Opinionista Refiloe Nt'Sekhe 15 November 2019

DA’s lessons from Western Cape by-elections

By-elections contested by the DA recently reveal the nature of the challenge the party faces in regaining lost ground – but they also contain the seeds of recovery.

The DA contested three by-elections on Wednesday 13 November:  two in Cape Town (that the party won with reduced majorities) and one in Matzikama where it lost to the ANC.

In all three cases, the DA’s losses are directly attributable to the appearance, for the first time in a local election, of the GOOD party, as well as several other smaller local parties and independent candidates. The lesson we should learn, yet again, is that small parties, incapable of winning wards themselves, merely divide opposition votes thereby handing the ward to the ANC.

Given the ANC’s pitiful track record in government, this outcome cannot remotely be seen as advancing the interests of the country, let alone local communities.

However, the results in all three wards cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be used to corroborate the predicted “implosion” of the DA, as forecast by so many political pundits in recent weeks.

What they show, yet again, is how voters who reject the ANC and vote for a range of smaller parties, discover too late that this actually puts the ANC in power, as happened in the Matzikama ward this week.

Patricia de Lille left the DA in acrimonious circumstances to start a new party, and then immediately joined the ANC’s national Cabinet – a graphic illustration of the role the ANC envisages for GOOD, which delivered on its commitment in Matzikama on Wednesday.

However, just last week scores of unconvinced GOOD members left the party to rejoin the DA, a sign that the tide is turning, as it always has, against smaller parties that have little chance of posing a significant challenge to the ANC.

Given the extent of the membership exodus already underway in GOOD, it is safe to predict its usefulness to the ANC will be short-lived, but strong enough to give the ANC a boost in key municipalities in the interim by dividing the opposition vote. These by-elections show graphically that a vote for a smaller opposition party is indeed a vote for the ANC.

Soon all South African voters will see through the veneer of parties created by disgruntled people who’ve left the DA and who’ve suddenly found their calling in alliances with the ANC.

South Africa must be saved from the ANC. That is the key to returning our country to the path of growth, prosperity, jobs and opportunity.

At national level, provincial level and local level, the DA works tirelessly to win more and more ground from the ANC. But in large part the ANC has realised that their broken brand and hollow promises cannot beat us alone. This is why the ANC has throughout South Africa identified almost proxy parties, which fight against the DA for small slices of the overall vote in concert with the ANC, and occasionally in marginal contests that allow the ANC to win back a ward or two.

What these outcomes do not mean is that the ANC beat the DA on Wednesday. Far from it. They indicate a far more anti-democratic strategy, which we will continue to expose and fight. This is the same strategy that saw so many smaller parties established just before the national election of 2019, some of which have already been outed as puppets of the ANC – up to national leadership level.

A party too small to win, and a party in bed with the ANC, is a party being used to take DA votes to the ANC’s advantage. This of course has less to do with current confidence in the DA and everything to do with a legacy left by a former DA leadership.

Under new leadership, the DA is recovering and setting the party on a trajectory of economic growth and inclusion. There is much that the party must reflect upon, and do better going forward. It is precisely that honest introspection, and internal accountability, that sets the DA apart, and we believe the voters will recognise this as stability returns and our recovery continues.

There is no doubt this will take time. It is like overhauling an aircraft in flight – fixing the plane while flying it. But the process is well underway.

We have no doubt the result on Wednesday would have been significantly worse if this were not so.

This weekend, the party’s Federal Council will meet to elect an interim federal leader. Whoever is elected will lead the party into a policy conference and a federal congress in 2020, both of which will instil certainty and set clear direction for the organisation.

We take great heart from the fact that on Wednesday very few DA voters in these wards who want to register their unhappiness actually turned to the ANC. Instead, they turned to other small parties, especially GOOD, and independents. These voters are not looking to replace the DA with the ANC, but they do want to see the DA do better to earn their vote.

The wards held in Wednesday’s by-elections, and the failures of the ANC to make inroads into the DA’s support in Cape Town in particular, give us great hope that the recovery path we are on will resonate with voters, and will continue to do so in increasing numbers. DM

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