One step closer to a breakthrough - Helen Zille

Helen Zille
11 December 2011

DA leader says power is beginning to shift away from the ANC

DA victories only a preview of coming realignment

The realignment of politics has been underway for over a decade.  The process will accelerate significantly during the years ahead.

Its outcome will be a two-party system in South Africa, where power can change hands peacefully through the ballot box, and politicians can be held to account, because voters understand the power of their vote.

The nucleus of one of the two major parties is the Democratic Alliance.  The other is the ANC. And discernibly, at an accelerating pace, power is shifting from the latter to the former.

Sometimes realignment happens in big steps - such as a split in the ANC or the merger of two opposition parties, such as the DA and the Independent Democrats.

Sometimes it occurs in tiny steps that are imperceptible to most voters. But cumulatively, over time, we reach a tipping point, and the ruling party is beaten in an election.  This has already happened in many municipalities in South Africa, and in the Western Cape Province.

As the process accelerates, it is useful to join the dots, to see the pattern emerging.

Three prominent "dots" appeared in very different parts of South Africa, where by-elections were held last week: in Thaba Chweu, Mpumalanga; in Thembelihle in Hopetown, Northern Cape, and the third in QwaQwa. Just six months ago, in the local government elections, all three wards were comfortably won by the ANC.  Now other parties control all three.

For the first time in our democracy the DA won Ward 10, Thaba Chweu, polling 52.63% of the vote, compared to the ANC's 47.37%. The percentage poll (the proportion of people on the voters roll) was almost the same in the by-election as it was in the general election of May this year. This means that the decline in the ANC's support is particularly significant.  It means people who voted for the ANC in May, voted for the DA last week.

The DA's support in this area has been steadily growing; from 15.06% in 2009, to 33.60% in May, and now to 52.63%. At the same time the ANC has steadily declined; from 74.64% in 2009 to 47.37% in this by-election.

Then there is Thembelihle in Hopetown, another ANC stronghold which was comfortably taken by an Independent candidate (and previous ANC ward Councillor), who won 52% of the vote in a percentage poll of 67% - which is high for a by-election and marginally lower than it was in May.

In QwaQwa, a traditionally safe ANC seat, the ANC did not even field a candidate, and the ward was taken comfortably by the Dikwankwetla Party, that beat Cope on a low 20% poll.

And in Cape Town, ward 71, a safe DA seat, the DA's support went up from 87% to 93% and we won the Westlake voting district for the first time since 1994.

As someone asked me on Twitter, so what?  What difference does a by-election make?  Many people have asked me what a by-election is, and why it is held between elections.

The explanation is this: All local governments comprise wards, where councillors are directly elected by the voters.  If one of these ward councillors vacates a seat, for whatever reason, a by-election must be held in that ward.  By-elections can show trends in voter support, and overtime, a by-election trend can gather momentum until it becomes a torrent.  This is what happened in the 1990s, for example, when the Democratic Party began to win by-elections against the former New National Party.

These by-elections - the last of 2011 - will come to symbolise a turning point in our politics.  A growing number of staunch ANC supporters are becoming increasingly comfortable voting for opposition parties.  This shows our democracy is maturing.  This shows we are increasingly moving away from "race" as the dominant fault-line in our politics, and focus more on principles, policies and delivery.  This shows that voters are increasingly accepting their responsibility to hold their leaders to account.  They know that their vote is their voice, and they are using it.

All this is positive news for our democracy.  But realignment will not all be smooth sailing.  By-elections, as challenging as they are, are much easier to manage than coalitions, mergers or party bust-ups; all of which will continue to play a role in the ongoing development of our two party system. At times in the years ahead, the going will be rough, but as Tony Leon, my predecessor always said:  If you like sausages, don't watch them being made!

Our role in the DA is to read the signs correctly, spot the trends, and position our party in the non-racial centre of the political spectrum.  If we get this right, we will govern South Africa before the end of the decade.  There is more reason to be optimistic about the future of democracy than ever before.

This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.

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 responses to this article

It's happening
The DA Tsunami is rolling through SA. If the last election was held now, I wouldn't be surprised if the DA vote would be 30% + already, instead of the 25% they got.

If they gain another 5% a year over the next 2 years then they are on 40%. . .more

by Sad Days on December 11 2011, 19:44
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I hope it's happening
The ANC tend to do relatively better at National elections though. They seem to be a bit complacent. At nationals they seem to put more effort into turning "their" voters out.

by @Sad Days on December 11 2011, 20:41
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Sad Days
Yes comrade Sad Days,we are working day and night like evangelists,spreading the good news that Jesus is about to come, as promised.When real democracy will mean the voter,is the boss.Anyone who does not deliver,will be surely showed the door.No party . .more

by Naomi on December 11 2011, 20:43
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will own instead of not own.Phambili Maqabane.

by Naomi on December 11 2011, 20:46
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Even Zille acknowledges...
... it is useful to join the dots...and that three prominent "dots" appeared...

There is a realignment of politics over the past decade but its mainly concerning the ANC as it splits into its component parts and the main contender for power . .more

by . on December 11 2011, 21:16
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Our future Democratic Debate
If you read Gwede Mantashes NGC report 2010,the ANCs understanding of democracy is not like mine or yours, ordinary folk.He says that the ANC wants to lead all of society and not just its members,implying that all other opposition parties must recognize . .more

by Manzi on December 11 2011, 23:17
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More people are realising the (ANC) emperor has no clothes!
The latter-day ANC, with its former leaders retired or passed away, has become a self-indulgent monster not interested in the genuine needs of the people.

