DA celebrates two by-election wins – reports PA’s vote-buying dirty tricks

A two seat gain by the Democratic Alliance in yesterday’s by-elections has given the party an outright majority in the George municipality, which it currently runs in coalition with Moonshot Pact partner, FF+. But the celebrations had a hard edge as the DA Western Cape leader Tertuis Simmers explains in this interview, alleging that Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance used booze and food parcels to buy the votes that secured the PA the other seat. – Alec Hogg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:54 – Tertuis Simmers on the DA’s successful By-elections
  • 02:16 – Simmers on the politics of George
  • 03:51 – On the Patriotic Alliance handing out food parcels at a voting station
  • 05:12 – On the GOOD Party losing three wards
  • 06:31 – On the highly contested Ward 20 in George
  • 10:03 – On the likelihood of working with the PA
  • 12:28 – On the FF Plus
  • 14:09 – On the Moonshot Pact coalition
  • 15:59 – On the political contestation of the Western Cape
  • 19:31 – On ballots for independent candidates
  • 20:29 – On the DA’s mission
  • 21:32 – Concludes

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Edited transcript of the interview

Alec Hogg: Another eventful day of by-elections took place yesterday, including three in the Western Cape. All three wards now have new ward councillors. The GOOD Party appears to be experiencing internal conflicts, while the Democratic Alliance and the Patriotic Alliance emerged victorious in those three seats. Joining us today is Tertuis Simmers, the leader of the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape. I’m sure you’re feeling quite pleased with the outcome in George.

Tertuis Simmers: Thank you, Alec. Winning two out of three wards is certainly a reason for satisfaction. Even though we would have liked to secure all three, we did make substantial progress compared to our 2021 performance. It’s an excellent achievement, and it demonstrates that despite the onslaught we faced leading up to election day, the voters remained steadfast. They recognised the situation and once again placed their full trust in the Democratic Alliance and our capable candidates, who will soon be officially sworn in as councillors.

Alec Hogg: In this cycle of post-November 2021 local elections, we’ve been closely monitoring the by-elections, as we’re approaching a significant election next year. However, these by-elections always seem to have intriguing stories behind them. In my previous conversation with the leader of the IFP, Velenkosini Hlabisa, he mentioned how the ANC had distributed food parcels in an Estcourt ward where the IFP unexpectedly lost. In the latest by-election, the situation seems to have been reversed with the IFP taking yet another ward rom the ANC. Could you share with us the inside story in George and provide some background on the current composition of the council?

Tertuis Simmers: Certainly, Alec. Until last night, George was governed by a coalition government formed by the DA and the Freedom Front Plus after the 2021 elections. We only needed to secure two out of three wards to regain an outright majority on the council, given that there are currently 53 councillors in George. We have now achieved that clear-cut majority and can govern independently. However, during my time on the ground in George, I witnessed similar tactics to those mentioned by the IFP. Unfortunately, some opposition parties in the Western Cape believe that distributing food parcels, providing alcohol, and even resorting to threats against certain individuals can ensure victory for them. I personally witnessed two trucks unloading food parcels under a military tent in a specific ward, located less than 400 meters away from a polling station. I saw this with my own eyes, so it’s not hearsay.

Read more: Hlabisa: ANC food parcel bribery behind shock IFP by-election reverse

Alec Hogg: Do you plan to report these incidents? After Estcourt, the IFP officially lodged a complaint with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Tertuis Simmers: Well, indeed, our Public Liaison Committee representatives have gathered video clips and photos of the incidents. They have been requested to submit this evidence to the local PLC meeting after the by-elections. Our focus was primarily on the task at hand during the election, but we are now in the process of compiling a comprehensive report to submit to the IEC. We plan to follow a similar course of action, and this report will be submitted either by the end of this week or early next week. Additionally, two criminal charges have already been filed against the GOOD Party’s secretary general and one of their regional coordinators for voter intimidation and victimisation. I’ve instructed our team to stay focused and compile all relevant information to ensure a detailed report is submitted to the IEC. Free and fair elections are crucial, and all political parties must adhere to the code of conduct, which we all sign leading up to any election or by-election.

Alec Hogg: It is indeed surprising that in this era of cell phones and instant social media, anyone would take such risks. However, old habits die hard. You mentioned the GOOD Party, and for those who are not familiar with the story, could you provide some context? They lost all three wards where they previously had the seats.

Tertuis Simmers: It’s important to note that until last night, the three wards in George were the only wards in the country held by the GOOD Party. However, the three councillors who represented those wards resigned for specific reasons. They stated that they were unable to fulfil their duties as effective ward councillors and were more focused on creating disruption in council meetings rather than genuinely representing the interests of the voters who had given them their majority in the 2021 elections. So history was made yesterday, as those wards went up for election again. Interestingly, in 2019, on the 17th of July, we also had by-elections for these three wards. Now, four years later and just two days apart, history has rewritten itself, and the voters have clearly expressed their decision during the election and the special vote day on Tuesday.

