Cape Town - Marches, posters, rallies and speeches - it’s what voters have come to expect from the political parties in the build-up to the elections.
But there is also an entirely different political battlefield. It’s a place where the megaphone is replaced by the keyboard, where votes hinge on hashtags, “likes” and retweets.
It may not yet be vital to success, but social media is playing an increasingly important role in sending messages to a wider audience.
There are endless examples of how platforms such as Twitter have shaped the current political climate, from Barack Obama’s so-called “Facebook” electioneering in 2011 - where the US president used the platform to connect with the country’s younger voters - to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s online campaign, which ultimately helped him secure the elections.
It’s this value the DA is well aware of as it prepares for the elections. The party’s hashtags are a common sight among the country’s top trending topics. The party’s director, Gavin Davis, said there were around 100 000 new South African users on Twitter every month and it’s definitely something the DA wanted to tap into.
“It is simplistic to say that this will be the social media election,” said Davis. “But it is more important this election because far more South Africans are accessing social media than five years ago.”
The party’s online presence was spearheaded by its leader Helen Zille.
With more than 385 000 followers, Zille can often be seen interacting with users or promoting the party’s various hashtags, from #DAdelivers, #TipsforSONA to #TwitterTownHall.
Davis said what made the party unique was that its leadership, including Zille and parliamentary speaker Lindiwe Mazibuko were incredible online, opening up a two-way channel between the DA and voters.
“Another thing is the sheer number of DA branch members, activists, staff members and public representatives active on social media.”
The party has at least 500 members engaging on social media websites.
While the DA was open about its social media strategies, the ANC deflected questions.
In the past, the president’s account (@PresidencyZA) - which has 191 000 followers - has been used to talk to voters and field questions.
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza would not reveal what role the account would play: “Our online strategy is sensitive information. We will not disclose anything, but you must know that we have plans for this.”
The ANC’s account (@MyANC) has the largest following of any of the parties at more than 102 000 followers.
The Economic Freedom Fighters party poses an online threat. While the fledgling party may have just short of 40 000 followers, leader Julius Malema has 425 000 followers.
The EFF party has more than 70 000 likes on Facebook, followed by the DA with 65 000 and the ANC with 46 000.
Part of “The Fighters’” success boils down to their core membership having an already well-established online presence, the other part to an emphasis on young voters who form the bulk of the country’s online users.
While spokesman Mbuyiseni Quintin Ndlozi did not disclose what the EFF’s plans would be for their social media, he said voters should expect “big things”. - Cape Argus