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New challengers threaten DA’s majority in Western Cape

New challengers threaten DA’s majority in Western Cape
Illustrative Image: DA leader John Steenhuisen at the 2024 State Of The Nation Address at Cape Town City Hall on 8 February 2024. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan)

The DA is at risk of losing its majority in Western Cape as support for new parties is expected to surge in the province and others look to win over voters on the issue of Palestine. The DA, however, remains confident.

For the first time since taking control of the Western Cape 15 years ago, the DA faces a significant threat to its majority. The dynamics echo the national challenge faced by the ANC. While the ANC needs to lose eight percentage points to lose its majority nationally, the DA only needs to lose six percentage points to jeopardise its hold on the province.

The Western Cape has always presented a unique political landscape compared to national trends. Unlike other provinces where the ANC has traditionally dominated, the Western Cape saw no party achieving an outright majority until 2009 when the DA secured 51.46% of the vote. The party increased its support to 59.38% in 2014, its best result to date, but saw a decline to 55.45% in 2019.

The decline was attributed to DA voters moving to the Freedom Front Plus after losing trust in then-leader Mmusi Maimane, while others switched to the newly formed Good Party, the EFF and Al Jama-ah. There was also a slight drop in voter turnout in the province, as was the case in the rest of the country. 

In the 2021 local government elections, the DA’s overall support dropped to 54.26%, down from 63.33% in 2016. Although local government election results do not perfectly predict general election outcomes, they do reflect electoral trends, suggesting potential challenges for the DA in the upcoming elections.

An Ipsos poll from October 2023 put the DA’s support in the upcoming elections at only 44% and suggested there was a possibility of a coalition government in the province.

Another poll by the Social Research Foundation in March 2024 put the DA at 53%, but the tentative conclusion found: “The data suggests that the DA is holding its majority on the national ballot paper, even as its majority on the provincial ballot paper comes under pressure and is now within the margin of error. What that means is that it is plausible for the election to deliver a coalition government in the Western Cape.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

While the DA boasts about clean and corruption-free governance, this has not stopped parties from challenging them on the state of impoverished areas, the persistence of apartheid spatial planning, and the party’s foreign policies. These issues continue to fuel debates and could have an impact on voter sentiment as South Africans prepare to go to the polls on 29 May.

DA Western Cape

Western Cape voters

According to Electoral Commission of South Africa registration statistics, 3,310,798 people have registered to vote in the Western Cape, with Cape Town accounting for the majority, just more than 2 million, followed by Drakenstein with 137,000 voters and then George and Stellenbosch with just more than 100,000 registered voters each. 

Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain have the biggest voting districts. These are areas that feel neglected by the provincial government and are targeted by opposition parties in the upcoming elections. 

The ANC stands to benefit from its support of coloured Muslims who are unhappy with the DA’s stance on the Israel-Palestine war but are not happy with the ANC’s governance nationally. 

The ANC has been working to improve its performance in the province, and there have been efforts to address internal party issues and improve voter engagement.

Parties like Patricia de Lille’s Good Party, Al Jama-ah, Rise Mzansi, the National Coloured Congress, Marius Fansman’s People’s Movement for Change, which has former Cape Town mayor Dan Plato on its books, stand to benefit from the voters who are unhappy with both the ANC and DA. 

New challengers 

Dr Sithembile Mbete, a lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, said the DA had also struggled in recent by-elections, which saw Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance (PA) taking wards from both the ANC and DA. 

“We are so used to framing all of our politics as ANC vs the DA … but we saw already in 2019 the kind of impact new parties that are appealing to the coloured vote can have.” 

Mbete said voter turnout would play an important role. As was seen in the 2016 municipal elections, a high voter turnout produced a blow for the incumbent ANC in Gauteng metros. With the presence of new parties such as Rise Mzansi and the PA gaining momentum, this could spell disaster for the DA. 

PA McKenzie

Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie at the party’s Victory Rally held at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town on 10 May 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

“The DA will be challenged or constrained in the turnout,” she said.

“If the people who stayed away in 2019 but are on the voters’ roll decide to show up this year, I think those people are going to show up not to vote for the DA but rather the new alternatives. That is where parties like PA and Rise Mzansi could really benefit.

“The second challenge for the DA is the issue of Palestine. The ANC, Al Jama-ah, and possibly Good Party could benefit from that. To some degree Rise Mzansi.” 

Mbete also argued that the people who are not happy with service delivery especially in Cape Town, usually do not vote, but whoever inspires them to vote this time around will make a big dent in the DA’s hold on the Western Cape. 

“That is where the threat of a party like Rise Mzansi comes in and that is why the DA calls them mercenaries. I think the DA will drop some votes, but it will not be [so] significant that the DA won’t be able to govern the Western Cape.”

Professor Amanda Gouws from the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University said the ANC, Al Jama-ah and other smaller parties stood to benefit from these elections.

