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Staying on the road to success: Advice to the DA

Staying on the road to success: Advice to the DA

While we’ve all had fun separating the winners (we say the DA), from the losers (not us, says Gwede Mantashe, we did get more than 62%) of last week’s elections, the time for real hard “where the hell are we and what do we do now” thinking is upon us. We gave our (unsolicited) advice to the ANC yesterday, we thought it only fair that the DA now suffer the same privilege. By that chap who always keeps his opinions to himself, STEPHEN GROOTES.

Okay, you did well. Now get over it. Because the hard part is only just beginning. So have a nice cold glass of mineral water, because the era of spin is over. Really, we mean it. You’ve done really well with the hard spin, the image polishing, the clever words, the better media strategy than anyone else and yes, your really intelligent and cunning use of Twitter (and it was particularly cunning when we hapless journos were trying to make sense of the numbers pouring into the IEC last week). Don’t junk all of that, but take the lesson from what happened with “New Labour”: They took all the tricks of opposition into government and Alastair Campbell became the story. You need to be better than that. You need to show you’re a party of governance by simply governing really well. Making the hard choices properly.

There are a few temptations you need to avoid. The first is drop the legalistic approach. If you’re making a decision and there’s someone with a legal degree in the room, ask them to keep quiet. Really. The Makhaza toilet saga should never have ended with you long-dropping from your own goal line. Imagine how much fun you would have had if you’d been able to point fingers at Viljoenskroon without holding your own nose. Don’t make mistakes like that again. You are not competing for the position of Bar chairman; you are competing for the votes of people who will be interested only in how much you care for others. It’s that simple.

You have to care and also be perceived to be caring for the poor. Yes, generally speaking, we mean black. You have to do more of what you’ve been doing in Kya Sands (where a DA councillor took the City of Joburg to the Human Rights Commission because there had been no development) and less of what happened in Makhaza. Don’t give your enemies the opportunity to ever cast you as uncaring. If you do, they will sink you.

You need to come up with an ideology that is more inclusive, and, more importantly, you need to keep it cohesive. At the moment most people still vote with their identities. The DA cannot do that any longer. It needs to be different. Merely claiming to be “South African” or “truly multiracial” will only work as long as Julius Malema is around. Thus there needs to be a guiding philosophy that will transcend Malema. That’s going to be tricky, you cannot just be about economic freedom (sounds too much like you’re a party for rich whities), you cannot just be about equal opportunity (sounds too anti-affirmative action) and you cannot be for “a better life for all” (because that’s taken).

The hard part is going to be keeping it all coherent. Because the ongoing arguments about ideology and policy are the reasons so many people are so critical of the ANC; because they’ve not always managed those conflicts well, they caused them serious damage. You need to look out for the same problem.

There’s another ANC problem that’s beginning to affect the DA. It’s the fact that as it grows (if that is the case), it’s going to attract more chancers. More people who simply shouldn’t be in government and are just attracted to power. Some of those will be your garden variety that just couldn’t quite make it as BEE types and some will be serious nasties harking for the good old pre-’94 days. This means you need to be on your guard. The DA needs to patrol cyberspace like a hawk. If we were the ANC one of the best ways to hole you below the waterline would be to keep a very close eye on what DA members were saying on Facebook. At the slightest hint of something that could be labelled “racist”, we’d keep it for a time when we could do maximum damage. And it doesn’t matter what it really is, it’s about how it can be twisted.

The DA can sometimes come across as arrogant. It’s a complicated thing this – it’s about tone and presentation and that line between taking pride in delivery excellence (a problem the ANC does not appear to have) and sounding like a pompous git. Tone comes across differently to different people, which is not going to make the task any easier. But just be aware of this. Don’t allow anyone to come across as smarmy, or too-clever-by-half. Because, as Douglas Adams always used to remind us, no one likes a smart-arse. It doesn’t matter that certain ANC rallies have Maseratis parked outside, it matters how you will come across.

Now we come to the biggie. Race. Oh hell, this is tricky. To be crude, the DA has gone from the liberal white leader to the white with revolutionary credentials leader… what’s next? Well, obviously a black leader. But Helen Zille has been excellent so far, and certainly deserves a crack at another national election (not that “deserves” has anything to do with politics). Next year is probably too soon to change leaders anyway. But we all know that to become a party of truly national stature that poster will have to change. It’s missing a black man, and for this to really work, he’ll probably have to be in the middle. Lindiwe Mazibuko is fantastic at what she does, but might not have mass appeal. Sorry Lindiwe, to be so personal about it, but accent matters in these things. Mmusi Maimane is closer (Dobsonville), but too young and fresh and idealistic. That ideal person isn’t just there as far as we can see yet. Zille is always very clear that “we grow our own timber in the DA”, so that person may not be far away.

In last week’s Sunday Times political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi stuck his neck out quite far by suggesting “I think there will be no DA in 2014. A new opposition party would have been formed. In the next three years, the discussion will be on policy and values of the new party.” It’s quite a thing to say. But he might be right. A lot could depend on Cope, because what the DA has in spades is what Cope’s missing. Organisation. But whether Cope could bring the identity the DA needs is another question altogether. (Almost certainly not. – Ed)

During the climax of this last campaign Zille kept saying this was about “service delivery, service delivery and service delivery”. The DA is beginning to play well on that playing field. Playing on the field marked “identity” is going to be much harder. It goes uphill for you. But score at least a few goals on this field they must if they are to play in the big winning league.  And that will be enough to keep the ANC cadres awake at night. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.

Photo: Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille casts her vote during the South African municipal elections in Cape Town May 18, 2011. South Africa holds elections on Wednesday for its 278 municipalities in a race that will be seen as a barometer of the strength of President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham.


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