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Throwing success out of the window: DA must learn to choose its battles


Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

It is time that the DA consistently communicates as effectively and efficiently as they govern. Instead, in the last two weeks they have thrown away real political gains to concentrate on old, failed methods of parliamentary posturing.

In the last month the DA has reaped two powerful political dividends from wise investments. First, their performance at the State of the Nation Address debate was the most powerful and popular parliamentary appearance to date. On their Facebook page Mmusi Maimane’s “planet Zuma” video clip got more than 1.1-million views; he looked and sounded like a leader, and the country reacted to him as such. Athol Trollip, at his belligerent best using a mix of mockery and magnificent Xhosa, had social media hopping all over the place with excitement. Then John Steenhuisen (who can sound like an aggrieved sheep at times) gave a blisteringly strong performance – effortlessly scoring points with fluid, fact-filled eloquence.

Two weeks later the results of the national municipal evaluations came out, and the DA emerged as the Municipal Messiah. Nine out 10 of the top municipalities are DA, 12 of the 20 best municipalities are DA, and the 10 worst municipalities are all ANC. Whether you support the DA or not, no one can doubt that they obviously know what they are doing when it comes to municipal government. It was a magnificent achievement – based on hard work and efficient and fair government. It is the best endorsement of their product that they could hope for five months before a municipal election.

How then could they throw that away on a no-win debacle like the “debate of no confidence”? What were they hoping to achieve? The most naïve political animal knew that we weren’t going to wake up with a new SA president. And did we learn anything new about either the DA or the president or the ANC? No. Instead, the DA did exactly what they accuse the ANC of doing – wasted parliamentary time on a hopeless cause. The best result for them would have been to score some political points. It is a paltry little goal, and sadly they did not even achieve that.

They had to know that the ANC caucus were going to fight back with ferocity – which they did. They had to know that since they were using Parliament to attack, that the ANC would do the same with interruptions, heckling, and points of order. They had to know that the ANC caucus must appear loyal and solid for several reasons:

  • First, because the ANC is locked in an internal battle and they need to refocus attention;
  • Second, they are all looking to secure their individual power base;
  • Third, they are in Parliament because they are ANC members.

It is the basic politician’s mix of loyalty and self-interest. It is not rocket science. Knowing all of this, two weeks after Mmusi Maimane gave his best performance in Parliament there he stood again, this time desperate and defensive as the ANC caucus howled and booed with outrage and anger.

Again I ask myself, what were the DA hoping to achieve? If the goal was to appeal to the ANC caucus as individual and patriotic South Africans, and to “see reason” from the DA perspective, then the language that Maimane chose was completely wrong. Hostile, confrontational, and condemnatory, there was only going to be one result to that speech. The majority of Parliament, which has been looking increasingly vulnerable and fractured, was bonded like glue into an outraged, indivisible unit. He did more for ANC parliamentary unity than anyone inside the ruling party. By prompting a vote the DA also allowed the EFF to appear like the power brokers they are not, by simply abstaining.

The only other goal that I can possibly see was to get coverage for themselves as a strong and viable opposition. Since they had nothing new to say about South Africa, the president, themselves or the ANC, how was that supposed to work out? If they felt they had to go through with this debate because they had “booked it” into the parliamentary timetable after the Nene-Van Rooyen debacle then all they needed to do was withdraw, saying that coming so soon after SONA this debate was now unnecessary.

But again and again the DA choose to paint themselves as “anti-Zuma” above everything else. One wonders what they would do if JZ suffered a heart attack. It is as if they suffer from a form of addiction – if they don’t get their regular fix of abusing JZ-ANC they get the political DTs. I am prepared to bet one pair of old, used underwear, which is all the bet is worth, that they did not win one more vote, tempt one ANC personality into defection, or earn one more iota of support among their followers. In fact, I will bet two pairs of old socks that they diluted their support, closed the door on possible defections and lost votes.

Choosing your battles is simple common sense and they have a real fight coming up. SONA and the municipal evaluations gave them great ammunition. The debate was a waste of time and energy. If their municipalities ran themselves this way they would not be sweeping the boards as the clear and obvious winners they are. Quite frankly, those 12 DA municipalities and 4.1-million DA voters deserve better from their leaders than this tired rehashing of overworked outrage. DM


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