The Democratic Alliance has an ambitious “big five” plan for next year’s local government elections: it is targeting the municipalities of Tshwane, Johannesburg, Tlokwe, Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town – either for takeover or to increase its presence to such an extent that it will reduce the ANC’s power.
A large part of the party’s campaign resources will be dedicated to the Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipalities, and the Potchefstroom-based Tlokwe local municipality in the North West.
The DA believes it stands a good chance of toppling the ANC in these councils.
The party also wants an increased majority in the Cape Town metro and the Midvaal local municipality. But the hunt is still on for popular faces to become mayoral candidates in these municipalities.
The DA’s chief executive officer, Paul Boughey, who also serves as the party’s national campaign manager, said choosing the right mayoral candidates had a big influence on election results.
“There will be a national message and then we will build campaigns around mayoral candidates, who are the face of the campaign,” he said.
Party structures are still debating whether party loyalty and long service should be considered as part of the criteria for selecting candidates, or whether outsiders should be brought in to become the face of the DA’s campaigns.
The party has announced that its Eastern Cape leader, Athol Trollip, will stand as mayoral candidate for the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
On Friday next week, the party’s electoral college will make a decision on a Tshwane mayoral candidate.
This person will have to maintain the party’s existing support in the traditionally white areas of Pretoria and expand the DA’s presence to the townships.
The party believes that electoral data from the past local government elections coupled with the voting patterns during last year’s general elections make Tshwane winnable.
In the 2011 local government elections, the DA won 39.05% of the vote in Tshwane – up 9% from 2006 – and the ANC garnered 56.19% of the vote.
Last year, the ANC’s support in Tshwane fell to 49.31%, a significant drop of 10% compared with the 2009 elections.
The DA’s Gauteng leader, John Moodey, said the party needed in Tshwane “a person with leadership skills, who can articulate DA policy and vision and a person who will be able to galvanise local structures”.
Realistically, what are the DA’s chances?
“We don’t go into the boxing ring to come out second best,” said Moodey.
Though the DA has increased its support in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, there is still a deficit of trust among black voters, which might make it difficult to significantly increase the party’s support in townships and villages.
But the DA has been working hard to shed the image of a white organisation wanting to use a black majority to govern, and is pinning its hopes on its first black party leader, Mmusi Maimane. However, leadership squabbles that preceded Maimane’s election both as parliamentary and party leader did stabilise the party’s credibility.
The frontrunner for the mayoral candidacy in Tshwane is Solly Msimanga, a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature, who enjoys some support in Pretoria’s townships.
But before a street fight with the ANC, Msimanga needs to convince the DA’s electoral college that he is the right man for the job.
On Friday next week, he will appear before the electoral college with two other DA councillors and prospective candidates, Brandon Topham and Bronwyn Engelbrecht.
Mayoral candidacy campaigns have often been used as launching pads for political growth in the DA.
In 2011, Maimane, who was a relative unknown even in party structures, was the mayoral candidate for Johannesburg.
He then ran as the candidate for Gauteng premier in 2014, and was subsequently elected DA parliamentary leader. In May this year, he replaced Helen Zille in the top seat.
Electoral analyst Paul Berkowitz said, because identity politics was important in South Africa, it would be important to choose a candidate who would penetrate even nontraditional DA support bases. He said there was a limit to the traditional support base the party enjoyed in the municipalities.
He did not think the Economic Freedom Fighters’ presence would affect the DA significantly.
“The EFF would take votes from the ANC and other smaller parties; the DA would take its votes from the ANC,” said Berkowitz.