News / South Africa / Elections / Local Elections 2021

Russel Crystal and Shelley Loe
7 minute read
24 Oct 2021
2:35 pm

Elections 2021: SA’s voters sentenced to death by yawning

Russel Crystal and Shelley Loe

The DA's attempts to be everything to everyone could be what drives voters to smaller parties, while the EFF and FF+ may also eat some of their lunch.

Election Posters along Pretorius street in Pretoria ahead of the 1 November 2021 municipal elections, 21 October 2021. Picture: Jacques Nelles

We are accustomed to politicians describing ad nauseum every election as “crucial”, and the upcoming local government election is no different.

And yes, it could well be the very election that spells the point of no return from the calamity of collapsed municipalities. In 2011, Helen Zille believed that South Africa would be pretty much irreparable by 2019, and yet, here we are.

Is this our very final warning? Or are we good to go for another 20 dreary years towards SA’s inevitable demise? History will decide.

For all its importance, safe to say this campaign has turned out to be death by yawning for voters. We can hardly keep our eyes open while politicians drone on, with the occasional jerk into wakefulness by the woke, such as their irrational hysteria around the DA’s Phoenix posters.

So what will happen at the end of this ghastly tedium?

Any success for the ANC is entirely dependent on our “glorious” government continuing to divide us all by race-carding absolutely everything – ensuring that voters are suspicious, conspiratorial, and prepared to get nasty at the first instruction. And it will also depend on the party’s ability to get its traditional base out to vote in numbers, which, given the level of excitement, is not much to bet on.

It goes without saying that the large numbers of people dependent on government social grants will turn up faithfully at the polls. Still, notable failure for the ANC can only happen if black voters unexpectedly grow tired of the race issue and are more concerned with matters of delivery.

It’s important to note that what people see in the media, social media and on street poles is not the essence of ANC campaigning – their modus operandi is most effective on the streets, in the shebeens and at small local community gatherings, especially those in rural areas.

It is in these environments that the ANC is most able to exploit their race identity programme. This is where no other political party, possibly other than the EFF in certain areas, operates anywhere near as effectively as the ANC does.

However, it is unlikely that the ANC will achieve its 2019 national election result of 57.50% and may well not even maintain the 53.91% it obtained in the last LGE in 2016. At worst for them, it may even drop to just on 50% across the country.

The DA’s success will be measured by whether or not it can maintain the almost 21% of the vote obtained in the 2019 national elections, let alone win back the hundreds of thousands of votes lost after the party’s best result to date – 27% in the 2016 LGE.

This will depend on two key factors – firstly, whether the DA is able to capitalise on its successful voter registration campaign this year and bring out the majority of its voter base on election day; and secondly, on the level of disassociation of voters from the ANC, resulting in an overall lower voter turnout.

Despite intensive and relatively well-planned conventional campaigning techniques, in terms of getting its message to its core voter base (mainly comprised of coloured, white and Indian voters), the content of the messaging itself has been of such a mediocre standard, it may have failed to resonate with and inspire disenchanted voters to actually go out and vote.

The vast majority of the issues the party has covered have been singularly focused on local government matters, but therein could lie the rub. While this is a national LGE, voters have tended since 1994, to treat local elections as they do national elections.

The DA has failed to recognise this fact by not focusing enough on the bigger concerns of voters, such as land expropriation, BBEEE and NHI. The over-localisation of its election campaign is exemplified by the fact that the controversial Phoenix posters criticising the ANC’s racism, were only used in Phoenix while in fact being appropriate for many areas in the country where ordinary people have been faced with threats to life and limb.

There also lies a danger of the perception of becoming identified as “the Distancing Alliance”.

Throughout this campaign, they have been plagued by a spate of leaders distancing themselves from the party, and vice versa, chief examples being the double-speak around the disruptive Phoenix posters; the issue of turning golf courses in Cape Town into local/medium-cost housing developments and, longer ago but still a factor, the burning Schweizer-Reyneke school teacher imbroglio.

They just have to hope that this does not translate into more voters distancing themselves from the DA.

Ultimately, the DA’s success will depend not on its own efforts entirely, but also to a large degree on external factors, primarily disaffection with the ANC resulting in a lower-than-usual voter turnout. 

However, if the DA fails to maintain or better its 2019 performance, poor as that was, it will be of its own making.

Should it be lucky enough to achieve the 23% mark that some are predicting, even that will be considered an overall loss compared to the almost 27% achieved in 2016. Even DA leader, John Steenhuisen, in preparing DA supporters for a disappointing result, has recently stated that the DA would be happy with “a share of the vote that is slightly higher than the 2019 elections and is aiming for 24%” – gone are the days of the official opposition publicly claiming that the magical 30% mark is within its grasp.

It would not be very surprising if the EFF was the only one of the Big Three to increase its national support.

While it may not win more than a handful of individual wards, it is likely to be the main recipient of the growing dissatisfaction with the ANC, as it has steadily shown an increase in votes from 6.35% in 2014 to 8.19% in 2016 to 10.80% in 2019.

This even though the party is no longer perceived as the novel, disruptive and clean force it once was. Notwithstanding this, the growing trend of a turn to identity politics in the country will be exploited by the EFF, to position itself as the only real champion of black voter interests.

The EFF also succeeds in dealing with local voter’s issues, particularly in low-income areas, through the use of populist national slogans, without getting trapped into providing the tiresome details of how they would address the individual matters themselves.

The other factor in this particular LGE, is the prevalence of identity-based community “parties” which are focused on gaining support from the circa 35% of registered voters who showed their dissatisfaction with establishment political parties by not voting in previous elections. 

These organisations are likely to have an impact mainly in the Western Cape Province amongst coloured voters. If any of these parties are even moderately successful, they are most likely to thank the DA for extra votes cast their way than from any other party.

Any support going to other smaller parties, such as ActionSA (particularly in Gauteng) and the Freedom Front Plus more broadly, will be primarily at the expense of the DA too.

Traditional DA voters may well break the trend and split their votes, giving known DA candidates their ward vote, while out of dissatisfaction for the DA overall, granting their PR vote to ActionSA.

The DA’s attempt to be everything to everyone and its perceived weakness viz a viz the ANC are the factors that may drive a number of its Afrikaans voters into the eager arms of the FF+ as a simple alternative. While these losses to the DA may be relatively small in overall numbers, the DA can ill afford to lose any at all.

ActionSA’s primary gain from black voters will come from those who haven’t voted before or traditionally voted ANC, but abstained from going to the polls in the last election.

Probably the most interesting feature in this election will be the impact that the large number of independents have on mainstream parties.

The general dissatisfaction with political parties means there could be a surprising rise in fortunes for independent candidates in our wards.  This stems from the growing trend of people becoming less interested in national-issue party politics and more concerned about potholes being fixed, raw sewage stopped from flowing down their streets and, on a broader scale, what the hell our municipalities could possibly deliver while employing people for their skin colour rather than their abilities.

  • The authors are Russel Crystal and Shelley Loe, who between them, worked for the DA and its predecessor, the DP, in various capacities, for a combined total of over 30 years. Crystal served in Tony Leon’s office as national Deputy Executive Director. Loe has fulfilled a number of senior campaign roles and served as a public rep in all spheres of government. Both now work at Crystal’s communications company, Brand Physicians, in Johannesburg.