Alec Hogg: Regarding the ward that you narrowly lost to the Patriotic Alliance, which is experiencing rapid expansion, they secured that ward with just over a quarter of the vote. It seems to be a highly contested area in George.

Tertuis Simmers: Indeed, Ward 20, which you mentioned, has never seen any party reach the 50% mark. Since 2011, winning candidates or parties have always secured victory with less than 40% of the vote in that ward. We witnessed a similar pattern in this particular by-election. When analysing the socioeconomic profile of that ward and comparing it to other areas where the Patriotic Alliance has a presence in our province, such as Teavart, Roskluwuf, and Beaufort West, we can observe similar socioeconomic behaviour. The tactics employed by the Patriotic Alliance to win the ward from the Good Party are a clear indication that certain patterns in socioeconomic behaviour in specific areas play a role in their current success.

Alec Hogg: Could you provide us with more details on those patterns and behaviours?

Tertuis Simmers: Well, when we examine the socioeconomic profile of Ward 20 in George, we find that it comprises mainly highly grant-dependent individuals and indigent households. The majority of the ward’s population relies heavily on social grants. The voting station where the Patriotic Alliance performed well is located in an area with a higher concentration of indigent households and grant recipients. On the other hand, the voting station won by the Democratic Alliance is situated in an area where voters are more economically active, either through full-time employment or job opportunities. We can observe a similar socioeconomic pattern when comparing areas like Theewaterskloof and Beaufort West. This similarity in socioeconomic profiles indicates why the Patriotic Alliance has gained traction in that particular ward. Unfortunately, I observed certain campaigning tactics over the weekend and during the election, such as alleged distribution of food parcels, handing out of alcohol, and busing in large numbers of people from other areas to intimidate and influence voters. Some cases of voter victimisation and arrests have been brought to our attention, and our representative will include this information in the local PLC report, which will be submitted to the IEC.

Read more: PA’s Cilliers on Joburg by-election win, thrashing ANC, sending message to DA

Alec Hogg: One of the challenges people outside the Western Cape face when observing these dynamics is that your party has effectively governed the province. The Western Cape has experienced semigration, with over 100,000 people annually relocating from other parts of the country due to better governance. However, we saw in Swellendam in March that when the Democratic Alliance and the Patriotic Alliance fought against each other, the ANC capitalised and won that ward. Wouldn’t it be wise for the DA and the PA to recognise the potential threat and engage in some form of cooperation?

Tertuis Simmers: First and foremost, it’s important to understand that a vote for the Patriotic Alliance is essentially a direct vote for the African National Congress. They have formed coalitions in Theewaterskloof, Knysna, Beaufort West, and Laingsburg, as their values align, if not fully, partially. They promote racially-based politics, mobilise people based on race, and utilise various tactics for racial mobilisation during their campaigns. On the other hand, the Democratic Alliance believes in non-racialism and operates with principles of openness, transparency, and accountability. When we present ourselves to the voters, as we did in the three wards in George, it is based on these principles and our commitment to working together with the community, both during and after the election, to uplift their quality of life as a whole. It is not a matter of two elephants fighting while a third slips in; it is a matter of principle and values. The voters in Ward 20 in George have made their choice, and they must now live with the consequences of that choice. They will have the councillor they deserve, as elected by the majority. Similarly, in broader governance, they will have the government they deserve, as evident in Theewaterskloof, Knysna, Beaufort West, and Laingsburg. This is the unfortunate reality of the current political landscape. However, it is crucial for your listeners and viewers to understand that these two value propositions exist: nationalism and racially-based politics on one side, and the Democratic Alliance, a party for all, seeking partnerships with those who share our vision and objective of seeing South Africa prosper. Whether we govern at a national or municipal level, our goal is to ensure the prosperity of all communities, not just those who wear our blue t-shirts but also those who wear other coloured t-shirts. If you look at our track record in governance, even in areas where we hold a strong majority, we govern for the benefit of all individuals within those communities, effectively and efficiently.

Alec Hogg: Now that you no longer require the Freedom Front Plus as a coalition partner in George, what will happen to them? Will they quietly exit the scene?

Tertuis Simmers: Well, as a party that has governed the Western Cape effectively, we have various options when it comes to the provincial contestation in the upcoming election. We can take up all the positions previously held by our coalition partners. However, as the Democratic Alliance, we must also consider the bigger picture. We have a significant contribution to make to our federal leader’s Moonshot Pact, which aims to bring together different parties that share the same values. It’s a discussion we will now have, as we govern outright in George. But governing outright doesn’t mean being arrogant. It’s about having a clear mandate while still considering the broader perspective and working with our former coalition partners in the best interest of all our people. We will engage in discussions with the George caucus to determine the way forward, taking into account our full and outright mandate, but also recognising the importance of the broader political landscape and our contribution to the national level.

