South Africa: Infighting to damage opposition election prospects

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Africa Riskwatch - Issue 11 - May 2018
Growing divisions within the Democratic Alliance ahead of 2019 elections

On 8 May, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) announced that Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s party membership had been terminated and she had been removed as mayor. The attempt of removing de Lille has been going on for several months, following allegations of maladministration and intimidation of staff. Due to a radio interview in which de Lille declared her intention to resign from the party, executive chairperson James Selfe now announced that de Lille’s membership of the DA had ceased, as this was a breach of the party’s constitution. 

Damaging dispute

The prolonged dispute will damage the DA’s attempt to expand beyond its core white voter base. De Lille, who built a reputation as an anti-corruption campaigner after blowing the whistle on irregularities during a government arms procurement deal in the 1990s, is popular among coloured and black voters. The DA’s attempts to remove her as mayor have fuelled allegations that the party’s predominantly white leadership is more interested in protecting the party’s white voter base than in embracing diversity. This is likely to see the DA lose support in Cape Town, as well as in other major urban centres including Johannesburg and Tshwane. 

In addition, an anti-corruption campaign currently being led by African National Congress (ANC) and national President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to see traditional ANC supporters return to the party, rather than abstain or vote for the opposition. This will further undermine the DA’s ability to significantly increase its share of the national vote in 2019.

Changing stakeholder landscape and implications for businesses

The DA is increasingly likely to lose at least some of the major urban centres that it currently governs at the 2021 municipal elections. These include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Government changes at the local or provincial level to significantly affect business operations are not expected. However, these losses would see the appointment of new councillors responsible for business-relevant and -facing portfolios, such as utility provision. As a result, businesses operating in these areas would be likely to need to engage with new stakeholders during discussions with municipal governments.

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