Opinionista Ryland Fisher 22 April 2013

DA on a hiding to nothing if it keeps focusing on the past

If the official opposition has any hope of putting put a dent in the ANC’s control of Parliament it is going to have to convince South Africans that the ruling party has not done enough to win their votes and does not have a plan to improve their material conditions over the next few years.

Elections are strange things and they seem to have a strange effect on many, particularly the political parties who expect us to put our crosses next to their names on a ballot paper.

It is roughly still a year to go before the 2014 national general elections, but already politicians are starting to behave badly and, if the events of the past week or so are anything to go by, we are in for a torrid ride over the next few months as elections fever heats up.

There are members of the ANC who used to joke that Julius Malema was working for the Democratic Alliance, because of the way in which he helped to chase potential voters away from the ANC and probably to the DA.

Well, the person who devised the DA’s latest campaign, to assert its history, probably deserves some sort of a medal from the ANC. The campaign is meant to remind potential voters about the DA’s struggle credentials but will probably only serve the interests of the ANC.

I don’t always agree with former DA leader Tony Leon but I had to nod in approval at his comments that, in a scrap over the past, the DA would come off second best to the ANC.

Leon was reported in a weekend newspaper as saying: “You’ve got to stay in the future business; if you get into a contest about the past, the ANC is going to beat you every time.

“There’s always a danger, if you start reliving the past, that a lot of inconvenient truths come out. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, some are heroic and some not so heroic.”

The truth is that much has happened in South Africa in the 20 years or so since the struggle, and not all of it is good.

But beginning even before 1994, the DA had gone from the Progressive Federal Party to the Democratic Party, merging along the way with Dennis Worrall and Wynand Malan’s parties (whose names I forget) and finally ending up as the DA, in a marriage with former Nationalists.

Of course, the ANC also changed and embraced, firstly, ethnic parties such as the Labour Party, which had been resisted by anti-Apartheid activists not too long ago, and parties which controlled the former homelands, which formed a strong component of Apartheid South Africa.

For those who don’t remember homelands, they were where black people were supposed to live in the bad old days (not too long ago).

The ANC today also contains some remnants of the former Nationalist Party, the same party it had fought so hard against in the struggle.

But Leon is right. If the DA is going to focus on the struggle years, it is going to lose out to the ANC.

Many people saw the ANC as the vanguard of the liberation movement. Not many people remember the role of other organisations that also opposed Apartheid. The party of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu was at the centre of the struggle and, rightly or wrongly, enjoyed international support because of this. It was not a surprise therefore that the ANC won the first democratic elections in 1994 by such an overwhelming majority.

The ANC had successfully marginalised the contribution of organisations such as the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People’s Organisation, among others.

The previous incarnations of the DA were seen as white political parties operating in a white political environment from which blacks were excluded.

I believe that next year’s election is not going to be about the past, but rather about what is happening at the moment and who is doing what right.

Yes, we can still see the effects of Apartheid all around us in South Africa, but 20 years down the line, people are starting to ask how long it is going to take to deal with the issues caused by Apartheid. People are also starting to see that some issues cannot be blamed entirely on Apartheid.

The ANC-led government is going to have to convince potential voters that it has done enough over the past few years to address the problems concerning the electorate. It will have to also convince the electorate that it has a plan to address the issues that it has not yet addressed.

The DA and other opposition parties are going to have to convince the electorate that the ANC has not done enough to win their votes and does not have a plan to change their material conditions over the next few years.

This is what the debate in South Africa should be about in the run-up to the elections; not about who has the strongest struggle credentials and who did what in the past.

I have no problem with who is in which party nowadays, and where they come from, as long as they deliver services to the poorest of the poor. For instance, I will not judge Terror Lekota on his struggle credentials in the same way as I will not judge Mac Maharaj or Helen Zille on their struggle credentials.

It is my humble opinion that the ANC realises that it can no longer just depend on people to vote for it based on its past and, as such, the DA is playing into the hands of the ANC by focusing on the past.

I would rather want to see what both parties, and others, are going to do to improve the lives of the majority of our people who still live in abject poverty and without access to basic services.

Twenty years into our democracy, that should be a concern to all of us, irrespective of our pasts. DM

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