Victor: Democratic Alliance members congratulate the party’s new Western Cape leader Tertuis Simmers (centre). Photo: Theo Jeptha/Gallo Images
Newly elected Democratic Alliance leader in the Western Cape Tertuis Simmers is looking to reclaim lost ground among coloured voters as the party gears up for its 2024 elections campaign.
The DA lost some of its coloured and Afrikaner constituency in the province to smaller parties in the 2021 local government elections, with the rise of the Good party, Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the Cape Coloured Congress.
Elections monitoring analyst Wayne Sussman said the Patriotic Alliance, whose support is mainly from coloured voters in the Western Cape, is the most credible alternative to the DA in 2024. He added that the Patriotic Alliance has been affecting the DA in areas such as Cape Town.
“The DA’s biggest concern going into the 2024 elections in the Western Cape is its strength in the coloured communities and within the coloured communities there is obviously Mitchells Plain and Athlone and the more rural areas. I think that is the DA’s main concern in the 2024 elections,” Sussman said.
“When Simmers looks into 2024, the party he is most concerned about is the PA.”
In the same round of by-elections in which the DA gained wards from the Good party in George, the PA also took a ward off Good.
Simmers said the DA would need to improve its communications machinery and highlight service delivery in the coloured areas to bolster its support.
He said the 2021 local government elections had seen parties like the Patriotic Alliance capitalising on “what has been simmering under the surface of that demographic for a very long time”, adding that this was in large part due to the DA’s lax communication.
“Sometimes because of miscommunication, miseducation and misunderstanding of the role of your local sphere of government, many of the issues interlink. They [coloured people] complain about BEE [black economic empowerment], which is a national policy, not that of the DA,” Simmers said.
“The antithesis of that is a DA government seeking to create opportunities for everybody. For many years they have been marginalised because of BEE and you have the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act again disenfranchising the coloured community to an extent.
“Yet the fight that the DA has always put up has always been in the interest of all of our communities.”
Simmers won the DA’s internal elections against former leader Bonginkosi Madikizela last week.
He said part of his job would include a revitalisation of the party’s internal systems in the province, to set internal targets and focus on the basics in terms of membership and branch structures and activists.
“As the party has got bigger we do not see the empowerment of activists happening effectively because an empowered activist equals an empowered structure and electoral machine for the DA Western Cape,” he said.
“The second pillar is to become stronger, regaining our lost members. As we got bigger, people from different parties joined our party but many of them have not been inducted into the party to fully understand its values and principles.”
Simmers said that from 2002 to 2014 the party had a clear strategic plan but then the DA went through a lull from 2014 to 2023.
“We had no less than seven provincial leaders. There was never a long-term plan for the DA Western Cape. Now [we are] crafting and utilising a manifesto and building a 10-year plan.
“There seems to be this disconnect in that we do so much great work in the Western Cape, in the bulk of the municipalities, and yet your electorate don’t even know what we do. They don’t know it’s the DA-led government initiating this change,” Simmers said. “We need time to mature in the organisation and the cultural change journey that we are embarking on.”
“As we invoke the culture change internally, we all take ownership of the DA in all 408 wards across the Western Cape realising if you do that, your internal machinery works efficiently. Your ability to go outside the external voter market and to go out with an effective machinery of activists is to ensure the messaging is clear,” he said, adding that the 2024 general elections would be a springboard for the 2026 local government vote.
New kid on the block the Referendum Party is looking to put pressure on the DA to lobby for an independent Cape province. The DA had previously shown an appetite to indulge its constituents in the province who were yearning for the Western Cape to run independently from the rest of South Africa.
In 2021, the party announced that it would place in parliament a private members’ bill to amend the Electoral Commission Act and repeal the Referendums Act. The bill would enable premiers to exercise their constitutional powers to call a provincial referendum to take this unilateral power from the president.
This was seen as a step in the direction of Cape independence by the DA’s Western Cape supporters. But with the party seemingly dragging its feet, its political allies, including the Freedom Front Plus, were quick to call out the blue party.
Despite a poll by Victory Research for the Cape Independence Advocacy Group showing that 77% of Western Cape voters do not have a positive outlook for South Africa’s future, Simmers brushed off talks of an independent Western Cape province.
He said the minority group advocating for a “CapeXit” had received less than 1% of the vote in the 2021 elections, signalling that the broader electoral base did not agree.
“Those individuals contesting for this election need to go out and tell us how this will be done and can be done without fracturing Western Cape vote. They are actually splitting the voter base further and opening up a marginal gap for the ANC and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] and placing good governance at risk,” Simmers said.