The Democratic Alliance considers a win by its student organisation at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University as the first step to a victory for the party in the metro of the same name, and is encouraged by the shift in the demographics of its support. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
All week the DA has been gushing about the SRC campaign of its student organisation, Daso, more or less a newcomer on the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) campus. Late on Wednesday night, the news came through: the organisation took over control of the council, unseating Sasco which had been in control for eight years, with a slim but not unconvincing majority.
Daso got 1,637 of the votes, the ANC Youth League-aligned Sasco got 1,422 and the Azapo-aligned Azasco had 224 of the votes cast by the students.
Traditionally the polling percentage on campus is small – around 12 to 16% – Daso campus leader Yusuf Cassim said, but what is significant about these votes is that they are mostly cast by black students.
“The majority of students who vote are black, because the majority of students who have needs that they need help with are black students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.The SRC elections are more significant to these students,” he said.
Their issues range from bursaries, loans, access to accommodation, and in general getting support to up pass rates. Currently only half of the students who register for studies walk away with a degree from the university, Cassim said.
“Many of these issues had not been championed for years. This shows a huge shift in the youth towards the DA. The significance is in the change in mindset amongst students, because they are not so much interested in the politics of the past, around which Sasco has been campaigning. In Daso we are not saying forget the past, we acknowledge it, but it’s important to vote for an organisation of the future,” he said.
Asked whether a like or dislike of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema played a role in the elections, Cassim said it was unlikely. Malema had, however, gone to the university in previous years to campaign, and he was received reasonably enthusiastically, but of late some of the ANC-aligned youth leaders in the metro have been opposing him.
Sasco is also not equally supportive of the League on all campuses, but an attempt to speak to the leader of this organisation on campus, Hlumelo Ncopo, failed as he was about to go into a meeting.
What is significant about the NMMU is that it is in the metro of the same name – the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro (Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch), an area that the ANC has to hang onto as a matter of pride, at least – and that it is in the Eastern Cape, a province seen as at the heart of ANC politics, or at least the Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela version of this politics.
The DA has been eyeing the metro since at least 2009, when the emergence of Cope following the ousting of Mbeki (this week it’s been exactly three years) meant that the ANC lost a significant number of disgruntled votes in the province. In fact, it only mustered just over 50% of the votes here, with the rest going to opposition parties.For the first time a victory in this metro looked possible.
In this year’s local government elections, the DA got just over 40% of the votes, following a full-on elections campaign by the ANC, which roped in Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to give its campaign some credence.
DA leader in the legislature and Port Elizabeth resident Bobby Stevenson said Daso’s victory this week boded well for the party’s future in the metro and the province.
“In Cape Town, the DA won at the University of Cape Town first before it took the city,” he said. “South Africans across the board are looking for an alternative.”
He said the DA, also in the Eastern Cape, put a lot of effort into recruiting possible young leaders and ensuring that “a new generation of young, dynamic leaders emerges that will take this party forward”.
He said the DA estimated that at least half of the black people who voted for the party were young people under 30%. Stevenson said the bad governance by the ANC in the Eastern Cape in general meant that people were becoming disillusioned with the ruling party, and that’s why the DA believed it had a strong chance to grow.
The party on Thursday said through its national spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko that Daso’s win “points to a significant and continuing shift in campus politics, in which students have grown tired of Sasco’s bully politics and are choosing Daso, which has become synonymous with clean and efficient SRC government”.
She said although student politics, where a term is only a year long (and not five years as in local or national and provincial government), changed “dramatically from year to year, the exponential growth of Daso at a number of key campuses around South Africa in a few short years points to a significant consolidation of our support from young South Africans.”
The party’s student branch also did well at the recent SRC elections at Rhodes University in nearby Grahamstown, where it won four seats (the only political organisation with enough votes to be represented on the SRC) and at Wits in Johannesburg its voter support grew by 573%. DM
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle