Opinionista Carien Du Plessis 19 August 2011

If you can’t beat them, join them and tip the scales

Their first anniversary passed almost unnoticed this week, but that’s bound to happen if the wedding itself wasn’t a particularly glamorous affair in the first place. Rather it was a matter-of-fact ceremony in the decidedly uncharming Kempton Park Civic Centre.

The bubbly was missing, and heck, the only food I can remember were two spongy long-life rolls in plastic wrappers kindly rescued from somewhere for me by a kind and practical DA “tannie” to be guzzled while I frantically filed my story after the briefing in a bid to beat my deadline.

The DA’s chairman of the federal executive James Selfe had to field champagne questions, and instead of a cork he somewhat nervously cracked a joke that it was still too early to party. The alliance was not yet tested at that point, and there were a few loose ends. So we celebrated with bottled water instead.

And now, a year and five days later, it’s too busy for festivities as the partners are caught up in the politics of their respective offices.

On Monday 15 August, their red-letter day, Western Cape Premier and DA leader Helen Zille was indignantly scribbling pages of response to newspaper allegations of tender maladministration by her government, while mayor Patricia de Lille in the City of Cape Town was dodging rubbish missiles and dousing dustbin flames as municipal workers went on their annual rampage.

At least the men in the party – or at least two of them in Parliament – got to shake hands and congratulate each other. Selfe, and the ID’s leader in Parliament Joe McGulwa chatted on their anniversary and vowed to celebrate in style next Tuesday – when they both have their birthdays.

The ID is still a party in Parliament until 2014, but on local government level it exists no longer and its councillors and mayors stood under a DA banner. The local elections also brought the most glorious moment in the DA and ID’s union, but it presented the first real test for their marriage. Some, like individuals upset about not getting on the party’s lists or not getting nominated for mayors, or others who were uneasy about being associated with a liberal/opposition party like the DA, crossed to the ANC. The DA, with the help of the ID, managed just under 24% of the vote, a healthy growth of almost 7.8% since the 2006 elections.

This was partly due to many ANC voters staying away from the polls due to unhappiness with their own party or with their governments, the DA managed to mobilise its supporters (and those of the ID) to vote for the party in large numbers.

DA analysts reckon the parties delivered more than the sum of their parts and together attracted more votes than they would have done had they contested the elections separately and then added their votes.

So far so good for the marriage. It seems to have grown South Africa’s biggest opposition party into a force big enough to scare ANC leaders into nasty, racist expletives.

On a personal level it also probably saved De Lille’s career, because her own party was a sinking ship and would perhaps not even have survived the 2014 general elections. It’s not been all plain sailing. For instance, certain people in the ID had rubbed the DA up incorrectly by insisting on greater openness in party political funding.

The DA, however, like the ANC and a few others, prefers to remain discreet about its figures, ostensibly because the party fears funders would be victimised or ostracised by the ANC government.

The ANC Youth League raised the other problem, scolding De Lille about appointing relatives in close places. So, for instance, De Lille’s sister Sarah Paulse got a job in government a few years back and relatives got good jobs in ID-ruled municipalities.

Zille chose not to make these her problem. She said the appointments had been made under ID rules and had nothing to do with the DA. All future appointments were to take place under strict DA rules, Zille said.

Selfe said the union had gone particularly well so far, with the DA having learnt from previous assimilations, such as when the Democratic Party and the New National Party in 2000 signed an agreement to establish the DA.

Less than a year later, though, divorce came and the NNP reconstituted and crossed to the ANC. Not many of those from the old NNP who chose to remain in the DA are still around. There are also plans for bringing more partners into this marriage as smaller parties keep getting smaller and are on the outlook for lifelines.

Many liberals reckon that opposition parties have to unite and stand together to challenge the ANC in future elections to establish a strong democracy.

But the growth of the opposition, like the DA, has been at a snail’s pace so far. The party is hoping to give the ANC a run for its money in the 2014 and 2019 local government elections, but many analysts haven’t been too confident about this.

How about joining them, then? Opposition parties seem to be worried, among others, about the calibre of ANC presidents. These are elected by the ruling party itself, at its elective conferences – the next of which is at the end of next year. According to the current system the leader of the ruling party is almost certainly to be nominated and elected president.

Given the current plan by the ANC Youth League to “swell the ranks” of the ANC by sending its members to ANC branch meetings and getting them to become delegates to the ANC’s elective conference next year, the country’s next president is set to be designated by a bunch of kids.

Right now the best way to fight for a better calibre of ruling party would be to follow the youth’s method of flooding ANC branches with members who will eventually get to go to next year’s elective conference where they will vote for the candidate of the Youth League’s choice.

Many ANC members who had left for Cope three years ago because they didn’t like Zuma, are now being lured back on this basis – that their numbers and influence could help those in the party who wanted Zuma out or who simply wanted to hear stronger voices coming from the ruling party.

So it seems political opposition marriages are all fine and well, but the real solution still lies within the ANC’s rather large household. DM

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