2021 Local Elections


DA leader John Steenhuisen points out ‘dysfunctional ANC municipalities’ while making his final pitch

DA leader John Steenhuisen points out ‘dysfunctional ANC municipalities’ while making his final pitch
DA leaderJohn Steenhuisen. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Steenhuisen quoted government figures that say 64 municipalities are considered delinquent or dysfunctional, and News24’s Out of Order survey that found 43 more municipalities on the verge of collapse. This meant more than a third of South Africa’s 278 municipalities were failing.

‘The one thing that all these broken towns and cities share is an ANC local government,’ says Steenhuisen, sweat glistening on his forehead.

‘You need to vote with your head,” DA leader John Steenhuisen told the DA’s final “Get Things Done” rally in central Johannesburg’s Mary Fitzgerald Square on Saturday. 

Logic would dictate that the time is ripe for an opposition party to take over, especially one with proven governance successes and clean audits, such as the DA. Even when it is criticised for not having pro-poor policies, administrators are quick to point out that the indigent are still better served in functional municipalities than in failing ones. 

“The one thing that all these broken towns and cities share is an ANC local government,” Steenhuisen said, sweat glistening on his forehead. Whoever put up the DA’s stage on Saturday forgot that, on a good October day, the sun beats down harshly by 11am.  

Still, if election campaigns were beauty pageants, the DA deserves a crown. Its campaign was well-planned and executed, and unlike some other big parties, it budgeted ahead of time and paid its staff, and for its posters.  

On paper, the party ran a great campaign. It embraced new and experimental technologies early on during the Covid-19 lockdown — Steenhuisen was elected at a conference with electronic voting — while most ANC leaders were slogging it out over who should step down from the party or get the next contract for overpriced personal protective equipment.  

When there was uncertainty about an elections postponement, the DA soldiered on with its virtual campaigns and shows, all the while tracking sentiment with its internal polls. These must be working, because the party often adapts its campaigns accordingly. It is possibly also the reason why the party rolls out prime-time ads on radio, for example, voiced by Helen Zille.  

When Steenhuisen says: “Forget for a moment about all the emotional appeals from parties who beg for your loyalties because once, long ago, they played a role in the liberation struggle,” he’s making sense, because it’s true that many of the failing municipalities are ANC-governed. 

Steenhuisen told City Press on Sunday that the party is “going to do a lot better than we did in the last election”. This was in reference to the 20.7% the party got in the 2019 general election.  

He’s possibly aware, though, that he’s comparing apples with kiwi fruit, because local and national elections are different. The DA usually does better in a local election, for a number of reasons, including how national totals are calculated. But then, despite appearances to the contrary, the DA isn’t just about logic — it’s also about politics.  

Steenhuisen knows that the party is unlikely to match the almost 27% it got in the 2016 local government elections under his predecessor, Mmusi Maimane, when turnout was high due to strong anti-Zuma sentiment, and Cyril Ramaphosa was still sailing low in the State Capture sea with his presidential ambitions. Steenhuisen also knows that a bad election performance could see him booted out of the leadership, which is why he chooses to go with the 2019 figure. 

Some in the DA say it seems that Ramaphosa might have convinced some DA voters to give the ANC another chance to renew itself, despite many others saying the ANC has broken one promise too many. The ANC last week also appealed to the nostalgia of some voters by rolling out leaders from the good old times when there was still some economic growth and hope: leaders like Thabo Mbeki, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Kgalema Motlanthe.  

Many DA campaigners on the ground in rural municipalities say their long hours and many years in communities might sway voters this time. Yet Tebogo Tlhokwe, DA caucus leader in Emfuleni, said on the sidelines of Saturday’s rally that campaigners’ biggest challenge was “the stereotype” and the propaganda “about the DA being an apartheid regime agent”. He said he firmly believes the party is “the only one” that caters for people from all race groups.  

Even as Steenhuisen was roasting on that stage like a chicken in extra hot sauce, a fresh social media controversy was playing out in the background on the very platforms where the party was broadcasting its event.

Video clips were doing the rounds showing The Burning Platform host Gareth Cliff denying One SA Movement spokesperson Mudzuli Rakhivhane’s experience of racism by calling it “anecdotal”, while Steenhuisen looked on with a smirk.  

Nando’s deemed the show as damaging enough to withdraw its sponsorship. Steenhuisen’s reaction was, “It’s got nothing to do with me.”   

Whatever leadership he could have shown in this situation, it’s possible that the DA’s polls would have shown that he’d have been damned if he said something, and damned if he didn’t — and he preferred to play it safe. 

Still, what happened on this webinar isn’t the kind of incident that would win over voters who are undecided but might want to be persuaded that the party has an impressive track record in local government. People are emotional and, while they might be confronted by the same facts, they think with their hearts as much as their brains. 

Steenhuisen on Saturday also asked voters “to forget about brand new parties that spring up before every single election like a field of overnight mushrooms, and then fade away just as quickly afterwards” and “the small parties that just don’t have the numbers to properly represent you, and certainly don’t have the numbers to keep the ANC or EFF out”. 

