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By Hein Kaiser


Jacob Zuma dominates social media discourse as SA heads to the polls

Will this sentiment be sustained at the ballot box?

The polls might not have opened yet, but by 5am, social media was alive with trending themes that might provide an early indication of sentiment for the day ahead.

Former president Jacob Zuma trended ahead of every other tweet before sunrise at a ratio of around three to one. Question is, will this sentiment be sustained at the ballot box and eventually see South Africa’s Teflon President split the ANC’s vote enough to, as pundits expect, allow other parties to end thirty years of office?

The hashtag #voetsekANC trended strongly in the early hours and the well-timed release of a documentary on the EFF had tongues wagging and fingers tapping online.

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Despite early analysis of online search data points showing waning interest in the MK party and a slowing down of support for Julius Malema’s red berets, the massive spike in interest a few hours before South Africans were to start queuing at the ballot might be an indication of a last-minute groundswell.

The Democratic Alliance, shown to have grown significantly over the past few weeks in support, too, via data point analysts, was trending because of heavily promoted advertisements on X.

‘Genocide vote’

This as ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula posted inflammatory statements that a vote for any of the parties that pose a real threat to the ANC is a vote for genocide.

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It gained a measure of traction, and the hashtag #iamvotingANC also featured lower down trend-ranking early in the morning, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

Unsponsored content from the DA has been performing well, too, and overall, social media before dawn seems to indicate that this election is now a four-horse race, with a DA leader John Steenhuisen in the ring with MK’s Jacob Zuma, the EFF and Julius Malema and ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa.

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Other opposition parties like the Freedom Front Plus are not immediately visible, while ActionSA has been slowly clawing away and gaining a decent measure of traction, along with the Patriotic Alliance that spikes and drops, dependent on the fire and fury posted by leader Gayton McKenzie.

But X and other social media outlets can change direction as quickly as some people change their underpants and measuring sentiment over time provides a better indication of sentiment and possible momentum.

This, plus data point analysts by digital marketing company Bold Online, narrows down the playing field significantly.

Social media data on DA

Data over eight weeks suggested that the DA has made sustained gains during campaigning, while parties like MK have been dependent on news and statements about former president Jacob Zuma, riding on the coattails of his popularity. Smaller parties making inroads are ActionSA and, trailing them, the Patriotic Alliance.

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The EFF’s support seems to have retreated somewhat, based on online data points analysed at the time, but the overall political landscape may not change much.

As South Africa’s democracy matures, three decades on, the main contenders remain the DA, ANC, and EFF and on the coattails the PA, ActionSA and Freedom Front Plus. The dark horse right now? MK.