The Democratic Alliance is proud of its “blue machine” election apparatus, and much of the time rightfully so. Both polls and anecdotal evidence show that its smart application of money and volunteer labour served it well, even if some mechanisms (notably its SMSes and robocalls to registered voters) have also led to annoyance.

But in the final days of campaigning this week, the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) both made the DA look plodding, sticking to its mechanical approach while its bigger and smaller rivals pulled off publicity triumphs.

Across all the battleground metros, and in several smaller but key races, undecided voters were a vital constituency, making the final impressions of each party as campaigning wrapped up more important than in any prior local government election.

The EFF went into Tuesday with the picture of a grinning Julius Malema seated next to former president Thabo Mbeki splashed across the pages of many newspapers, and articles on their meeting were prominent in or leading every other newspaper.

The photo was a masterstroke of dog-whistle politics, sending different messages to different groups of people.