“The DA will lose support and some of the smaller parties will gain, such as Rise Mzansi and the Patriotic Alliance. Gayton McKenzie is making inroads. So it is possible that the DA will go below 50%. Then they will draw on the support of the Multi-Party Charter.”

DA putting up a fight

DA provincial leader Tertuis Simmers said the party was on course to amass sufficient votes to get an outright majority in the upcoming elections and surpass the 2019 results by achieving a 60% electoral victory. 

“What our figures are telling us is that something massive is going to happen in the Western Cape,” he told Daily Maverick.

“Our party will reap the harvest in many areas where the DA difference was felt and seen. Where we are currently in opposition, like the Central Karoo, we have seen the need of the DA and people want that clean governance.” 

Simmers said that in the last 18 months of campaigning the DA had surpassed its own expectations by registering 20,000 more people. Of the threat presented by parties such as the PA, Simmers said the PA had been busing people around to make it look like they had a lot of support and using food parcels to attract more voters. 

“The communities vote for them and after by-elections the PA leaders disappear,” he said.

“If you look at places like Knysna where the PA is in a coalition with the ANC and EFF, service delivery has declined. They are destroying Knysana, Theewaterskloof, and more and more people are seeing beyond the rhetoric. The DA is the party to vote for if people want service delivery.” 

ANC stronger

The ANC believes that it is going to perform much better than it has done in the previous two elections in the Western Cape owing to its level of canvassing. In 2019, the party won 28.63% of the provincial vote.

“I know there’s been a bit of a talk about canvassing targets; we have set our targets very high,” ANC Western Cape spokesperson Khalid Sayed said. 

“We’ve been picking up a lot of positive sentiment towards the ANC compared to before. Also, the 15 years of DA failure has begun to lead many people to see us as an alternative government in the province.” 

The party could get a boost in support owing to its pro-Palestine stance and the government’s success in the case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which could draw more Muslim voters to the party. 

On Friday, 24 May 2024, the ICJ ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, referring to the humanitarian situation in Rafah as “disastrous”.

“Many people who haven’t voted at all want to participate in the election because of the ANC’s support of Palestine. People have seen that the ANC has taken practical action to support the Palestine people.” 

EFF poaches

The EFF shocked many in December last year when it won its first ward in the Western Cape. This made the EFF the fourth-largest party in the Saldanha Bay Council. The party won 4% in the province in 2019.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EFF beats ANC for major upset in Saldanha Bay, but ruling party wins big in KZN, North West

The EFF has struggled to attract support in traditionally coloured areas and to try change this it poached the former leader of the Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI), Virgill Gericke. 

Gericke was the founder of the PBI, which took part in municipal elections for the first time in 2011. He was a councillor in the George Municipality before he resigned to join the EFF.

The PBI holds eight council seats across the province: five in the George Municipal Council, two in the Garden Route District Municipality and one in the Knysna Council.

Knysna’s deputy mayor is from the PBI, despite the party having only one seat in the council.

Daily Maverick has been reliably informed that PBI will take directives from the EFF Western Cape. The party has also been flirting with the taxi industry, and party leader Julius Malema met with its leaders this month when he visited the Western Cape. 

Good is good

Good party MP Brett Herron said the party had done more campaigning than in the previous elections and it was more prepared. In 2019, it obtained 3% of the provincial vote, securing one seat in the legislature.

In 2023, the party dismissed senior leader Shaun August, who has since returned to the DA, and this year it dismissed former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers following allegations of sexual misconduct. 

“The response around how quickly we acted on allegations of sexual harassment internally was well received by many people, who observed many political parties that allow alleged sexual predators to continue to operate in their structures.” 

The party is targeting growth in the West Coast, Overberg and the Winelands.

Good’s leader, Patricia de Lille, has been serving in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet and Herron argues that this has not affected the party.

“De Lille serves the people of South Africa, not the ANC. We have no agreement with the ANC and we regard them as a competitor in the elections.”

Rise to rise 

Rise Mzansi Western Cape convener Axolile Notywala is confident that the party will win a few seats in the Western Cape legislature as communities had given them a good reception.

Notywala is known by most communities in Cape Town for his role in fighting for service delivery while he was with the Social Justice Coalition.

“We have targeted a diverse range of people; hence we are getting attacks from all political parties,” he said.

“We are building a party that can reach all races and try to break the divide in terms of class dynamics. We are aiming for a minimum of two seats in the province.” 

ACDP looks to coalition

The African Christian Democratic Party’s (ACDP) Western Cape leader, Ferlon Christians, said that while the party was not happy with the DA’s governance of the province, it would vote with the DA to run the province again if the chance were to present itself.

The ACDP took 2.6% of the vote in Western Cape 2019.

“We are working hard to get the DA under 50% so that they can need us to govern. With our policies we can improve this province and our analysis shows that the DA will govern with our support,” he said.  DM

Additional reporting by Suné Payne.

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