Mmusi Maimane and the leaders of the DA are cock-a-hoop. And why not? Their hard work and dedication have paid off handsomely in Nelson Mandela Bay and in the City of Tshwane, where they have managed what in years past would have been regarded as well nigh impossible – they attracted more votes than the mighty, 104-year-old ANC.
These are symbolically massive leaps forward. The party is working to form coalition governments there and begin to show that its vaunted performance in the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape can translate into success in the executive capital of the country and in the coastal city named after Nelson Mandela, a man whose name the party invoked on the campaign trail.
But then there are Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. The ANC took it for granted that it would easily attract a clear majority and continue to run the municipalities without even talking to a single opposition party.
Now it is on its knees, begging the PAC to work with it. How times have changed.
A close look at the election results in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni shows that much as the DA has clearly broken a ceiling of ANC dominance across the urban centres of the country, it still has a lot of work to do to be a real contender to form coalitions or run South Africa in 2019.
If anything, these results show that Maimane and his team need to start working now rather than take a long holiday to recharge their batteries.
Take Ekurhuleni, for example. Compared to official results from 2011, ANC support in the municipality dropped by roughly 13 percentage points to 48.64%.
The DA, meanwhile, has grown its support by four percentage points to 34.15%. That is still quite a way behind the ANC.
Johannesburg has a similar tale. The ANC dropped 15 percentage points from 59.66% support five years ago to 44.64% of the vote. The DA grew by four percentage points from 2011 to obtain 38.44%. This story says the ANC is in steep decline. It also says that although the DA is growing, it needs to do more to take advantage of the ANC’s numerous problems. At the rate it is growing, it is not doing it. It lacks oomph. It lacks the killer punch. Something is missing in its arsenal.
Look at the national numbers. The DA got 26.89% of the total vote, up only 2.95 percentage points from the 23.94% haul of 2011.
That sort of growth is encouraging, but does not tell us that there is a champion waiting in the wings to take over in 2019.
Look at the ANC. Ag shame, as they say. Even the most admirable people inside the ANC are dazed and confused.
I read a column by one of my heroes, Mavuso Msimang, yesterday. Msimang is an Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran and one of the most honourable ANC leaders I know.
He is moral, straight, true, unbendable.
Msimang’s article was titled “ANC does not deserve this leadership”. Yet it is the same Msimang who was out in the streets canvassing votes for the ANC and its leadership in the run-up to August 3.
Other great heroes like him – Ahmed Kathrada and others – did exactly the same thing.
Msimang, Kathrada and the others need to know that they cannot have it both ways.
They cannot tell us that the fish is rotting from the head and ask us to eat it at the same time. We will get food poisoning and die.
That is why 3.3 million ANC voters did not bother to go to the polls on August 3.
They stayed home and said, quite simply, that they were not going to be part of the wanton, shameless corruption of the Jacob Zuma regime.
This is the divided, confused, leaderless ANC that Maimane is faced with.
At the growth the DA has shown in these elections, however, an ANC that can galvanise some of those 3.3 million disgruntled voters to return to the fold would stop him dead in his tracks.
He needs to do something, and he needs to start now.
Maimane needs to accelerate the message that the DA is a party for all. He needs to underline this in constituencies where this message needs to be heard – Soweto, Mamelodi, Soshanguve – areas where the ANC’s support silently turned their backs and stayed home.
He needs to reach out to other opposition parties – a devastated COPE and a dwindling UDM – and finalise a proper merger with them within a year.
He needs to do what Tony Leon did with the National Party and learn how merging with the Independent Democrats catapulted the DA to power in the Western Cape.
The spotlight will be on the ANC over the next few years.
The real pressure, however, is on Maimane. He has a tough job to do if he wants to become president in 2019. He had better start now.