Alec Hogg: The IFP, your partner in the Moonshot Pact in KwaZulu-Natal has been very successful, winning yet another by-election from the ANC, with impressive growth in their vote percentage. Your remarks highlight the importance of considering the Moonshot Pact even at the local level.

Tertuis Simmers: Absolutely. I mentioned it because, as you pointed out earlier in the interview, we have witnessed numerous by-elections since 2021. By-elections serve as a barometer for the voter sentiment on the ground and provide insights into what might occur in the national and provincial elections. As the governing party in the Western Cape, and in many municipalities through various coalitions, we take these lessons into account as we progress towards 2024. We acknowledge that we are a party of governance, not only in the Western Cape but also in the broader context of the Democratic Alliance at the national level. It’s essential to approach the Moonshot Pact with the mindset of contributing as a party of governance, sharing our skills, and envisioning a future where we can govern together in the interest of the bigger picture. This includes formalised partnerships on the ground, such as our collaboration with the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal, aiming to save South Africa from the destructive path of the current national government.

Read more: The 13M people that can save South Africa – Werner Horn

Alec Hogg: Regarding the provincial contestation in the Western Cape in the upcoming election, while most of the focus is on the national election, it’s important to consider the dynamics within the province. The Democratic Alliance has governed the Western Cape effectively, and it is often assumed that it will be returned with a majority. However, the notable growth of the Patriotic Alliance, which currently does not align with your party, suggests that there could be intriguing developments in the province. How do you see that all playing out?

Tertuis Simmers: Over the past three election cycles at the national and provincial levels since 2009, we have witnessed the emergence of localised provincial-based parties, some of which have a national footprint, like the Patriotic Alliance. These parties specifically target certain voter segments within our province and adopt a nationalistic approach. However, as the Democratic Alliance, we are a party for all. When analysing our recent by-elections, such as the one in Barrydale, there are valuable lessons for us to learn. Immediately following the Barrydale by-elections, we noticed a stronger machinery at work in the Western Cape. In the lead-up to yesterday’s by-elections, we faced an onslaught from the GOOD Party, the Patriotic Alliance, and the ANC. It’s like a Hydra, with three different heads trying to undermine the Democratic Alliance from all angles. While we acknowledge the rise of the Patriotic Alliance in certain areas, yesterday’s results also indicate that there is a significant segment of the Western Cape’s voter market that does not resonate with their type of politics. Instead, they are content with a sound and stable Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape, satisfied with our policies and the way we govern the province. Nevertheless, the political landscape has changed, and as the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape, we understand the fractures that exist on the ground. Moving forward towards the 2024 elections, we will showcase ourselves as a party of governance in the province, recognising the importance of maintaining the firm foundation we have built over the past 15 years. Despite attempts by certain parties, such as the Patriotic Alliance, to racialise politics for their own objectives, we have seen the growth potential of the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape, even in ANC wards where we experienced 300-400% growth in last year’s by-elections. This growth demonstrates that as voters mature in certain areas, they prioritise what is best for the future, rather than solely focusing on the present or their specific racial group. Given that the Western Cape tends to have the most parties on the provincial ballot in national and provincial elections, we anticipate a similar pattern in next year’s election, including the presence of an independent ballot. It will undoubtedly be an interesting election in the Western Cape, but our recent elections have shown that we are ready and that we will emerge as a party of governance with outright majority post-election day next year.

Alec Hogg: Just to clarify, the ballot on independence.

Tertuis Simmers: As far as we know from our national representatives who have engaged with the IEC, we are accustomed to having two ballot papers for the national election and the provincial election. However, now there will be a third ballot paper for independent candidates. The specific details, such as the threshold to be met, will be communicated by the IEC at an appropriate time. So, currently, there will be three ballot papers. The technical aspects of how this will work will be fully explained by the IEC once all the necessary preparations have been completed.

Alec Hogg: So, just to clarify, it’s not a vote for Western Cape independence from South Africa; it’s a vote for independent candidates.

Tertuis Simmers: Exactly, I’m glad I could provide clarity on that. By demonstrating that effective governance is possible when a party works in the best interest of its citizens and electorate, we offer hope to the rest of South Africa. We are proud to be part of South Africa, and as the Democratic Alliance, we remain committed to saving the country. However, we also recognise the dangers of concentrating too much power in one dominant governing party. That’s why we advocate for devolution of more powers to provinces, as reflected in our Provincial Powers Bill, which is progressing through its legislative course. We govern in the best interest of the people of the Western Cape, and we aim to showcase that working together is possible if the governing party prioritises the needs of the electorate and the broader community.

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