The truth about the by-election trends

Helen Zille says the ANC is doing more badly (and the DA better) than the headline results suggest

The truth about by-election trends

Having been caught up in wall-to-wall mayoral selection interviews last week, I was unable to properly analyse the results of the by-elections on Wednesday 19th May.

Eventually, over the weekend, I found a spare moment to do so.

Unsurprisingly, I discovered that the truth about those results is entirely different from the picture painted in the newspapers, and parroted by broadcasters.

A summary of the main trends revealed in these by-elections are these: 

  • the ANC’s support base is collapsing in South Africa’s cities.
  • In contrast the DA is showing considerable growth in wards representing 89% of South Africans —  ie among both black and white voters.

Of course, there was also some bad news.  We lost four wards in specific circumstances where smaller ethnic- and race-based parties are splintering the opposition, and making it difficult for us to do the really important work of South African politics  —   beating the ANC.

This is bad news, not only for the DA, but for all South Africans and we need to address it.

But it is only one part of the picture, (and a small one at that).

The really important trends (that already became apparent in by-elections during 2020 and were reinforced during 2021), have not been analysed anywhere, as far as I am aware.  I therefore do so here:

The bottom line is this: Across 64 by-elections where the DA faced-off against the ANC, in November and December 2020 and in May 2021, the ANC grew in only 18 and declined in 46.

In contrast, the DA grew in 36 – well over half — and declined in 28.

Moreover, the DA’s support doubled in several of these by-elections, while ANC support doubled in none.

Some of the most notable examples include:

  1. In the City of Cape Town (in the by-elections of 11 November 2020) the ANC declined by 37%, (from 71% to 46% in Ward 88 Philippi), where the overwhelming majority of voters are black.
  2. In Tshwane, in Wards 3 and 92, both majority black and both contested last week, the ANC polled a paltry 31.6 % and 31.5% respectively.  In both these wards, political commentators were predicting a DA loss.  We had a comfortable win, so the result was predictably ignored by the same commentators.
  3. In Ekurhuleni Ward 42, a ward in which the ANC had an absolute majority in the 2019 general election, we came within 88 votes of winning.
  4. The DA is growing in wards with a demographic profile in which we previously would never have stood a chance.  In Ward 92, Central Pretoria, a ward that is now majority black, the DA won comfortably last week.  We came within 85 Votes of winning a black ward in Matjhabeng and took a voting district off the ANC in a ward in Ekurhuleni.
  5. We are the only party building the moderate, non-racial centre of politics  —  and we are able to beat back challenges from both the Freedom Front Plus, and the ANC, on the same day in the same City.  No other party can do this.

These are simply remarkable results compared to what we were polling only a few years ago.

A truthful analysis of the by-elections reveal that it is the ANC that is imploding while the DA is growing across broad right across South Africa.

Yes, we do have localised problems and we are doing our best to understand and to reverse the negative trends.  But the full picture tells a different story.  And it is a story that, for some reason, the media and columnists refuse to tell.

Either they genuinely do not understand it, or they wish to deliberately mislead the public for their own motives.

And, irony of ironies, having falsely described the DA as “imploding” some columnists then blame the DA for “letting South Africa down” by not growing, as Makhudu Sefara did in the Sunday Times last week.

I have given up trying to understand the South African media and its motives.  All I can do is try to get as close to the truth as possible, and convey this to those who are interested in facts, rather than the agendas of those who call themselves “political commentators”.

Helen Zille is the DA Federal Council Chairperson