well – I don’t really have issues there. My problem with the DA is that when one of their own is exposed as having behaved as unbecoming a politician/councilor/MP, they don’t act as they always immediately demand every other party to act with their member. This double-standard tactic to which they always resort makes me despair for the party and wonder how they can hope to attract any honest, ethical person to vote for them. Or must we just be content with “the best of the worst”?

  • L Dennis says:

    Proudly DA…

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    I do think the DA generally is not well received by the media- reasons for that are contested. This column is lukewarm and contains so many “Mays” and “may nots” that no clear analysis emerges. The DA does spend quite a lot of time litigating and generally they win their cases. Respect for the law is unfortunately a diminishing characteristic in certain circles in South Africa today

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