South Africa

2019 Elections

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: The DA concludes its 2019 campaign in Dobsonville, reminds SA of ANC’s mistakes

DA leader Mmusi Maimane addressed the party's final rally ahead of the 2019 elections at Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Greg Nicolson

The DA has resorted to the tried and tested recipe of using fear, promises and confetti at its final rally before Wednesday’s elections in Soweto’s Dobsonville Stadium.

The programme on Saturday was pretty much a repeat of the DA’s manifesto launch rally less than three months ago, down to the same performers, timetable, and promises.

There were, however, some differences from the last time Maimane addressed a crowd in this stadium, in the party’s final rally before the 2016 elections, when everything was fresh and new for him. He was elected party leader in 2015, and being from Dobsonville, he used the opportunity to try to convince non-traditional DA voters to follow his living example. In 2016 Maimane explained his journey from being a young boy who played in those dusty streets and who voted for the ANC of Nelson Mandela in 1999, through to being the disillusioned leader of the opposition that he is today.

This year is only the second election campaign during which the DA has held big rallies like this. The buses were slow to arrive at the rally and proceedings started almost 30 minutes late, to a stadium that still had many empty seats. Organisers claimed the DA’s buses were blocked in Alexandra by taxi operators who wanted a fee for the buses using “their” routes. Just outside Dobsonville Stadium, a group of people in ANC colours were having a picnic, something which DA Gauteng leader John Moodey said was a sign of the party panicking. Around Orlando Stadium the EFF was already mobilising supporters to come to its rally the next day. At least no incidents were reported, a sign of a maturing democracy.

When the DA first started having rallies like these in 2016, there were some big shifts. It gained three metros in cooperation with other opposition parties – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay – and effectively relegated Jacob Zuma’s ANC to a party of rural power and urban opposition. But that was then, and Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC is somewhat more appealing to the same kind of voters the DA is after. The party also since lost Nelson Mandela Bay when that cooperation agreement between opposition parties fell apart. The DA’s long-standing goal of winning Gauteng and the Northern Cape seems further off the closer it comes to each election; 2019 hasn’t been an easy campaign for the party either.

DA supporters filled the Dobsonville Stadium on Saturday for the party’s final rally ahead of the 2019 elections. Photo: Greg Nicolson

Opinion polls have so far not indicated the same massive upward shift for the DA, and while the ANC was almost panicking some months back about not getting 50 percent in Gauteng, it seems to be more confident now.

There is even talk of working with the EFF where it does fall short, and Maimane didn’t hesitate to use speculation to this effect to his advantage. “They are now organising themselves into a new coalition,” he said of the ANC and the EFF. “If you vote for that man [President Cyril Ramaphosa] you are voting for corruption. You are voting for a merger.”

He continued by saying the ANC caused suffering in the past 25 years, and now want people to put them in power so they “can steal for another five years”. He reminded the crowd of Ramaphosa’s involvement in calling the police to take action the day before 34 miners at Marikana were shot down, and he said Ramaphosa was deputy president when much of the looting of state coffers took place under Zuma.

Some of this was directed at those who voted DA before, but are now thinking of strengthening Ramaphosa’s hand against detractors in his party by giving the ANC a strong majority. Many of these would be urban voters and living in Gauteng.

Maimane also signalled that the DA would be willing to enter future coalitions to rule, accusing those who discourage the party from going into coalitions of scaremongering and fuelling mistrust.

“You will find us at the heart of coalition governments, as we build a strong centre in South African politics, free from the divisions of the past,” he said. “The DA represents the future of our changing nation. We may not be perfect, but we’re honest, we work hard and we have a plan to completely reform our country.”

He cast the net wide to speak to both the DA’s traditional but straying (read: white) voters, and non-traditional (read: black) voters, by promising everything from doubling the R410 monthly child grant to the protection of minority rights.

Much of his speech reminded voters that they should be disappointed with the ANC’s track record:

“I know South Africans are scared about the future. All of us – black and white, young and old – are worried about what tomorrow will bring.”

He outlined the reasons why South Africans should feel disappointed – crime and impunity, vast corruption, greed, crowded classrooms and teachers not committed to the job, Marikana, Life Esidimeni, unemployment and poverty – and accused ANC leaders of standing in the way of freedom for South Africans.

“They were once our liberators, but today we need to be liberated from our liberators,” he said. He didn’t, however, talk about black economic empowerment. It’s a sore point in the party.

Even though former DA leader Tony Leon and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille were called in towards the tail end of the DA’s campaign to appeal to the straying traditional voters, they weren’t at Saturday’s rally. The DA is now a fully Maimane’s party.

He told supporters in closing:

“This is our moment in history. It’s now or never.”

If on Wednesday the DA doesn’t show growth, or even lose support, this could become truth for Maimane’s leadership too. DM

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