OPINION

By-elections: Signs of recovery for DA as well as areas for improvement - John Steenhuisen

Party leader says Knysna ward was lost to a popular local candidate who had defected to ANC

By-elections: Signs of recovery for the DA as well as areas for improvement

22 April 2021

The DA notes the results of yesterday’s by-elections, where the party retained one and lost one ward, among the four by-elections contested. These results contained some encouraging trends for us, as well as some areas where we know we have work to do between now and the local government elections later this year.

In this regard we welcome yesterday’s announcement that the elections will take place on 27 October 2021. The right to vote for your government is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. In a time when South Africans have, over the course of the past year, been forced to surrender to government many of their other hard-fought democratic rights, it is critical that these elections take place and that the balance of power swings back to the citizens, where it belongs.

We are also happy that other parties have now conceded that it is crucial for these elections to go ahead, after some of them initially tried to block this. A mature democracy requires that all of its participants understand and support the importance of regular, free and fair elections.

As far as last night’s by-election results are concerned, we are satisfied to have retained Ward 20 in Cape Town (Delft), albeit with a reduced majority. This ward was a litmus test for the party’s support among coloured voters, and last night showed that this support stood firm. Taking a voting district off the ANC in a predominately black ward is a big win for us. Given the DA’s decline there from 2016 to 2019, retaining this ward is a sign that we are indeed starting to turn this ship around. We have plenty of work to do there before voters go to the polls in October, but I am confident that we can make up any ground we lost.

Similarly, our result in Ward 2 Nama Khoi, where the DA held steady at 42%, is a sign that our support is stabilising once again. This result gives us a good base on which to build our upcoming election campaign in that municipality, and the broader region.

In Ward 4 Beaufort West, where both the DA and the ANC lost votes to the Patriotic Alliance, we have our work cut out to win back the hearts of those voters and shore up our support in this crucial Karoo municipality. I know the caliber of our people there and I have full confidence that they will be able to turn this around for the DA.

Our biggest setback yesterday came in Ward 11 Knysna, where we lost the ward to the ANC. While this certainly puts us on the back foot going into this local government election campaign, it must be stated that the DA took a principled position when one of our popular councillors there sided with the ANC in earlier council votes, both on a motion to improve governance and in a vote for a mayoral candidate.

We knew that suspending this councillor would affect the outcome of this ward’s by-election - she duly defected to the ANC, ran as their candidate and won - but we could not and would not compromise on our principles. We had to take action against her.

It is also worth noting, from these election results, the concerning rise of racial nationalism in the messaging of several parties. Many of the smaller - and sometimes newer - parties contest their campaigns entirely on the back of such messaging. The low-hanging fruit of racial nationalism may yield easy initial results, but the future of our country cannot lie in a fractured society with people increasingly retreating into corners of racial identity.

Our only way forward has to be as one united people pursuing one future vision. Splitting the opposition vote among such parties not only creates bigger divisions among us, it also effectively hands back these municipalities to the ANC.

Looking ahead to the October elections, it is hugely encouraging to see that yesterday’s round of by-elections could be conducted safely and without any major glitches. This indicates that it is possible for us to conduct our local government elections later this year in the same safe manner. However, if government wants to ensure that South Africans get to exercise their constitutional right to vote freely and fairly, it is critical that our vaccine rollout reaches a majority of people by then. The only way to truly safeguard South Africans is through vaccinations. Now that the election date has been confirmed, such a swift and large-scale vaccination programme must be government’s top priority.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 22 April 2021