2021 ELECTIONS: ROAD TO 2024
The DA: Better or worse than expected?
Can the DA galvanise its elected representatives and get them to use the next period of our politics to make a positive difference to Parliament, provincial legislatures and councils, which ultimately resonates with voters — or is the party like the current ANC — a party in a slow, but consistent decline?
The Democratic Alliance (DA) won just shy of 27% of the local government vote in 2016. The party had mayors in four of the eight metros. The DA was very different from the one led by Tony Leon in its formative years when it seemed destined to be a reliable and effective opposition, and where its rule would not extend beyond the Western Cape.
The DA getting just shy of the 27% mark in 2016 meant that it was now large enough to be blessed with its Cope moment. Three high-profile leaders quit the party and started their own organisations. Patricia de Lille started Good, Mmusi Maimane founded the One South Africa movement and Herman Mashaba formed ActionSA.
It was highly improbable that the party would match its 2016 performance, but its 22% share of the vote on 1 November 2021 was well shy of its 2011 result, when it won 24% of the vote. The party ousted Mmusi Maimane after its decline in 2019. If this is the precedent, will the same fate befall current party leader John Steenhuisen? There are some differences as this was his first election as a leader and he stepped in when the party was nosediving. So while the axe might not fall, Steenhuisen will have to think long and hard on whether he is the best person to lead the party into the 2024 elections.
Gauteng: Magnificent Midvaal and a mauling in the metros
Gauteng has three metros and six local municipalities. Midvaal (Meyerton) was the only municipality that was not hung after this election. Voters broke again for the DA as the party won two additional seats and increased its majority in this relatively small municipality in southern Gauteng.
There was also a Midvaal effect in neighbouring Emfuleni (Vereeniging), where the DA increased its seats from 21 to 24 and closed the gap between it and the ANC to 14 seats, compared with the 30 seats it had previously been. Despite losing ground to the Freedom Front Plus in the suburbs, the party managed to increase its support in townships such as Evaton and Sebokeng. Its advances in the south did not replicate itself in the metros.
In Johannesburg, the party lost more than a quarter of its seats, ending up with 71 after going into the election with 97. ActionSA was the main cause of this crash where its message caught on in the suburbs, and Herman Mashaba’s party also won over some of the DA voters in the townships.
The DA continued to lose coloured support to Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance. It also lost some Muslim support to Al-Jama-ah and Afrikaner support to the Freedom Front Plus. In Ekurhuleni, the DA lost 11 seats, ending on 65. Here the party lost support to ActionSA, the Freedom Front Plus and the PA. The Freedom Front Plus had a bigger impact on the DA in Ekurhuleni than it did in Johannesburg.
The result in Tshwane was strange. The DA lost more than a quarter of its seats, bagging 69, after going into the election with 93. The ANC finished ahead of the DA after losing 14 seats, ending up with 75. It regained the first spot it lost in 2016. Here the DA was hurt in almost equal measure by the Freedom Front Plus and ActionSA. Despite this woeful result for the DA, the party has a much clearer path to a stable coalition this time around.
The party is unlikely to continue being held hostage by the EFF as it can form a coalition with ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and Cope. The party would have more seats than all the other coalition partners combined and would have a legitimate claim to the mayoral chain. The DA leading a stable coalition could help it arrest its decline in Tshwane and use both Tshwane and Midvaal as potential models of DA excellence in 2024.
Western Cape: The curious case of Cape Agulhas
The DA’s trump card in this election was the Auditor-General’s report. The loss of its majority in Cape Agulhas was emblematic of the DA’s woes in this election.
The party’s three biggest drawbacks were the above-mentioned ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus and also local parties.
In Cape Agulhas, the Freedom Front Plus won a seat and a local party gained an additional seat. The DA lost its outright majority in one of its flagship municipalities. The party lost ground in Cape Town, but was still well ahead of all the other parties.
The DA lost small bits of support to parties like Good, the Cape Coloured Congress, the Freedom Front Plus and the ACDP. Having said that, it has in excess of 90 seats more in the Western Cape than its closest challenger — the fading ANC.
In George and Drakenstein (Paarl), the party lost support to Good, the Freedom Front Plus and local parties. The DA will be more vulnerable on the provincial ballot here in 2019 and while the ANC is in continual decline in the Western Cape, and no single party has emerged as the likely successor to the DA in the province, it will have to reduce the loss of voters to Good, Freedom Front Plus, the PA, the ACDP and so on.
Mayors like Geordin Hill-Lewis (Cape Town), Gesie van Deventer (Stellenbosch), Dirk Kotze (Mossel Bay) and Grant Riddles (Hessequa) are some of the people critical to the DA’s efforts to consolidate support over the next five years.