What if voters used their heads and concluded that a party with a future should also be one that has leaders who can face up to the ghosts of the past that undeniably still haunt us? Who, then, is there left to vote for? DM

[hearken id=”daily-maverick/8798″]


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dick Binge Binge says:

    Interesting the lack of comments. That says it all. I did not read the article just the last paragraph. I was more interested in the comments. I am fed up with having to vote for parties I do not particularly like. Small parties are a symptom of the problem not a cure. How about some interesting comments guys?

  • Marc Latilla says:

    He could have easily stepped in and told Gareth to let Mudzuli make her point. Sometimes, it not just about politics.

  • Brian Kritzinger says:

    The DA lost its way completely, and with it my vote – blundering from one tone deaf incident to another. One could be forgiven for thinking that they are the local chapter of the Make America Great Again movement, espousing all the unintelligent leanings that would make Donald Trump proud.

    It’s Herman Mashaba’s Action SA for me from now on.

    • Willem Boshoff says:

      I’m also dismayed by the DA taking a page of three from the GOP’s failed playbook, but I simply do not see a viable alternative. Mashaba had his fair share of issues in Jozi and was way too cozy with the EFF (Afrirent among other things). I’ll probably vote for the DA again (begrudgingly), and don’t mind them being roasted for being tone-deaf – with their governance track record they should have been in a position to unseat the ANC, yet here we are, constantly having to try and explain away their insensitivity and denial. Why can’t they just stop being idiots and do what they do best: govern.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Please. Everyone is so precious about “tone”, at the the expense of truth and glaringly obvious facts.

      I don’t care who you are, or what your colour is, or even your shoe size; if you have any intelligence at all you will want to live in a well run province.

      That is what the DA offers. Wake up.

      • Brian Kritzinger says:

        I’m sure someone, somewhere in time gone by, made some similar statement about the Nazi Party and look how that turned out. Being “awake” is exactly what you need to be.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Yes that’s right, the DA are Nazi’s.

          If you’re going to make analogies, do everyone a favour and try to keep them real.

          • Brian Kritzinger says:

            You’re missing the point there; either intentionally or through shallow reading. Its great that you want to vote DA, have at it.

      • Willem Boshoff says:

        I see no reason why they can’t be real, sensitive, on-tone and govern. It’s sloppy and it annoys people. Some of their statements and actions aren’t just tone deaf, they’re disrespectful and sometimes plain wrong. They don’t always speak truth, but then sometimes they do speak inconvenient truth, but all to often arrogantly so. Bottom line is they have lost a large part of their black constituency and that will show at the polls.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          We would all love the perfect party, but this is not a world of absolutes.

          The DA is not a party of personalities. It is a party of boring bureaucrats.

          Which is exactly what this country needs right now to get it right.

          I can only say again – if you want to live in a broken province in a broken country, then vote for anyone you please other than the DA.

          I don’t, so I will be voting DA.

  • L Dennis says:

    I am extremely thankful to the DA for the way they govern cities. The party for ALL South Africans.
    Politics are not for the meek. I pray for Gods blessing on our country.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    perhaps if Mr Steenhuisen referred to the Auditor Generals recent report where only 27 clean audits were given our of 278 municipalities he would have had a better story to tell!

  • Hans Wendt says:

    Here we have another woke “journalist” who can’t help but mock. We get told how he sweated, ( more than once),how he gets compared to a chicken being roasted. how he smirked.
    How hard they try to denigrade the DA.

    We all know that the country is on the brink of disaster, and the kleptocratic, corrupt ANC can only be voted out by voting for the DA. The DA governs one province, the Western Cape. The province received a 93% clean audit result and provided 45% of all clean audits for the South African provinces.
    Yet “journalists” keep talking about race, ego’s and posters, but don’t grasp what another 5 years under the ANC will bring, or they don’t care. So long as they look hip and cool, putting the DA down.

  • L Dennis says:

    Well said hans

  • Charles Parr says:

    Yes, I get it that the DA leadership only open their mouths to change feet but for municipal government they’re an infinitely better choice that the lying, cheating, stealing ANC.

    • Johan Buys says:


      I think of late the DA open their mouth to shoot themselves in that foot!

      It is sad that this is the best the official opposition can come up with. Imho the DA obviously has the policies I most align with, but in this guise that is academic : they will never govern offering Steenhuizen and Zille as leaders.

      Quite a few local elections are going to face splits. ActionSA will take some votes in some areas, Patricia will take votes in others. But hopefully the DA, ActionSA and Good collectively take votes from the ANC. If the ANC gains votes, I give up : never in any election anywhere does the majority party have such a mountain of indefensible failures. FF+ is a very embarrassing throwback from wayback, about as bad as the EFF – close contest.

      • Charles Parr says:

        Agreed, coalitions between DA, ActionSA and Good would be acceptable but the ANC and EFF must be kept out of government in major metro areas and wherever else possible. If voters can’t see how the cities and towns are deteriorating then they must accept what they vote for is what they get.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Anyone complaining should come check out the Cape.

    Be warned, it might make you jealous when you have to leave.

    DA all the way baby.

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