South Africa


Latest DA exit – Patricia Kopane – suggests more attractive options for black leaders elsewhere

Latest DA exit – Patricia Kopane – suggests more attractive options for black leaders elsewhere
Patricia Kopane has resigned as an MP and DA member. Archive Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Monday the latest resignation of a high-profile black DA leader came from MP Patricia Kopane, the party’s former Free State leader. Kopane is defecting to Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, in a move which is becoming increasingly common for the DA’s ex-representatives.

When the DA’s Makashule Gana announced his resignation from the party in early August, federal council chair Helen Zille was not impressed by the media’s insistence on highlighting the fact that Gana’s exit was the latest in a series of departures of black DA leaders.

Terming Gana’s resignation “normal”, Zille posted on Facebook a list of black DA public representatives who remained in the party. Among them was MP Patricia Kopane.

Just ten days later, Zille’s list will need updating. On Monday, Kopane announced her resignation as both an MP and a member of the DA.

Kopane has been one of the DA’s stalwarts for close on two decades, joining the party in 2003 and rising to the position of Free State provincial leader, a post to which she declined re-election in 2020. DA loyalty runs within Kopane’s family: her father James Letuka is a Member of the Free State Provincial Legislature.

In her resignation statement, Kopane made no mention of any racial issues within the party, and stressed that she harboured “no ill-will to the DA” and “the many good people who remain within the party”.

But Kopane also wrote: “The truth is that I no longer believe that the DA is the political vehicle that I joined in 2003. I do not feel that I belong in the DA or that I have the space to make the political contributions to my country”.

As much as it angers Zille, it would be bizarre not to note that Kopane’s resignation comes as part of what the Sunday World recently termed “Blaxit”.

The list of prominent black leaders the DA has lost in recent years, in addition to Kopane and Gana, includes former Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi, DA KZN star Mbali Ntuli, former Gauteng leader John Moodey, former MP Phumzile van Damme, former Johannesburg leader Funzi Ngobeni, and former Tshwane leader Abel Tau.

After Gana’s resignation, Zille wrote that departing black DA representatives “become an overnight celebrity and are elevated, retrospectively, to a position of ‘senior leadership’ in the party (which is rarely the case)”.

From the list above, however, it is hard to make the claim that the figures the DA is losing are no-name individuals the media is over-hyping in order to create drama where none exists. Those departed figures are provincial party heads, members of top party structures, metro leaders, high-profile MPs, mayoral candidates…

And there are several other party figures in similarly significant positions who Daily Maverick understands are currently mooting defections too.

But there is one sense in which Zille has a point about media double standards. Less attention has been paid to the white figures who have been leaving the party in recent years, such as the DA’s Gauteng provincial director Michael Beaumont, former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip, and DA leader John Steenhuisen’s chief of staff Graham Charters.

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What is interesting about all these departures, regardless of the race of those involved, is that DA defectors are overwhelmingly heading in one of three directions.

The first is ActionSA, the political party started by yet another black DA deserter: Herman Mashaba.

The evidence of internal turmoil in ActionSA following the 2021 local government elections — including the ousting of Makhosi Khoza and purging of other representatives — has apparently not lessened the sense from some former DA leaders that Mashaba’s party may offer a promising political future. Neither, apparently, have the accusations of xenophobia which have dogged ActionSA from the outset.

It is to ActionSA that Patricia Kopane is headed, with Kopane terming Mashaba’s outfit “an exciting new party” on Monday.

There she will find former colleagues Trollip, Beaumont, Baloyi, Ngobeni, Tau, Moodey and probably many more.

It is now clear that ActionSA is by some margin the political home of choice for former DA representatives.

But there are two other interesting potential destinations. One is the One South Africa Movement, former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s platform to assist independent candidates in elections. (This is where Charters went, to name just one).

The other, around which there is a growing buzz, is former Business Day editor Songezo Zibi’s Rivonia Circle, which is busily at work building a grass-roots network of activists which looks likely to develop into a formal political party. Both Gana and Ntuli have expressed enthusiasm for this project, which seeks to harness the talents of the black professional class in South Africa.

While the DA might not be fond of the scrutiny and criticism that tends to come the party’s way following each new departure, these exits can also be viewed as part of the maturation of South African opposition politics in a way that is healthy for the country at large.

The DA has, after all, truly come of age when it has splinter parties — much as the ANC has Cope and the EFF — winning significant votes in national elections.

But on the less positive side for the DA, its black leaders in particular now have genuine options within the liberal opposition for alternative places to take their political skills, intellects and energies if it is felt that those qualities are not sufficiently recognised by the DA. Whatever Zille might say, that should be a wake-up call for the party. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rowan G says:

    Why people are heading to ASA when it has demonstrated that it’s imploding in KZN, I have no idea.

  • Rudd van Deventer van Deventer says:

    Sorry for the DA but this is good for democracy. If she had gone to the ANC it would have been really newsworthy. All part of building a vibrant opposition.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    I do not view these moves as the catastrophe for the DA that members of the media like to make them out to be. If South Africa is ever to get off its knees again, the number one priority is to vote the ANC out of power in 2024. Despite the inevitable current sparring between the DA and Action SA, their political philosophies have much in common and would be perfect bedfellows in coalition governments.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Another Rebecca Davis DA bash. Was wondering when it was coming.

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    It is natural that black politicians want to take leading roles in South African politics.
    There are numerous new political movements underway with lots of positions up for grabs and it is quite natural that these politicians would want to participate in the excitement and opportunity. It is sheer opportunism to try and use this to discredit the DA who are doing a sterling job at the moment.
    The DA has existed in various forms for over 60 years and it is simply a matter of fact rather than racism that upper echelons are filled with experienced people who have worked their way to the top over many years.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      The DA is doing a good job in some respects, but not in all. Especially regarding housing the DA is not doing much better than the ANC, and housing is a ticking time bomb that can destroy SA if not attended to. Which is more, politics and government exists to create stability so people can feel safe in the streets and I am not convinced that the DA has the answers to that. But they can contribute, like many other political parties. So I am looking forward to 2024 with the hope that a coalition will come to existence that will be more versatile than the options available at the moment.

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