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SA’s political planets are not very well aligned for an opposition ‘moonshot’


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

The DA’s top leadership makes the party appear to be as much a narrow ethnic project as the IFP, FF+ or the Patriotic Alliance. And, of course, Zille’s marked turn to the right on racial issues worsens the situation. For as long as this doesn’t change, the DA will be boxed into a narrow electoral space, unable to capitalise on the collapse of the ANC’s credibility.

The recent DA conference has been hailed as “modern”, and it does seem to have been run with all the slickness of the US political system. After the chaos that we have all seen with ANC conferences, it’s not surprising that the more slick DA operation impressed some people.

But although the DA does have a diverse set of young talent, its leadership remains firmly in white hands.

There is no barrier to white people being given positions of political trust in South Africa. People such as Joe Slovo and Neil Aggett were given important leadership positions by black constituencies. However, Slovo and Aggett had thrown in their lot with the majority and were implacable opponents of white supremacy.

John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille are worlds apart from Slovo and Aggett.

The DA’s top leadership makes the party appear to be as much a narrow ethnic project as the IFP, FF+ or the Patriotic Alliance. And, of course, Zille’s marked turn to the right on racial issues worsens the situation. For as long as this doesn’t change, the DA will be boxed into a narrow electoral space, unable to capitalise on the collapse of the ANC’s credibility.

But all this is well-worn ground. What was interesting about the conference was Steenhuisen’s idea of a “moonshot” – an alliance of conservative parties that could challenge the ANC. A number of commentators, including myself, have long argued that our party politics should, logically, be realigned into three broad camps.

The kleptocrats in the ANC, the EFF, the PA and the ATM logically belong together in one party of corrupt authoritarian nationalists. The liberals in the ANC, the DA, the IFP and ActionSA also make for a logical fit on the right to centre right. The SACP, the trade unions and Abahlali baseMjondolo make an equally logical fit on the left.

However, there has been no toenadering on the left. For as long as the SACP and Cosatu unions remain aligned to the ANC,  the independent unions and Abahlali baseMjondolo will have nothing to do with them, and the logjam in left politics will continue.

But there has certainly been plenty of

toenadering among the kleptocratic authoritarian nationalists, with the self-described RET faction of the ANC now working closely with the EFF, along with the ATM, the PA and others. There is now a working alliance.

There has also been some movement on the right to centre right, with the DA and the IFP building bridges in KwaZulu-Natal. ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba’s ego is as big as Zille’s and so the DA and his party haven’t found a sustainable way to work together despite the fact that they are so closely ideologically aligned.

The real logjam in the politics of the right to centre right is that there is no movement towards an alliance between the ANC liberals and the DA. On economic terms they share clear points of mutual interest, but,  for the ANC, working with such a very white party has been a bridge too far.

For Steenhuisen’s moonshot at right to centre right unity to have any chance of success it would have to develop enough black support for an alliance with the ANC liberals to become acceptable. In other words, the DA would have to support but not own a new coalition. This would mean embracing black leaders who would not toe the Zille line. In light of past experiences, it seems unlikely that this will be easily achieved.

Of course, how all this plays out will be hugely important to the future of the country if, as widely predicted, the ANC drops below 50% in the election next year and has to choose a coalition partner to remain in power. With the left out of the game, there are only two realistic choices – the kleptocratic bloc or the liberal-conservative bloc. The former is well placed to act in concert; the latter is not.

Whether we like it or not, these are the three forces that will shape our political reality in the short term. None is attractive to anyone on the spectrum of left politics, ranging from socialist to social-­democratic. This is quite extraordinary, given the power of the left in South African politics in the 1970s and 1980s.

But, as much as those of us on the left may decry the situation, the most likely outcome of the election is either an alliance between the ANC and kleptocrats outside the party or an alliance between the ANC and the conservatives outside the party.

This is the future that we must prepare for in the short term. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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  • Tim Parsons says:

    Sound familiar, the problem with weak opposition in a so called democracy, from The Times;

    Yet this is not just a scandal. It’s also a symbol of what happens under one-party rule, when one party becomes so completely and utterly dominant that it begins to damage and corrupt the entire system. It’s bad for government. It’s bad for politics. And it’s bad for citizens.

    “No government”, Benjamin Disraeli once said, “can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” With no strong opposition to provide scrutiny and interrogation, one-party states, as we can now see in Scotland, routinely become incompetent, corrupt, populist, and lose touch with the people they claim to represent.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    I disagree entirely. You forget that SA is governed by a Constitution centred on a Bill of Rights. That Bill of Rights provides obligations on any party which is elected into government.

    You seem to assume that parties like the DA, IFP and PA which you say are driven by narrow ethnic policies, can simply abandon the Constitution in favour of their own constituency.

    Unfortunately this thinking is prevalent mostly because of the behaviour of the ANC. That the Constitution has failed us. You forget that whoever is elected needs to abide by the Bill of Rights which is the overarching law over all laws.

    I would far rather vote for the IFP who are unapologetically supported by Zulu speaking people as long as I have confidence that they will support the Bill of Rights equally for all people than the ANC who only pretend they support the Constitution and it’s ideals, undermine it at every opportunity and then confirm they are friends with mongrels, autocrats and war criminals whose laws at home are poles apart from our Constitution.

  • Errol Price says:

    Paradoxically Steenhizen’s metaphor of a “moon-shot ” is well- chosen as he is living on a different planet or perhaps even a different universe. There is little or no chance that his party can ever be part of a government in a unitary South African State. He is in many respects a reincarnation of a previous politician of the past , de Villiers Graaff- hubristic , opinionated and clueless.
    As for the ANC, they would never , in their wildest dreams ,form a coalition with the D. A.
    There are too many secrets which would reveal that the sewer is far deeper than any-one imagined and certainly not to be shared with the likes of Helen Zille,

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Your comment leaves you with a problem. Who are you going to vote for? What if your party of choice is one of those which would be in the DA “moonshot” coalition? To get rid of the ANC the thinking opposition parties will need to form a coalition, this is the “moonshot” coalition. Nothing unusual, just opposition parties ganging up on the ANC/EFF. That makes sense.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    This is not well thought out. I will quote one line….

    “There is no barrier to white people being given positions of political trust in South Africa.”


    The rest is mainly…. rubbish.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    I will vote DA. There is no alternative.

    If you think there is just name it. Will it be able to run a single province after the elections? Doubt it.

  • Sam van Coller says:

    The failure of the Left is because its intellectual leadership is still trapped in the rhetoric of the 1970’s and eighties. Workers have a large stake in the present economy through protective legislation, substantial pension and other benefit funds and their jobs. Unless the left develops a new intellectual leadership that is relevant to the very different world we face today in terms of raising worker quality of life, trade union membership will continue to fail to grow and workers will not benefit from what lies ahead. The DA is the only party trying to break through ethnic/identity politics. Given the barriers generated by our past, this is a tough call. The DA recognizes this, hence its call for a moon-shot coalition. This could well, if successfully managed, generate a united opposition that more accurately reflects the demographics of the country and starts to produce Black leaders who, because of the enormity of the social challenges we face, will stop such a new political grouping being pulled to the right. An ANC-EFF coalition in 2024 will destroy the remaining productive assets of the country before the proposed ‘new opposition coalition’ reaches its goal.

  • Johan Buys says:

    It is interesting that the RET part of ANC and the EFF as a whole are painted as the “left”. Parties that support strong-man loud leaders and authoritarian regimes are in my books right wing fascist and the liberal policies and values of DA, ActionSA, COPE, IFP etc are more accurately left wing.

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