Natasha Marrian Financial Mail deputy editor & columnist
John Moodey. Picture: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius
John Moodey. Picture: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius

With the governing ANC under fire for its role in Covid-19 corruption, you’d have to think the only way it can keep its majority in next year’s election will be because of the weakness of its opposition.

The local government elections next year are set to be hard fought in a profoundly difficult environment.

SA’s three largest political parties have undergone major shifts over the past five years — from the ANC’s corruption crisis and attempts at reform, to the DA’s identity crisis, and the EFF’s connection with VBS Mutual Bank.

The governing party looks the weakest. Its handling of the economy during Covid-19 has been a disaster, and there is widespread disgust at how its members have been implicated in corruption around Covid-19 relief funds and personal protective equipment contracts.

Luckily for the ANC, the DA is retreating to the safety of its traditional base, which is white and liberal. And black leaders are leaving the party.

This was underscored this week, when Gauteng leader John Moodey resigned from the DA after 22 years.

In itself, Moodey’s exit is unlikely to have an earth-shattering impact on the DA. But it should be seen as part of a pattern of departures from the DA – from Athol Trollip to Mmusi Maimane – which may accelerate after the party’s elective conference and could well damage its prospects.

It illustrates that the DA that will contest the 2021 elections may be a vastly different beast to the party we see today. But at this point, it appears improbable that it will be up to taking advantage of a limping ANC in the short term.

That suggests both the ANC and DA may lose support next year, as they did last year.

In 2019, they both lost in key metros: the ANC lost five percentage points in Mangaung, compared to 2014, and it shed 10 percentage points in eThekwini.

Meanwhile, the DA’s biggest loss came in its previous strongholds in Gauteng, while its support even declined in Cape Town.

Maybe the changes in the party will re-energise its base, but the fact is, the DA is unlikely to break any new ground in the 2021 polls.

There’s the novelty factor of the election to consider. Ahead of every election in SA, a number of new, small parties have mushroomed – and 2021 will be no different.

Last year, 48 political parties appeared on the ballot paper, 19 more than the 2014 election. But these parties generally don’t have much of an impact on the electoral landscape – most failed to secure a seat in parliament.

The big exception has been Julius Malema’s EFF, which launched in 2014 and has been gaining ground ever since.

However, what we also saw last year was the resurgence of established small parties – most notably the Freedom Front Plus and the IFP. It’s a trend we can expect to see again next year, because of disenchantment with the large parties.

One of those that will gain ground is Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, launched last weekend. It’s a bit early out of the starting blocks, but that appears to be a strategic move on the part of Joburg’s former mayor.

Mashaba timed the launch of his party partly to coincide with a tense political period for his former political party: the DA is holding a key policy conference this weekend, billed as a curtain-raiser to its upcoming elective conference.

Will he mop up other DA turncoats?

While Moodey said he was not approached to join Mashaba, a number of former DA members have joined ActionSA, including former DA CEO Paul Boughey.

In fact, the FM understands Moodey may join Maimane’s nonprofit outfit, One SA Movement.

Of course, SA is already in uncharted political territory as the 2021 election approaches, as the debate hots up over whether to hold the election at all or postpone it and combine it with the 2024 national polls.

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