An election reality check

Douglas Gibson says the only non-racial party anywhere near big enough to even aspire to replace the ANC is the DA

Election Reflections

15 May 2019

A highlight of the unbelievably tedious counting period reported on by TV stations from Wednesday night was when I received a WhatsApp from one of my friends. Its picture of a smiling Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa embracing jubilantly, had Zuma saying, “See; I told you the people of South Africa don’t mind us stealing from them.”

The final result, with the ANC under Ramaphosa falling to their lowest General Election total ever at 57.5% -- 5% lower than under Zuma in 2014 – led to the president being hailed as something of a hero and a saviour.

The DA result, 1.6% lower than 2014 and despite a strong Western Cape majority, is being characterised by media opponents as a calamity and a disaster for the DA leader, Mmusi Maimane. Quite forgotten is the series of pre-election polls, remarkable in range, some showing the DA scoring only 15% -- 18%. Maimane has not yet been credited with saving the DA from a terrible drubbing by a strong finish to the campaign.

One of the realities of the campaign is that Julius Malema’s EFF had a relatively poor election result. They were on course to double their 2014 result but ended up with a fairly-respectable 10.79%. Considering all the polls that foreshadowed 12% of the vote or more, sometimes much more, for the EFF, the result must be a great disappointment to them in light of the inflated claims, the rhetoric and the noise they made.

The Freedom Front Plus, after twenty-five years, ended up just about where they were under General Constand Viljoen in 1994. Any party increasing its support in an election is entitled to be pleased and forgiven a little hyperbole. The FF+, from being a 1% party and now a 2.38% party, described itself as one of the “Big Five.” Surely that is icing the cake somewhat? One also hears that Afrikaans voters have deserted the DA and all vote for the FF+. This quite ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of Afrikaans speakers, many more than a million, voted DA.

On the same basis, “Aunty Pat,” Patricia de Lille, could describe her Good Party as one of the “Big 10.” She polled 0.40%. This means that after many years of prominence as the DA mayor of Cape Town and the acres of supportive publicity she received from the media, together with a good deal of mishandling of her departure by the DA, she polled less than half the votes she did in her previous disguise as leader of the Independent Democrats. True to form, some commentators describe her as one of the “successes “of the election.

President Ramaphosa now has the time and space to carry out his election promises and while he must be held to account, most South Africans want him to succeed. If he fails, the country will fail and someone will have to pick up the pieces.

Despite its proud non-racial history, the ANC long ago gave up the pretence that it stands for all. This fact has been recognised by the voters from the various minority groups whose support for the ANC has become derisory. The EFF is unashamedly a black party and proud of it.

The only non-racial party anywhere near big enough to even aspire to replace the ANC is the DA. The DA will however, have to prove to itself and to South Africa that it is possible to build a successful political party that is truly for all South Africans. This will entail persuading white, Coloured, Indian and black voters that it serves the interests and concerns of them all. That is a big ask.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com

This article first appeared in The Star