On Monday, South Africans will go to the polls after almost 20 months of living through a pandemic. The number of eligible voters who will actually turn out is likely to be lower than most previous local government elections because many of us just don’t know who to vote for. It is tempting to joke about the state of our political parties, but we now need to take the future of our political landscape very seriously and get out to vote.
Almost 15 years ago, the DA started the call for the realignment of politics in South Africa. It was based on the need for a successful challenge to the ANC and was aimed at bringing like-minded opposition parties together under one umbrella. The project was grounded on the DA’s strong values and organisation.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the DA that might have led this realignment of SA politics is nowhere to be found. Over the past few months, the party has been waging a bizarre war around language policy at universities, has allowed an individual party member to put up racially divisive posters in an already racially divided area, and it has been revealed that the DA was willing to remain a 15-20% party and possibly go into coalition with the ANC. But, no, wait, we “do not want to get into bed with the ANC”, says John Steenhuisen. Flip-flop.
The DA can talk about its excellent track record in government, which cannot be denied, but unfortunately that is the party of old. The past few months — if not years — all show a party that is divided, unclear about what it stands for, and would not know what to do if it were in power with its multiple, competing interests. This is exactly what played out in Nelson Mandela Bay and the City of Johannesburg after the 2016 elections.
The DA, unfortunately, should be punished at the polls because it has clearly not learnt from its mistakes in 2019. It no longer knows who or what it stands for and, in a few years, we may look back on this period in the party’s history as a serious setback for South Africa’s democracy. A realignment project cannot be led by a party that is arguably in decline. The realignment mantle needs to be taken up again, but the DA is clearly in no position to do so.
We are living in an exciting period where the possibilities of a realignment of South African politics is ripe for the taking. There are two factors that have contributed to this.
The first is that the ANC’s stranglehold on power has lessened considerably since the early 2000s, in part due to its own internal problems, but also because the DA, a once-small party, was winning votes and realigning politics through coalitions and mergers. Second, the pattern of voting based on race or ethnicity has been blown wide open with the emergence of other opposition parties that have splintered off from both the ANC and the DA.
Local government is the perfect time to provide these newer opposition parties with power and opportunities taken away from the ANC in the realignment project. We cannot harp on about the importance of our multi-party democracy unless we do this.
It is important to note in this context that the only reason that the DA was in a position to call for a realignment of politics was that it had grown from a small party in the late 1990s and early 2000s — because every vote does count. The DA’s current Get Out The Vote campaign, which aims to persuade voters that it is the only party big enough to take the ANC out of power, is not necessarily true in a big metro like the City of Johannesburg where ActionSA seems to have as much momentum as the DA, if some of the polling is to be believed.
This leads us to consider what party could be a power player for the realignment project that South Africa desperately needs.
ActionSA is a serious contender. Personally, I have some questions about whether it is promoting xenophobia and it needs to answer that. One also needs to be wary of a party built around one personality — one just needs to look at AgangSA — but it does seem to have built a broader base than AgangSA ever did.
Good has too narrow a base that is focused on the Western Cape, and it does not look as if it intends to extend beyond that for now. The older, smaller parties such as the IFP, ACDP, and FF Plus have survived due to their niche markets and they will never take the lead, but they play their own important role in our democracy, despite having ideologies that may not be agreeable to all voters. Cope has managed to hang on through loyal support, but would serve the country better by aligning with a stronger party.
However, it is not only about the platforms of the various political parties, but also about their leadership. This country needs strong, ethical leadership in politics and the public sector as a whole. There are some key people that are missing from SA politics who need to return. Where are our future political leaders who will take on this political realignment and will they be brave enough to leave their current parties?
The country’s president is 68. My ward councillor is 70. ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba is 62. You cannot have a realignment of politics without strong leadership that everyone can get behind and which offers a long-term future.
South Africa cannot afford to wait until the next election cycle to start the realignment of politics, it needs to start now. So, on 1 November, think about the state of your city and the lives of the people that live in that city, and go out and vote. We cannot afford to stay away, and we cannot afford to vote for more of the same. DM