The Democratic Alliance’s unsatisfactory performance in the 2019 general elections reflects its poor governance record in the metros it took control of in the 2016 local government election.
Various factors — infighting, ideological confusion, conflicting messages about race and identity, the dramatic change in the electoral environment with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president and the departure of Jacob Zuma — contributed to the DA’s decline at the polls.
But what is also evident is the DA did not live up to its own promise of better and clean governance in the metros it won in 2016. There are ample examples in Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg of a party out of its depth in governing complex cities.
It is not surprising, then, that the electorate did not trust the DA to run the country’s economic heartland, Gauteng, or any other province.
An ecstatic Helen Zille declared in 2014 that the DA had “broken the ceiling”, referring to the electoral ceiling the party had historically been confined to.
In that election, the DA’s support grew from 17% in 2009 to 22%. In 2019, the DA’s support fell to 21%.
The 2016 local government polls, which were largely fought on national issues despite being a municipal election, increased the DA’s support to 27%.
It had indeed broken the ceiling, taking control of the crown jewels of South Africa’s cityscape — big budget Johannesburg, the administrative capital of Pretoria in Tshwane and the historically significant Nelson Mandela Bay — through formal coalition deals and an informal co-operation agreement with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Three years later, two of the three DA mayors have been removed and the party lost control of Nelson Mandela Bay.
The DA claims that Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba is its most popular mayor, but the 2019 election result shows that the DA’s support has declined in the city since he took over its running in 2016.
Shortly after Mashaba was elected and formed a government, allegations emerged that a member of his mayoral committee, Sharon Peetz, had taken her mother along on an official trip to Spain.
It was met with profuse denials by Mashaba and the city. Mashaba provided evidence that the trip was above board. Then, in a sharp about-turn, he fired her some months later after irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing emerged.
Late last year, bins in Johannesburg’s streets overflowed with rubbish after the city failed to renew a contract with Avis SA for vehicles to collect the refuse. According to a report by investigative journalism unit amaBhungane, the Avis contract was cancelled and the fleet management deal was handed to Afrirent, which allegedly paid kickbacks to an account belonging to the EFF. Mashaba has instituted a forensic probe into the matter.
In Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga faced a scandal over a multibillion- rand contract with engineering consultancy firm GladAfrica, which the auditor general found was awarded irregularly. But Msimanga jumped ship, failing to see through his first mayoral term after he was selected by the party to be its premier candidate and the face of its campaign to win Gauteng.
This was a huge mistake by the DA — and an amateurish one.
Msimanga also faced allegations of nepotism and that his brother had stolen 100 computers from the city.
In the City of Cape Town, residents were mystified onlookers as the DA went to war with its mayor, Patricia de Lille.
The electorate clearly turned up their noses at the DA’s antics in the metros over the past three years — it suffered big losses in all three in the 2019 polls.
To win back support, the DA should conduct a brutally honest assessment of its governance failures in the metros it still controls.
This would be an apt place to start as it seeks to reverse its electoral misfortune ahead of the 2021 local elections.