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The DA and Democracy: Is the party headed for organ failure?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The state of our main opposition party in South Africa is worrisome to say the least. With ANC hegemony once again on the rise post-Zuma, it seems things are falling apart with our opposition parties.


I’m worried about the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the fact that it seems there is no democracy in the party, if reports are anything to go by. Apparently, the Federal Congress of the DA held not so long ago was not as pleasant for some members of the party.

Steven Friedman asked the correct question: “Is there democracy in the DA?” I agree with him that everyone is always so concerned with the innermost workings of the governing party, the ANC, but rarely do we read about the inner workings of the opposition party, the DA. Why is that, I wonder?

The leader of the party tells us that his patient (party) is the most diverse yet; black members are bemoaning the inner workings of the party from their township constituencies.

A black caucus here, a local black leader there, and what we observe is a party that is desperately trying to cling to relevance with their predominantly white membership.

Admit it, you are finding it difficult to deal with the majority black influx into the party because if not handled properly, you will become just another black political party, not that I have a problem with that.

An opportunity was afforded to the DA post the 2016 local government elections and yet we now observe that they are simply incapable of taking advantage of this opportunity. What does it say about the DA if they claim that they can do a better job nationally, yet they are failing to hold matters together in the very metros they have taken control over post-2016?

Now, let us pretend that each metro represents a major organ in this body called the DA: Cape Town is the brain, Johannesburg the heart, Port Elizabeth the liver and Tshwane the kidneys.

In Cape Town we observe that the once revered Patricia de Lille, who brought votes to the DA more than Helen Zille could when she was Mayor of Cape Town, has now been declared enemy number one. It reminds me of a friend who said the DA uses and abuses black people like fish bait.

They take time to mould you and then they cast you in order to attract the fish (votes) and when they’ve had enough of you they throw you away. It is De Lille’s time to be cast away I’m afraid.

Patricia’s latest tweet says it all: “The latest move by the DA caucus proves that the recall clause is a De Lille clause and that the DA Constitution was especially amended to have me removed.”

The DA has now yet again put measures in place to exercise another vote of no confidence in the council. As to how this will pan out eventually is anyone’s guess but one thing is however blatantly clear and that is that the voting population in the Western Cape will not take kindly to one of their own being mishandled like this. Not a black woman, not a “so-called” coloured, not Patricia de Lille, our mayor. If the DA is so arrogant as not to see this impending loss of votes then I shudder to think.

Next is the turmoil in the windy city, Port Elizabeth. Here the DA leader, Athol Trollip, is fighting for his political survival in the council as the designated mayor. He has to make deals with a known gangster (Patriotic Alliance) in order to cling to power. The coalition between the DA and the EFF is taking strain to put it mildly and this I’m afraid is playing out not only in the city but elsewhere in the country as well, but Mmusi Maimane tells us the patient is well and preparing for the upcoming 2019 General Elections. Seriously?

Then there is our most ambitious Solly Msimanga, mayor of Tshwane, who quietly sees himself as the rightful leader of the DA. He is still coming to grips with the fact that his colleague, Maimane, who joined the party more or less at the same time as him, has beat him to the throne. Meanwhile Tshwane is finding it difficult to adjust to this new leadership in the capital. Now that he has yet again lost against Trollip, I’m worried as to whether he will be able to remain focused on the task of serving the citizens of his city after yet another psychological blow in his party. The debt levels in the city are also of major concern.

As to the heart of the patient, Johannesburg is practically on autopilot. Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba has since August 2016 been hunting for ghosts called corruption throughout the city. He and his right-hand man, General Shadrack Sibiya, have been at it for some time now, suspending employees left, right and centre, and yet we are still to observe successful prosecutions for all these cases.

If you set out from the beginning to root out corruption, no one will argue against such a campaign. In fact, with corruption being so rampant throughout the country this makes for a good campaign. But when you become so obsessive with it that you hardly run the city, this becomes a serious problem.

If you want to clamp down on corruption then your obvious starting point will have to be where the money in the city is located. In other words, revenue services will be your starting point. Now if you come in with bravado and insults, you tell everyone they are corrupt and that you and your general will find you, arrest you and dismiss you, then you get people’s backs up. And quite frankly, if you get the backs of revenue up, then you will take a beating insofar as revenue collection is concerned. The result: revenue collection is down by serious percentages. There is not enough money to run the city and the budget is overheating.

The number of senior employees (these are skilled and qualified persons) that are on suspension with full pay is staggering and yet we are not seeing any successful prosecutions. What to make of this state of affairs in Johannesburg?

But Maimane contends that his DA is ready to take on the ANC in 2019.

Is democracy possible here?

With the state of affairs sketched above I wonder whether our parliamentary and constitutional democracy will remain vibrant?

Hegemony is defined as “the political, economic, or strength predominance or control of one over others”. Hegemony came to denote the social or cultural predominance or ascendency by one group within a society or milieu.

This hegemony is with the ruling party, the ANC, at this point in time. I don’t think the DA is in a position to challenge the ANC and strip it of such hegemony come 2019.

Gramsci was correct to state the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view. Terry Eagleton goes further to say that Gramsci normally used the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates.

If indeed the DA agrees with this position, and thus wants to change it, then it begs the question: what are you doing about it, Maimane? Romanticising your party’s unity and diversity is not going to win it for you.

At this point in time, I think you will agree with me that the patient is nearing multiple organ failure and this will be a serious setback for our democracy in Mzansi.

So I ask again, is democracy possible here, Mr Maimane? DM


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