We are publishing this post one day after the annual commemoration of the 22nd year of democracy in South Africa, aptly called the Freedom Day.

2016 is the year of local elections

South Africa’s local government elections are taking place on the 3rd of August 2016. Jostling for votes is about to hit fever pitch as the two largest political parties  – the ANC and the DA – launched their manifestos in the two past weekends. The 3rd largest party – the EFF – is scheduled to launch its manifesto on the 30th of April.
With all the interesting political twists and turns since December 2015, it is widely anticipated that the coming elections are going to be a bruising battle since the dawn of democracy. However, we leave the speculations and political commentary to the experts and analysts, and we stick to what we know best.

Top 11 South African politicians: Twitter followers

We went through top 500 South African Twitter handles, out of which we compiled a list of  top 11 politicians. Here they are:

Sources: Social Bakers and Twitter Counter


From a political party point of view, the Big 3 all have 3 active politicians each in the top 11. On the strength of absolute follower numbers alone, the EFF rules the Twitter roost.
All the leaders of the Big 3 are in the top 11. South Africa’s President and leader of the ANC – Jacob Zuma – is 4th. Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, is 5th. Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, is on top spot.
Julius Malema and Helen Zille (former leader of DA) are far ahead of the rest of the pack.
Only one portfolio minister – Fikile Mbalula (Sport and Recreation) is in the top 11. In addition, only one politician – Helen Zille (Western Cape Premier) – is in the local government structures.
Two politicians – Lindiwe Mazibuko (formerly leader of DA in parliament) and Mamphela Ramphele (founder and former leader of Agang) – currently do not hold office, and their Twitter profiles do not indicate that they are part of their former or any other parties. However, their inclusion in the top 11 is based on rationale that they grew and continue to draw followers based on their historical political roles.
Jackson Mthembu, the newly-appointed ANC chief whip, closes the top 11 and leads with growth of followers in last six months.

Tweeting behaviours

The tweeting behaviours of the top 11 politicians vary, as the 2 graphs below show.

Source: Klear
The stacked bars with percentages indicate politicians that lead in specific tweeting activities compared to the rest of the top 11.


Analysis of tweeting frequencies of the top 11 does not indicate a clear political party-based pattern for social media participation. The party where there is some pattern is the EFF, as the frequencies of its three officials – Malema, Shivambu and Ndlozi – do not differ drastically.
On average, top 3 Twitter activities by the top 11 South African politicians are RT (37%), Replies(25%) and plain tweets (23%).
Minister Fikile Mbalula is the most prolific politician, with an average of 1 tweet every hour. In addition, the Minister posts up to 3 pictures with every ten tweets, the highest contribution of this content type in the top 11. This is remarkable, given the time needed to take/source and select the right pictures for posting. This is an indication that the Minister and/or his social media team spend a fair amount of time on Twitter.
Helen Zille is the second most prolific politician on Twitter with 17 tweets/day. In addition, she leads the top 11 in the contribution of Replies to her tweet volume. On average, Madam Premier posts 7 Replies in every ten tweets. No doubt Helen and/or her team monitor relevant Twitter mentions closely, and we suspect her response rate is the highest in the top 11.
The South African President’s last tweet was posted more than a year ago, clearly indicating that this media channel is not a priority for him and his Communications team. This is also supported by the following stats:
  • – 77 of the 100 posted tweets were plain, 13 had links, 6 were RT’s and 3 had pictures. The large number of plain tweets, as a percentage of total, can be read as an indication that the President was only keen on broadcasting on this medium, not engaging.
Lindiwe Mazibuko has the largest contribution of RT’s and mentions to her tweet volume of the top 11. Despite having been away from South Africa for close to two years now, she is still in touch with and actively engaging about the country’s political issues on Twitter.

Engagement and influence

Analysis of engagement to the top 11’s posts and their influence on Twitter revealed interesting findings.


Despite President Zuma’s Twitter inactivity, he has received the highest engagement – made up of Replies and RT’s –  by the Twitter massive by far. Note that we have not included sentiment analysis of the top 11 South African politicians in this blog post. Thus, we cannot comment on whether the enthusiastic engagement with Mr. Zuma’s posts has been positive or not.
Julius Malema and Minister Fikile Mbalula are second and third in the engagement stakes respectively.
According to the Kred social influence tool, Helen Zille is the most influential South African politician. We are not surprised, as Madam Premier is the most responsive (based on her Replies as indicated above) of top 11 (see Tweeting Activities graph above). Julius Malema and Minister Mbalula are close second and third behind her, and this is also not surprising.

Additional findings:

The top 11 South African politicians have high Twitter followers mainly due to any combination of the following three factors:
  • – The political office they hold, e.g. President of the country or leader a prominent political party; and/or
  • – The level and type of Twitter activity – Premier Zille and Minister Mbalula; and/or
  • – Political/personal/social profile – Mamphela Ramphele and Lindiwe Mazibuko
We found one exception to the rule – Solly Msimanga. While this politician – DA’s Mayoral candidate for Tshwane – has a strong political profile within his party, his name is not popular on Twitter (second lowest influence score), nor is he very active on this social network (lowest tweeting frequency). We are not certain why he has such a large Twitter following, hence this makes him the exception.
There are varying levels of management of the Twitter accounts.
  • – Helen Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Fikile Mbalula, Mmusi Maimane and Jackson Mthembu appear to be running their own Twitter accounts, or are in direct control of teams that run these on their behalf.
  • – Twitter accounts of the EFF trio appear to be integrated and centrally managed by a dedicated team, with some level of personal participation by the owners.
  • – The President’s account has been run by his Communications team from the beginning, and he has hardly tweeted in his personal capacity.
  • – It is not clear how Mamphela Ramphele and Solly Msimanga run their Twitter accounts.

In closing:

The most recent annual report by Portland Communications, the 3rd since 2013, shows that Africa uses Twitter much more for engagement in political topics than the US and the UK.
…almost 1 in 10 [or 10 percent] of the most popular African hashtags in 2015 related to political issues and politicians,  compared to 2 percent of the hashtags in the US and UK.– Portland Communications, 2016
In our observation, South Africa’s political parties have come to appreciate the value of social media in the last 5 years and are actively engaging, both through party and individual accounts.