KwaZulu-Natal: The Midlands manna
This was a tough election for John Steenhuisen. A real bright spot was the party’s historic victory in uMngeni (Howick) where the party won an outright majority. The election of 31-year-old Christopher Pappas generated much goodwill for him and the party.
This municipality will be vital for the DA as it tries to show voters the difference between an ANC administration, an Inkatha Freedom Party administration and a DA administration. The DA was also the party of choice among Indian voters. The party lost slight ground in eThekwini and Newcastle, but increased its support in Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg). KwaZulu-Natal was one of three provinces in which the party registered growth between 2014 and 2019, and it will hope that it keeps ActionSA at bay here and continues to grow.
Eastern Cape: It went mostly south
Helen Zille all but relocated to Gqeberha. The party threw everything but the kitchen sink at Nelson Mandela Bay and came up well short of winning an outright majority. The DA lost nine seats in this coastal metro, finishing slightly ahead of the ANC but accruing the same number of seats as the ANC.
To rub salt in the wounds of the DA, the ANC has more options in forming a coalition to win back control. This was devastating for the DA. What made matters worse in Nelson Mandela Bay was that some of the seats lost went to parties that are more likely to work with the ANC than the DA.
The DA’s turnout differential advantage was not as pronounced as in 2016. This will also worry the party as the overwhelming bulk of DA voters is in this metro. If DA voters are no longer energised here, it is a concerning sign for the future.
The party held on to Kouga (Jeffreys Bay), a flagship municipality for the DA, but fell short in Kou-Kamma (Kareedouw) where it lost seats to the Freedom Front Plus and PA. In Beyers Naude (Graaff-Reinet), both the DA and ANC lost three seats each, and while the ANC lost its outright majority, it still has a better path to forming a government there.
The DA would have hoped for a blue wave to spread from Nelson Mandela to Kouga and encompass Graaff-Reinet, Kareedouw, even Cradock. The party largely failed in this regard. In the province’s other metro, Buffalo City, the DA remained the official opposition, but lost four of its 24 seats in the local government election.
Central South Africa: Free State, Northern Cape and North West
In the Free State, the party mostly held its own, but was not able to exhibit significant growth. Where losses occurred it tended to be to the benefit of the Freedom Front Plus. In the Northern Cape, the party lost support to the Freedom Front Plus, PA and local parties.
In by-elections after the 2019 national elections, the Freedom Front Plus just needed to show up in North West DA wards to walk away with the prize. While the DA lost ground in the 2021 local government elections in JB Marks (Potchefstroom), Rustenburg and Madibeng (Brits) it was not as pronounced as what had occurred in those post-2019 by-elections.
While the DA continued to lose voters to the Freedom Front Plus in this province, it was not as severe as the party would have anticipated.
In the Northern Cape, the DA lost support in places such as Kimberley and Springbok to the Freedom Front Plus, the PA and local parties. The Northern Cape and Free State were two of the three provinces where the DA’s vote share had risen in 2019.
Limpopo was the party’s weakest province in 2019. Here, the DA was not just affected by the Freedom Front Plus, but also by not turning out DA voters. The DA was unable to hurt the ANC in a province where South Africa’s largest party is resolute. It was better in Mpumalanga, where the party went up to 17 seats from 12 in Govan Mbeki (Secunda). It also either held firm or lost slightly in places such as Mbombela, Middelburg (Steve Tshwete) and Emalahleni.
ActionSA rattled the DA in the three Gauteng metros and the Freedom Front Plus, PA and local parties took bite-sized chunks out of the DA’s 2016 voter base. The party is in a precarious position on the road to 2024.
Is the DA in a downward spiral in which it will be overtaken by parties that are perceived to better resemble the 2016 version of the DA? And/or will the party continue to lose voters who see it as trying to represent too many groups, rather than properly representing its specific interests?
How does the party capture the imagination of voters again after two difficult elections for the party?
While the odds are stacked against the DA, for the next two-and-a-half years it is still the second-biggest party by a long way.
It has far more MPs and members of provincial legislatures than the EFF or the Freedom Front Plus. It has many more councillors than all its rivals bar the ANC. It will have fewer mayors between now and the national and provincial elections than it did before 1 November, but at least those mayors are likely to be in more secure coalitions and have a better chance of performing.
Can the DA galvanise its elected representatives and get them to use the next period of our politics to make a positive difference to Parliament, provincial legislatures and councils, which ultimately resonates with voters — or is the party like the current ANC — a party in a slow, but consistent decline? DM