The DA’s leadership will go into the party’s federal executive meeting on Monday with much introspection to do after the party lost electoral support across the board.

The year leading up to the May 8 poll was full of turmoil, with the party locked in a protracted and very public spat with former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, and the DA’s internal battles on pivotal policy issues such as broad-based BEE was fought in full view of voters.

This was hardly a solid platform to start on, especially given that the wide-ranging support for ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa changed the game and ultimately saved the ANC from an embarrassing electoral outcome.

The election results show the DA met only one of its four main targets set in the run-up to the general elections, which was to retain the Western Cape, the only province it governs, albeit now with a reduced majority. It failed in the rest, as the party lost support nationally and did not succeed in pushing the ANC below 50% in Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

The ANC just managed to hang on to Gauteng, but the drop in support for the governing party in the province was in no way due to the DA’s electoral triumph.

The DA failed to capitalise on the enormous increase in support it won in the 2016 local government election in the province in which it received 37.23% of the vote, while the ANC tumbled to 45.84%.  Moreover, the DA fell from 30.78% in the general election in 2014 to 27.45% in 2019.

The DA lost three seats in the province in which it helped push the ANC from its majority pedestal in the Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni metros. The DA now governs Tshwane and Johannesburg through coalitions, which is no small feat in itself.

So what went wrong?

On a pure electoral basis the numbers clearly show that the DA bled votes to the Freedom Front Plus, which grew by almost 250,000 votes. That the DA lost votes from conservative Afrikaans-speaking voters should come as no surprise to anyone who kept tabs on the shift in this demographic group.

There was an outcry about the DA’s continued support of race-based redress, leader Mmusi Maimane’s comments about white privilege as well as the furore that erupted after DA youth leader Luyolo Mphithi shared a picture of a classroom in Schweizer-Reneke, North West, in which black and white pupils were seemingly segregated. 

Trade union Solidarity, which is influential in the Afrikaans community, said Mphithi had sowed racial division by saying the photo showed clear-cut racism.

The threat of land expropriation without compensation also helped the FF Plus’s electoral fortunes.

Maimane has described the outcome of the election as one in which politics has been realigned. He attributed the DA’s loss to a rise in nationalism, given that both the FF Plus and the EFF — on either side of the political spectrum — grew dramatically.

To however chalk the DA’s electoral losses up only to nationalism would be futile as it would exonerate the DA from playing any role in its own decline.  To insinuate that nationalists were at fault would gloss over the decline in the suburban vote for the DA.

Mistakes it has made

Independent election analyst Dawie Scholtz broke down the numbers on Twitter by saying the DA dropped from 81.9% of the suburban vote in 2014 to 70.4% in 2019. The FF Plus grew from 3.3% among suburban voters in 2014 to 8% in 2019, while the ANC grew from 9.6% to 11.5%.

The numbers speak for themselves, and for the next five years the loss of seats in the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures will be a haunting reminder of the mistakes it has made.

The question the DA should be asking itself is how much the state of governance in Tshwane and Johannesburg has hurt its support, and what it has to do to salvage any possible growth ahead of  local government elections in 2021.

Another one should be about how the campaign was run and whether the party took voters for granted.

Naturally, Maimane’s leadership of the party following its disappointing performance will be discussed.

Given the support he has from the party’s provincial leaders, it can however be expected that he will complete his term as DA leader in 2021, when the party’s next federal congress takes place. What happens after that time will tell.