A third factor is simple poor campaign organisation. The success of the DA in South Africa prior to 2019 holds a big lesson: elections are often won between elections — by building up relationships with voters on the ground through persistent communication and permanent presence.
A consistent trend throughout the southern African region was the weak campaigning of opposition parties and poor on-the-ground presence.
In many respects, incumbent parties had an open goal for much of the run-up to their elections.
The playing field is most certainly not level. Resources are difficult to generate for opposition parties and candidates, and media access is often constrained to opposition leaders, but you cannot wake up and spring into action three to four months ahead of election day.
The campaigns for Elections 2023 and 2024 must begin now.
A fourth, emerging factor is the lack of engagement and participation in elections by an increasing number of southern Africans.
For the first time in South Africa, turnout dipped below 70% in a general election. 46% of an estimated nine million eligible South Africans, who did not cast their vote, were aged between 20 and 29.
In Namibia, turnout dropped by more than 10 percentage points.
In Mozambique, voter turnout hovered around the 50% mark. While turnout is still relatively high in Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe, more needs to be done by opposition parties to expand the electorate by registering and encouraging the participation of younger voters as well as those seeking change.
2019 may not have been the momentous year opposition parties hoped it would be. But it certainly could be pivotal in shaping how opposition parties and movements position themselves.
By grabbing the mantle of change and reform, by fostering unity and building organisations focused on permanent campaigning, and by working to boost turnout, opposition parties may have a greater chance than the results of 2019 suggested.
The sustainability of democracy in the region depends on it.- Daily Maverick