POLITICAL NEWS - DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has compiled an in-depth analysis, complete with the DA’s downfalls and future, after the party’s seemingly poor by-elections performance last week.
This after a contentious Facebook post on Thursday, which received “wide-ranging and intense responses.”
The morning after by-elections is always a time for reflection. This morning, surveying the results, it is clear:
She said the by-elections had taken place “under the most difficult local circumstances imaginable,” and that a recovery would be more difficult than it was in 2000.
However, a number crunch revealed that by taking all results into context, the ruling party may not have done as well as previously thought, Zille intimated.
‘Filter the background noise’
Zille said statistical evidence pointed to the ANC having “a much worse day at the polls than the DA”.
Comparing the DA, ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) results in all 44 by-elections, Zille said the ANC lost 7.8 percentage points in support since last year’s national elections. The DA lost 0.8%, and the EFF grew by 0.3%.
However, this did not mean the party was stabilising after its “free-fall years” between 2016 and 2019.
She said support grew “significantly” among black and white voters, but in wards where the majority of voters were Indian and coloured, a sharp drop was observed.
“If the statistics are correct, how is it possible that the DA suffered a loss of nine seats, and a gain of only two – a net loss of seven?”
Zille said five seats were lost to the ANC, one to Patricia de Lille’s GOOD party, one to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), and one to Gayton Mackenzie’s Patriotic Alliance (PA).
The DA gained one ward in the Eastern Cape from the ANC, and one from an independent candidate in the Free State. 14 wards were retained.
ANC lost more than the DA
Zille summarised that the “biggest winners” in the by-elections “were the small ethnic parties”.
This was shown in the DA losing ward 9 in Lenasia to Al Jama’ah, ward 68 in Riverlea, Johannesburg to the PA, ward 27 in George to GOOD, and ward 5 in Potchefstroom to the FF+.
But smaller parties tend to draw voters away from the DA, she explained, “thereby usually enabling the ANC to win, accounting for some of the ANC’s apparent gains”.
She said this was evident in ward 120 in Lenasia South, as well as in the Northern Cape’s Phokwane and Renosterberg.
The “mushrooming of informal settlements” also played a role in voters defaulting to the ruling part, she continued.
Examples include ward 29 in Madibeng, ward 120 in Johannesburg, and ward 16 in Emfuleni.
Losing coloured support
Zille said a number of factors had contributed to the sharp drop in coloured support in parts of the Western Cape, specifically in George and Saldanha.
She attributed this to the “extremely clumsy and, frankly incomprehensible treatment of Patricia de Lille”, which she said contributed “significantly” to the DA’s “free-fall years” of 2016 to 2019.
A loss of wards was also due to the expulsion or resignation of DA councillors, such as expelling former George mayor Melvin Naik and his “coterie of close councillors”, who are facing corruption charges.
This opened up ward 27, which the DA lost to GOOD, and wards 8, 14 and 17 showing reduced majorities.
“Instead of being rewarded for being the only party that holds its leaders accountable, we faced the backlash from local communities. GOOD saw the opportunity, and was there waiting to establish a beachhead in the Southern Cape. That’s how local politics works.”
A ‘positive’ wake-up call
Zille said the damage incurred since 2016 had been “largely self-inflicted”, with the damage being mostly political. However, the threat of the organisational infrastructure giving in looms.
“It is impossible to fix organisationally what is broken politically.”
Certain scenarios demand different approaches, such as getting involved in two notable race-fuelled incidents: the Schweizer-Reneke saga and the debacle over Ashwin Willemse.
She said the DA’s “knee-jerk” response to both incidents “cost us dearly.”
The DA became the country’s official opposition in 1999, after which it absorbed what was last of its arch-opponent, the New National Party (NNP), and changed its name from the Democratic Party to the DA.
In the 2000 local elections, the DA won overall majority in Cape Town, and 23% nationwide.
But “internal ideological incompatibility” tore the DA apart, with the NNP being coaxed by its leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk into the ANC. Four years later, the DA retained just 27% of Cape Town voter support.
In 2011, it won back Cape Town with 61% of the vote, and 24% nationwide, and in 2016 nabbed four other metros outside the Western Cape
But the party was at its “most vulnerable” during its time of “greatest success”.
This led to “ideological shortcuts” to win the country back, which left its “core values” and loyal voters wanting, in the quest for fresh support.
“Hubris leads to poor decisions and attempted shortcuts”, which Zille said was attributed to “shallow analysis” of political coverage in the media.
“We must ignore the media, interpret the statistics correctly, understand the forces at work, and start the long road to recovery,” Zille advised in leading up to the 2021 local government elections.
Tips for future success
To ensure that coalition governments worked, Zille emphasised that the DA must be confident that it would “be able to govern properly”.
“We must have candidates, especially mayoral candidates, of the right calibre. We need clear coalition agreements, that are enforceable.”
But she warned that the DA should never enter into a minority coalition government where there was dependence on its current arch-opponents, the EFF, to stay in power.
She said this led to the failure of coalition governments in Tshwane and Johannesburg, which the Gauteng voter losses can be directly attributed to.
The punishment endured by the DA’s voters should be welcomed by the party, Zille said, as this was a sign of “democratic maturity” and a chance to refocus.
“We were making good progress, and we have to get back there. Recovery is not only possible. It is essential.”
Read Zille’s full analysis here.
Compiled by Nica Richards