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EDITORIAL: Could the DA lose Cape Town?

There is little appetite for a right wing agenda in with City of Cape Town or in the Western Cape, if election results are anything to go by.

The Brackenfell High School incident saw the DA doubling down on wooing back the conservative white voters it lost to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) in 2019. But at what cost?

The background:

It’s the latest in your favourite show to hate-watch: “South Africans fighting over race”. Some parents at the Western Cape school held a private matric function, after the matric dance was cancelled thanks to Covid-19. The problem? Allegedly, only white pupils were invited.

The EFF, always quick to jump on a Twitter trend, protested at the school. Video footage shows learners’ parents responding violently, leading to a clash.

So how did the DA-led provincial government respond? Western Cape MEC for Education, Debbie Schäfer, tweeted:

“So if you have a private party and invite one race only, that is racial discrimination?”

Uhm, yes, MEC. That is the textbook definition. 😐

And then came this tweet from the party’s official account:

“The Nazi’s [sic] had the brown shirts that went about terrorising the minorities. South Africa has the red shirts.”

That’s right. The DA compared legal protests over the actions of some white South Africans… to the Holocaust. As the South African Jewish Board of Deputies put it, it was “flippant and insensitive”.

The question is not whether the DA has veered towards the right. It clearly has.

Instead, the question is this: will this see the DA losing its hard-won majority in Cape Town or the Western Cape province?

Because the conservative vote they’re chasing could cost them both. There is little appetite in either the city or the province more broadly for the FF+’s politics.

That much is clear from the FF+’s limited vote share:

  • CT council: 1 of 251 seats

Click on the coloured dots to see the political party vote allocation:

Graphic: Verashni Pillay

  • Western Cape parliament: 1 of 42 seats

Graphic: Verashni Pillay

Yet the DA is moving to the right at the real risk of losing the centre – and its majority. This, without a viable opposition in the Western Cape to pick up that mantle. If it does that, it could cause serious instability for people in these areas.
As we saw in Nelson Mandela Bay, citizens always lose in messy coalition governments.

Whatever the DA’s flaws, on the score of audit outcomes, it has performed better than other provinces. A stable government is also easier to engage with to advocate for better treatment of the poor. It’s troubling for the DA to effectively cede power.

Meanwhile, the DA appears to have taken a drubbing during this week’s by-elections.

By-elections are usually held all the time to replace vacated ward councillor seats – usually when that person dies or joins another political party.

But Covid had put all these on hold since March, so on Wednesday, a whopping 455 voting stations were open for registered voters.

Look, by-elections aren’t usually the sexiest of the polls, and voter turnout is often low. But everyone was excited about this one, dubbing it “Super Wednesday”: it was potentially a measure of how voters feel their politicians have performed since March. This includes the ANC’s (in government) handling of the pandemic, the DA’s recent shifts towards the right, and the EFF’s sometimes violent approach to race relations.

But maybe it was the rain, or just plain 2020 fatigue (it’s been a LONG year, yo ) but turnout was even lower than usual. The headline news, however, is that the DA took a drubbing, especially in its usual strongholds. There, it ceded ground to former DA mayor Patricia de Lille’s GOOD party, among others.

As one person put it very aptly on Twitter:

“It turns out giving everyone else the finger in an attempt to win back the hearts of a minority of voters lost to the FF+ in the previous election is not an effective strategy in a culturally diverse country. Who knew.”