ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS
New DA Western Cape leader Tertuis Simmers sets bar high, targets 60% electoral support
Fresh from being elected to lead the biggest political party in the Western Cape, Tertuis Simmers has set himself a target no DA leader has achieved.
Almost two-thirds of more than 1,000 party delegates voted for Tertuis Simmers to be the DA’s Western Cape leader last week. Internal party manoeuvring indicated he enjoyed the support of senior DA leaders, which may have influenced the voting. On paper, the resounding victory is a sign of DA trust in Simmers, who had tried unsuccessfully twice before to become part of the DA’s provincial leadership.
With probably fewer than four months to go before national and provincial elections, the new leader has set his sights on achieving the DA’s best polling results in the Western Cape.
Set a clear target
“My bigger objective is to reach 60%,” Simmers told Daily Maverick. The closest the party has come to that figure was 59.38%, in the 2014 national and provincial elections. Its level of support declined slightly in 2019, to 55.45% of votes.
“For the last 22 months, we have been working hard to ensure we stay on course. We have done our data, we have seen the projection, so we have set a clear target.”
I remain an activist of the party and I remain with my fellow activists on the ground.
Born in Nelspruit, the father of four cut his teeth in politics in the DA Youth before moving to the Garden Route District Municipality, formerly the Eden District Municipality, where he became a councillor. He also served in the George municipality before being sworn in as a member of the Western Cape legislature in 2019. He describes his leadership style as “activist-driven” rather than occupying ideological positions.
“I remain an activist of the party and I remain with my fellow activists on the ground. My style of leadership is also to develop new leadership for the DA because our project is to save South Africa.”
Jaco Londt, the DA Western Cape chairperson, who met Simmers for the first time in 2009, described the new leader as a “passionate individual”.
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“He is also a hard worker. When he started off as a DA professional staff member, he did the work at that time for which we employ four people now.
“Working hours was an alien concept with Tertuis. He is never afraid to go the extra mile to build the party and help colleagues achieve success,” Londt said.
Although Simmers is the Western Cape DA leader, he is not the party’s candidate for premier in the upcoming elections. In August, DA national leader John Steenhuisen named current premier Alan Winde as the candidate. Next year will mark 15 years of DA governance in the Western Cape and the provincial leader has never been the premier.
Separation of powers
This is similar to KwaZulu-Natal, where uMngeni Local Municipality mayor Chris Pappas was named the DA’s provincial premier candidate, but he is not the party leader in the province.
However, in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Gauteng, DA provincial leaders are the party’s premiership candidates.
Simmers, who is the MEC for infrastructure in the Western Cape, said not being a premier candidate while leading the party in the province was great for the separation of powers and for accountability.
“It is actually healthy because the political structure exercises oversight over the governance structure. We are also in an environment where we implement DA policies and now you have a premier and provincial leader working well together.”
Rising small parties in the rural areas focus on coloured nationalism, and they have proven the DA right that a vote for a smaller party is a vote for the ANC.
Using recent by-elections as a measure, it is evident that the DA in rural areas of the Western Cape has shown growth.
But the threat of small regional parties, and the likes of the Patriotic Alliance, remains a reality. The PA in the Swartland was 135 short of matching the DA’s vote for the Ward 7 by-election.
These parties have found a foothold and a way to get on to councils.
Simmers said the DA was not losing sleep over small parties as provincial and national elections were a whole new game.
“Rising small parties in the rural areas focus on coloured nationalism, and they have proven the DA right that a vote for a smaller party is a vote for the ANC.
“We have seen whenever they get the opportunity to form coalitions, their first long-term choice is the ANC.
“We have seen this in the Beaufort West, Knysna and Theewaterskloof municipalities and in all these three municipalities we have a rapid decline in governance and service delivery.” DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.