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After the Bell: The wider significance of the DA’s humiliating loss in Tshwane is very dark

After the Bell: The wider significance of the DA’s humiliating loss in Tshwane is very dark
ANC, EFF, DA and ActionSA flags. (Photos: Leila Dougan | Gallo Images | EPA)

When the election arrives next year, the chances that the ANC will slip below 50% of the vote are now looking extremely likely. At this point, the national government starts to look very much like the Tshwane council. But fortunately for the ANC, it has a reliable partner in a holding position ready to step up if need be.

What are the economic consequences of the DA’s surprising loss of the mayorship of Tshwane? Not many, you might argue. Pretoria is an important city, but all of SA’s metro areas are somewhat in flux; Tshwane experienced an unstable coalition that once again, typically, collapsed. Doesn’t make much difference, right?

Actually, there is a much darker interpretation, so at the risk of making you even more miserable than you are about SA’s future, hear me out, because the consequences I would argue are not an outside chance but a positive possibility.

The first question is this: Whose fault was it that the DA lost the mayorship? It’s a tricky question and we need to do some maths here. The outcome of the 2021 election was this: the ANC won the most seats with 75, the DA secured 69, ActionSA got 19, the Freedom Front Plus 17, the ACDP two, and then there were eight parties that all won a single seat. The total seats are 214, so the magic number is 108.

In the actual vote, a Cope representative (one of the eight single-seat parties), Murunwa Makwarela, got 112 votes against the DA’s candidate, Cilliers Brink, who got 102. Shocker.

If you do the maths, there is only one realistic way this could happen, and that is if Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA group split and at least some members voted for Makwarela. The most the ANC/EFF alliance could have received without at least a few ActionSA votes was 108 votes and they got four more than that. All of this was aided and assisted by the new regime where votes take place in secret.

Mashaba immediately expressed his disappointment with the result and warned on Twitter: “Let me be clear. We will act decisively against any of our members found to be complicit.” Well, we will see about that. While it’s a setback for his leadership, the result is a huge blow for the DA, particularly after it lost the Johannesburg mayorship in almost exactly the same way. Of all the marginal metros, Tshwane was the easiest for the DA to hold, and it lost it. Don’t be surprised if it loses Ekurhuleni soon, too.


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It’s clear the DA is also at fault; the brute fact is that it was unable to hold together its coalition. I suspect the publicity fallout for the party is going to be pretty grim.

There are two ways to look at the DA: the first is that it’s the party’s historical mission to try to build a centrist, non-racial party, picking up where the ANC left off. This is certainly what the “progressive” wing of the party wants. But another aspect of that mission is to just make sure it doesn’t implode by holding on to what it has, which is what the “realist wing” argues.

This second observation may not be as idealistic, but it’s actually a consequence of the facts on the ground. In the 2019 national election, the DA bent over backwards to try and accommodate ANC-led programmes like black economic empowerment and a higher level of wokeism, which was a disaster for the party. The party predictably lost votes on its right to the Freedom Front Plus, but that was a given. The surprise was it gained nothing on its left and lost the very black votes it was trying to pick up.

At this point, the realists concluded that, on its best day ever, the DA will not get more than 25% of the national vote. Its character is just baked-in and it will never fully gain the trust of black South Africans. Hence, it voted in a right-leaning white male leader, who is competent, but who cannot really be said to be the most inspiring political leader in history.

There is a counter-argument to the “realist” DA vision, which is that the 2019 election was actually a last gasp — or last grasp — at the past for the ANC. It had a popular candidate in President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is an inspiring leader, conjuring visions of returning to the halcyon days of the Mandela era.

But now, with 12 hours of rolling blackouts a day in some areas, the country greylisted, economic growth just nowhere, unemployment static, the battle against corruption spluttering, and Ramaphosa himself in a corner, it’s possible the DA just peaked too early with the wrong leader at the helm. But that is not the dominant vision within the DA now; the party is clearly about one thing only: stick to the knitting.

