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The DA and ‘Struggle’ language mix like oil and water

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

It is accepted marketing folly to define yourself in terms of what you are not. This is most obvious when a company or brand tries to tell consumers what it is by emphasising that it is not [insert: competitor slogan]. Why then should the DA try to define what it is and stands for by using language so blatantly associated with the ANC tripartite alliance?

“Viva, DA, viva”, the refrain went on SABC2. I tittered into my breakfast bowl of hearty Coco Pops and browning milk.

Last time I checked, the Democratic Alliance was whinging about not getting airtime of its rallies on any of the public broadcaster’s television channels. Yes, how terribly unfair. Although you’d imagine it would be trying to get its rallies broadcast on DStv. Relevant target audience, and all that.

At any rate, there it was on SABC2: the DA’s election campaign launch in Kliptown on Saturday. So now that the DA and the SABC have managed to iron out their differences, what did Mzansi’s second most popular political party have to say to the people who routinely watch what is snidely called Recession TV by the more cynical of my friends?

The 10% of communication stuff, the prepared speeches and stories about successful municipalities was very impressive. The DA has always intended to run on its immediate track record. This is a party that stolidly believes that “right now” is the most important time frame in a country where the past matters more than anything else, after all.

Funny then that the unspoken part of communication, the DA’s overtures were so strongly about “the past”. You’d have to be completely ignorant of South Africa’s history not to understand what the phrase “Viva [political party], viva” and “Amandla” are supposed to convey. These are phrases most commonly associated with the ANC, the SACP and the UDF. Bread-and-butter “Struggle era” stuff. Very odd to hear it at a DA rally, that. No, you can’t argue that the DA only means “viva” in the Latin “long live” sense. As unlikely as the cadres of the ANC mean “fishing buddy” when they call each other “comrade”?

These slogans just aren’t the DA. Using them is insincere.

Our chief communist and minister in charge of educating tomorrow’s middle-class (Jacob Zuma does have a fantastic sense of humour) Blade Nzimande may not have been far off the mark when he made amusing remarks about the DA spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko’s upbringing and accent in Parliament. Look, she’s not exactly a desk-thumping malcontent, with township grit between her toes, is she? Neither, I’ll warrant, is the majority of the DA’s personnel. I can make this observation because, well, neither am I. “Model C” doesn’t exactly apply to me (if I called my friends “my chinas”, they’d probably decapitate me with a Hunter’s bottle), but I definitely am on the Mazibuko side of the darkie scale. So what are she and Patricia de Lille doing up there saying “viva”?

Why can’t the DA own the fact that it is not the ANC? The ANC is the party of the disaffected poor. It talks as the disaffected poor do. It acts, dare I say, as the disaffected poor do. So why can’t the DA embrace its own identity? How impressive would it be if Helen Zille, Mazibuko and De Lille would get up and say, “We’re not the ANC. We’re not the communists and we’re not the trade unions. And that’s fine. It doesn’t mean political death. Here’s what we ARE. Here’s the basis on which we want you to vote for us.”

I’m tempted to think that the DA, having decided to pander at last to its majority black members, had a brainstorming session where it thought up a bunch of “black phrases” to say at rallies. That won’t make the party any more attractive to township voters. The mere fact that the likes of Makashule Gana, who speaks in a guttural township accent, are wearing DA colours is enough pique the curiosity of Kliptown residents who are tired of the ANC. There’s really no need to be borrowing the language of the ANC to attract that party’s former voters.

The DA is launching its “Cape Town Story” document on Monday 28 March, which it says is a “full analysis of how the City of Cape Town has been transformed under the DA’s leadership into the best-run metro in South Africa”. That’s its election strategy and one that is very convincing.

The slogans at the Kliptown rally were not in line with its strategy. It can’t be very difficult for the DA to come up with evocative things to shout that don’t make us watching laugh at them. DM

Despite appearances, Sipho Hlongwane is not The Daily Maverick’s Democratic Alliance correspondent. He is merely fascinated at how a political party with so much potential can get the easy things so dreadfully wrong.


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