It is encouraging to see many now realising that those they elected to SERVE them are . .more

by Mute Fool on December 11 2011, 23:55
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Zille is being completely naieve if she believes that the ANC will simply hand over the country because they lose at the ballot box.

Everything about them seems to suggest otherwise. And with Mantashe now promising to support Zanu-PF (even . .more

by Cappy on December 12 2011, 00:43
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If they do that it will mean civil war; this is not Zimbabwe, and I for one don't mind sticking a knife into an overpaid kicked-out-of-office ANC parasite.

by Jason on December 12 2011, 01:56
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@Mute Fool
A good analogy, the emperors clothes. The ANC and its Big Man are going down--Long live democracy, the kind where people, not the Big Man have the power.

by Honkey on December 12 2011, 06:18
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@ Big Man
Geoff Budlender, he said: "The theory that the executive has a monopoly of wisdom on policy questions, based on a democratic mandate, strikes me as somewhat remote from reality."

by Honkey on December 12 2011, 06:23
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One big shake-down
How's this for a scenario? As the ANC weakens, power vacuum’s emerge. War lords, tenderpreneurs, organised crime (cadres fallen out of political favour and fighting for survival) and canton like democratic areas will replace the warring and gridlocked . .more

by Wendy on December 12 2011, 06:47
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Real politics
It will be a great day in South Africa when the citizens vote with their brains and not with the color of their skins. That will be when this country will start to taste " greatness" and the real issues and needs will get the attention they need. We will . .more

by Wizard on December 12 2011, 06:50
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Your concept of competitive politics was predicted by our great struggle icon Albert Luthuli in his book,LET MY PEOPLE GO,when he was asked about the odd, close and inappropriate relationship between the democratic inclined ANC,and the anti-democratic . .more

by Nomvula on December 12 2011, 07:27
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Your analysis is just about right except in one small part.
* there will never be power vacuums-- war lords and turf-protecting gangsters will always move in where the organs of State cease to function. This is already happening on a very large scal; . .more

by Plutarch on December 12 2011, 07:34
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@ Plutarch
Point taken.... it would appear we are already a gangster state.

by Wendy on December 12 2011, 08:00
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I think the answer to your question is: The ANC has served its purpose. Listen to this: ‘Bizos took issue with a recent remark by President Jacob Zuma that the executive had the sole discretion to decide policies for the government. Citing fellow lawyer . .more

by Honkey on December 12 2011, 08:19
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Solve the Midvaal crisis
It is still early days for the DA to make any claims – they have to cross the Blesbokspruit. For those of you who do not know the local geography, this is a water course in Midvaal which will become the Rubicon of the DA. The DA will have to show that it . .more

by Wiseman on December 12 2011, 08:44
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Vicious gansters
The gang factions in charge of the main and mini Dumbocratic Bantustans of Kleptozania are already in vicious and increasingly murderous intestinal warfare for the spoils of the fast failing state.

by Injala Apera on December 12 2011, 08:51
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The Tokoloshe
There is always hope , Helen . I am convinced many of the PW readers have also seen the recent article on News 24 entitled "The Tokoloshe" . Now that is hope .

by Green Room on December 12 2011, 08:57
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We need to move away from 'Revolutionary Rhetoric' to Real Politic.The list of icons and intellectuals of the ANC standing up to declare that the ANC has lost the plot and its moral and ethical compass is growing as each day passes. The last time that . .more

by Rodger Ferguson on December 12 2011, 09:10
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Reality Check
The fact that the current ANC hegemony is coming under threat can only be good for South Africa's democracy, but we need to take a reality check here. The party political system has certain inherent flaws that won't go away if the party at the helm . .more

by Lee Cahill on December 12 2011, 09:51
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A little off the topic, but I was great to read through the comments that have been posted! I note that there are not the usual 'haters' and morons spreading racism and division amongst the comments but that all comments are fair and intelligent! This is . .more

by Anne on December 12 2011, 10:22
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Voters are starting to think
Every litle bit of ANC blundering helps the opposition parties eg Mantashe saying that ANC is openly supportive of Zanu PF in coming Zim elections. The voters will show their displeasure over that comment. Good stuff!

by Rowan on December 12 2011, 11:33
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Helen, Helen
Helen, Helen don't be slow, be like Elvis go man go!!

by Satchmo on December 12 2011, 13:08
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Work on your own to win the national vote
The citizens are voting with their brains not skin colour. Black people are today being descriminated against at all levels - corporate, social, economic, etc. Changes at these levels may give the DA a chance otherwise Zille is naive. We live . .more

by Grace on December 12 2011, 18:44
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The Black Sash Madam is ...
... dreaming in technicolour. She also does not understand the level to which the supergenius and heroic ANC men, enabled by the Black Sash, the Anglican Communion, and Holland and Sweden, have laid waste SA's resources and assets. Even in the . .more

by JVR on December 12 2011, 20:49
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What an eye opener
A look at all these comments from all race groups, suggests a people yearning for a more peaceful,fair and united nation.

by Nelson on December 13 2011, 10:14
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Madam Zille
Hi Madam, I must say, there are a lot of black people like me. I really love you (not in a romantic sense) and the way you are conducting issues. I hope you read this message. It will take a while for people to openly state their disgust with the ANC but . .more

by BlackMan on December 17 2011, 12:52
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