So, this is all bad for the DA, but it’s much worse for the country because the ANC/EFF coalition system is now set: don’t fight about leadership; just elect some nobody. That has the effect of obviating the biggest hurdle to their alliances, who will run things. And then pull the levers of the council from behind the curtain, so neither party needs to take responsibility for the failures. But, most importantly, all the tenders flow in the right direction.

This system is an act of cynical disregard for the voters and my guess is that voters, both at the national government level and in the cities, are not going to like it. Both Johannesburg and Tshwane are now run by leaders who have no real following on the ground and almost zero heft in the council. How is that going to work? Allow me to answer: Badly.

But the point is that when the election arrives next year, the chances that the ANC will slip below 50% of the vote are now looking extremely likely. At this point, the national government starts to look very much like the Tshwane council. But fortunately for the ANC, it has a reliable partner in a holding position ready to step up if need be.

That’s what all these concessions that the ANC is making to the EFF at council level are all about: building a plan B in case the big one goes against them. But the problem is that if that is what happens, the ANC will in effect be the plaything of the EFF. And if you think that will be good for the country, well, then, you know, good luck with your tender.

Of course, anything could happen. It could turn out very differently. But to pretend this scenario is not possible would be just wilfully blind. DM/BM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • L Dennis says:

    The eff is the anc youth league. I will continue to pray for our beautiful country.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “It’s clear the DA is also at fault; the brute fact is that it was unable to hold together its coalition. ”

    How is it the DAs fault if the coalition partners cannot be trusted due to their greed of tender positions? Tiny coalition partners insisted on influence way beyond their size and went back on their word.

    “Hence, it voted in a right-leaning white male leader, who is competent”

    Calling Steenhuisen right leaning is also not really accurate and pretty much just a lazy view that is being propagated by some. What exactly makes him right leaning?

    Is it really so hard, especially after the serial failures of the ANC, the violence of the EFF, and the irrelevance of the other parties who clearly primarily are also just looking for a meal ticket, to look at the DA as the centrist and effective party they are?

    • R S says:

      I was literally about to reply to the first quote you included as well.

      Is the author suggested the DA start bribing people as well? Because that is likely what happened to swing things.

    • Gary van der Merwe says:

      Agree. Pieter Groenewald is right. Steenhuisen is left of center.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    I look forward each evening, Tim, to your After the Bell which educates and amuses me but I was disappointed last night. I will no doubt be lambasted for saying this but South Africans are immature in their attitude to voting. They concentrate on personalities rather than on the policies of the political parties. There are personalities in the DA that I do not ‘like’ but one has to be blind not to see that the DA has a track record of good governance when given the votes to achieve this. There are question marks over all the other political parties.

  • Trevor Pope says:

    What is the going rate to buy a councillor? At present we only have one data point – the court case from PE, for the three DA councillors who were expelled by the DA and subsequently charged – R100,000-. With inflation and the potential value of larger tenders in the big Gauteng metros, perhaps a bit more now.

  • Peter Hartley says:

    I agree with your view here and have been concerned about this scenario for several years. The ANC is corrupt and incompetent now, just imagine how bad a coalition with the ANC will be. They will spend all their time fighting over who is going to get which lucrative post and not focus on service delivery.

  • Bruce Anderson says:

    Why is there a property boom in Cape Town/Western Cape that is not occurring in the rest of the country?
    Why does Cape Town, on balance, have less load shedding than elsewhere? (It may be a fortuitous historic advantage, but the pump storage system is properly maintained and operational).
    Why was the improvement in the latest unemployment rate entirely due to jobs created in the Western Cape that offset the losses of jobs elsewhere in the country?
    On a relative basis, the lived experience suggests Cape Town/Western Cape is better run.
    That said, the DA does need to develop effective strategies on how to attract greater numbers of voters who are either not voting or are dissatisfied but still voting ANC. There is probably 7-10% of additional votes that could be swung or persuaded. Thats all it takes.

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Are Songezo Zibi and Musi Maimane likely to have a meaningful impact on the 2024 elections either by taking votes from the ANC or from the DA or are they just going to be two more minnows? An assessment of their likely significance by the DM would be helpful

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