Defend Truth


The DA. So Deft. So Tone Deaf.


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

For nearly 16 years we’ve watched the DA in action both as a party in regional government and as a party needing to speak to South Africans across the entire spectrum. And the internal difference in those two abilities is so great that it remains possibly the party’s greatest challenge.

As a party of government, the DA’s track record is unmatched.

They had their first opportunity in 2001, when they won control of Midvaal Municipality. You can Google it for yourself, but probably the most important facts are:

  • that in the ensuing decade the average annual economic growth rate there was 8%; ( so of course unemployment plummeted) and
  • that the municipal budget grew from R150-million in 2002 to nearly R950-million in 2012. That is an increase of 650% in income from rates in ten years : the municipality was 6.5 times richer.  Can you imagine if the country as a whole had experienced even half that growth?

Then came Cape Town (2006 elections) and the turn around from a bankrupt city to the fastest growing economic hub in the country, with the highest employment, highest average wage, and lowest inequality gap. Despite leadership controversies, Day Zero Doomsayers, and the country as a whole wobbling in and out of recession for over 10 years that upward trajectory has continued, meaning that the poorest Capetonians (black and coloured) continue to feel the benefit.

Then came the Western Cape (2009 elections) and their soaring education results, the improving and increased spread of health coverage, love letters from the auditor general about clean and effective government, and rising job creation meant, once again, the poorest citizens (black and coloured) were given more chances, more support, and more hope than anywhere else in the country.

Come 2011 and their widespread gains in municipalities and the speed of the turnaround in delivery, clean audits, and economic growth was truly impressive – just read the data.

2016, and they won three poisoned chalices. Three corruption-ridden Metros, with dysfunctional bureaucracies which they would have to govern in informal coalitions with parties completely opposed to them ideologically, including the EFF. In spite of those challenges, in just two years they have slashed the debt, increased delivery at the very base of the pyramid, crushed corruption and changed the lives of the poorest people.

Tshwane is the fastest growing Metro in South Africa with 7.6% growth in employment (Brookings Metro Report).

In Nelson Mandela Bay they inherited a R2-billion deficit, reversed that into R2-billion liquidity, introduced the first Metro Police force, and eradicated 60% of bucket toilets. The lives of people at the base of our national economic and social pyramid were being changed.

In Joburg, while President Cyril Ramaphosa oversaw yet another dip into recession and a rocketing fuel price (and fuel tax) which strikes the poorest South Africans hardest because they spend 40% of their paltry earnings on transport, the DA dropped road deaths and in the first six months of 2018 Joburg created over 100,000 jobs and attracted R5-billion in outside investment.

In short, the DA in government has consistently shown that they can and do halt a downward spiral toward looming disaster, and create an updraught of a virtuous circle. It is unmatched and if applied at a national level could make all the difference to the future of the entire nation – and to belabour the point, change the future of the poorest (black) South Africans.

Which makes it so confusing as to why they have consistently been unable find a way to communicate positively.

Their two latest “scandals”, the Patricia de Lille saga and the collapse of the Nelson Mandela Bay coalition, are the perfect examples of an inability to frame themselves as effectively as they govern. To oversimplify, I think there is one underlying cause – they are tone deaf. Which means that they say things in a way that hurts them instead of helping them.

Among many recurring themes, I pinpoint three ongoing problems.

1. It is always “someone else’s fault”. According to the DA they are never part of the problem. They are the only unsullied heroes surrounded by a cesspit of evil doers (ANC /media / whistle blowers / partners.) Arrogance and strident self-righteousness have never been great persuaders or more importantly pre-suaders! Which maybe why Herman Mashaba, who has the most difficult political job of all the DA Metro governments, is being so effective. He is careful to thank and acknowledge his “unwilling” partners without whom he could not do his job. Compare this with Nelson Mandela Bay and the leaked recordings of one the coalition defectors.

2. According to the DA, all the woes of the country are apparently due to the ANC and by implication all 11 million of their voters. They point fingers and name-call, lumping everyone from Pravin Gordhan to Ace Magushule as one and the same. By doing that they accuse every single person who has ever voted for the ANC as being corrupt, selfish, stupid and morally bankrupt. Not a great siren call of welcome!

3. They over-state like histrionic high school debaters. “The ANC is dead” for example. That may just be sloganeering but it is patently false. “The ANC is dying” might be closer to the truth, and it would be a defensible argument, as well as being a lot more believable and persuasive. Or take their latest election slogan “One South Africa for All”. That might be a great dream but we are a country that is deeply divided. Statistically we are still the most unequal country on the planet, we have the highest murder rate, our racial and political rhetoric is more polarised, more heated and more divisive than at any time since 1994. This means that the slogan is simply untrue at the moment and so it is unbelievable.

Which may help explain why they are starting this election on the back foot, despite a delivery track record that should have them putting on a burst of speed out of the starting blocks. By comparison, the ANC and Cyril Ramaphosa who are daily exposed as having colluded or turned a wilfully blind eye to the worst excesses of corruption for over 10 years, have repeatedly plunged the country into recession, and after 25 years of power have not changed the two most troubling statistics in this country – that we are still the world’s most unequal country and we are still the murder capital of the world ; seem to be starting this election in a very comfortable position.

The way you say it is more important than what you say.” This is a truism –because it is true. And if the DA could learn the importance of that, they might begin to match their administrative skills. And then they would be running with two strong legs – instead of consistently shooting themselves in the foot. DM


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