DA interim leader John Steenhuisen. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD

The DA has again failed to stem the loss of white Afrikaans-speaking voters to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) despite its drastic leadership changes in 2019.

After losing a significant number of votes to the FF+ in the 2019 general elections, the party underwent a review process which paved the way for the dramatic resignation of its leader, Mmusi Maimane, and former Johannesburg mayor  Herman Mashaba.

James Selfe, former chair of the federal council, also resigned in the wake of the dismal election results. His exit opened the way for former party leader Helen Zille to return to the top echelons of the party. She was voted in to replace Selfe and John Steenhuisen was elected interim leader.

These changes did not yield the desired results in Thursday’s critical by-election in Mamusa local municipality in North West province.

Mamusa incorporates the small town of Schweizer-Reneke. Its council, which is part of the Ruth Mompati district, was dissolved in late October after claims of maladministration and poor service delivery.

The ANC won eight wards while  the EFF gained more ground, growing from two to five proportional representation seats. It won votes from the Forum 4 Service Delivery and the ANC. The FF+ took a ward off the DA. The DA is still represented in council with just one seat.

The by-election results  highlighted the uphill battle the DA faces ahead of the 2021 local government elections.

Steenhuisen said he was disappointed by the results. But, he said, the political dynamics in the town had been challenging for the DA  following the furore after Schweizer-Reneke teacher Elana Barkhuizen was accused of racism before the facts were established. The DA had joined calls for her suspension. Supported by union Solidarity she was later cleared by the labour court in Johannesburg and allowed to return to work.

Steenhuisen said the Mamusa election results underscored the need for the party to reform “very quickly”. 

He said a lot of work had to be done to regain the trust of voters and that the results made him more determined that the work of the review panel be implemented.  

On Thursday, ward nine in the Mamusa municipality became the third ward the DA lost to the FF+ in just six months. FF+  leader Pieter Groenewald tweeted that the party had won  797 votes compared with the DA’s 222.

Independent election analyst Dawie Scholtz said he believed the DA should  be “tremendously concerned” with the results, which was a replication of the outcome seen in the 2019 general elections.

“There is no further progress in arresting the trend and the DA honestly should be extremely concerned about what this means for the 2021 local government election. They could be suffering enormous losses all across the northern suburban electorate — any place where there are large concentrations of Afrikaans voters, the DA is in serious trouble,” Scholtz said.  


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