Can the Democratic Alliance dislodge the ANC from power in the 2024 general election? Or is the DA just being helped by the African National Congress committing suicide, with ruinous ongoing corruption?
Does the DA have a killer punch? Or is it just the ANC’s own goals that the DA is exploiting and utilising?
Ultimately the ANC will be dislodged from power by its internal corruption and poor service delivery, rather than by the finesse of any political party.
The DA had its federal elective conference from 31 March to 2 April 2023, re-electing John Steenhuisen as the federal leader, equivalent to their presidential candidate in the 2024 general elections. Steenhuisen was challenged by Dr Mpho Phalatse, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who ran a last-minute campaign to try to oust Steenhuisen.
She was ill-prepared to run a campaign of such national proportions as to become leader of the main opposition party in South Africa. The stakes were too high for the last-minute, hatched-up campaign. She had been expected to be more clinical and systematic, with campaign managers and advisers appointed in time rather than in a last-minute rush-rush.
Steenhuisen has been the leader of the DA since the departure of Mmusi Maimane in 2019. Maimane left in what Tony Leon called an experiment that went wrong. Could he have meant that black leaders are “experimental” in the DA?
As it was, DA delegates elected Steenhuisen as the federal leader, Helen Zille as federal council chairperson, Ivan Meyer as federal chairperson, Dion George as Federal Finance Chairperson, with six additional members of the top leadership, among them Solly Malatsi as the only black African in the top echelons.
In a country of more than 75% black African population, their representation in the DA leadership does not augur well for representivity. With more than 51% of the population being female, and Helen Zille and Annelie Lotriet as the only two women in the top leadership, the DA’s gender representivity is not satisfactory either.
In the past, the DA wanted a black face for election publicity but it clearly never actually believed in black leadership. The DA remains a white-male-led party in a country with a 7.7% white and 51% female population.
This could mean that the DA believes it has no competent, skilful male and female blacks among its members, but only white male competent leaders. This should be worrying for any serious political party established in the year 2000, with more than 20 years of existence after apartheid.
It suggests a similar problem that afflicted one of the DA’s predecessors in the apartheid period, the Liberal Party, also a party with a mainly white membership which was founded as late as 1953 and dissolved itself in 1968, never to continue, either legally or underground.
The DA has taken good care of whites and coloureds in the Western Cape, but can only be considered to have neglected the former black townships of Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Gugulethu and Langa.
Could this be a harbinger of how the DA would run the national government if it were elected, taking care of white and coloured areas and neglecting the mainly black areas? This is not encouraging when your complexion is black.
As Lindiwe Suttle, a singer and performance artist, once tweeted to Helen Zille, “No matter how famous or rich you are as a black in Cape Town, you are second-class citizen.”
This was not personal prejudice.
Cape Town is “widely considered to be South Africa’s most segregated city”, wrote Ivan Turok, Justin Visagie and Andreas Scheba in the introduction to their paper, “Social inequality and spatial segregation in Cape Town”, published in April 2021 in Urban Socio-economic Inequality and Spatial Segregation, edited by Maarten van Ham et al.
With a population of 4.6 million in 2020, they continue, Cape Town’s “social composition and fractured spatial form” still show “the strong imprint of its colonial and apartheid history”. According to their research, “many scars remain” from the three centuries of colonial history and apartheid.
“Gaping urban inequalities continue to impact people’s well-being and life chances. The subjugation of blacks was so far-reaching that efforts to undo the damage have had muted effects (World Bank 2018a). Economic growth and state-sponsored affirmative action have done little to erase the social and spatial divides. Social class continues to be intertwined with race, even if the relationship is less direct than it used to be.”
Although racial segregation has been removed legally, “many tangible effects remain and are slow to change precisely because social stratification is still bound up with race”.
The authors argue that a “map used by a senior planner from the city during a presentation in 1993” continues to reveal a terrible truth. “The Cape Flats is portrayed as a desert, with black communities locked out of job-rich locations and suburbs with good schools and quality services.”
Up to 2020, they continue, the commercial success of the Central Business District has “inflated property prices and promoted gentrification in surrounding working-class districts, causing the displacement of poorer households. The shortage of affordable housing forces clerical and hospitality workers, shop assistants, security staff and cleaners to undertake lengthy commutes from the townships.
“Meanwhile, the transformation of Johannesburg and other city centres has improved access to jobs and low-income housing for black working-class communities.”
This is no great advertisement for the Democratic Alliance. British journalist Oliver Wainwright wrote in The Guardian (London) in April 2014, “Apartheid ended 30 years ago, so why is Cape Town still ‘a paradise for the few’?”. He described Cape Town as “a tale of two cities”.
We are entitled to ask, why has the DA not done more to remedy this?
The DA has run the Western Cape since 2009 and the white areas have been kept in good condition, with major improvements since then for its coloured citizens. But the black areas still resemble the apartheid past.
The blacks are neglected in terms of all services including roads, infrastructure, ablution facilities and dealing with flooding. It appears the Western Cape still resembles the pre-1994 era of the Group Areas Act, with minimal improvements for black people.
The DA has the opportunity to dislodge the ANC from government under certain conditions, with the ANC continuing with blatant corruption, rail infrastructure still ravaged with no viable transport from black former townships to the factories, and potholes throughout the ANC-run provinces.
This will lead to a decline in ANC support to below 50% of the votes during the coming general election. Once the ANC is below 50% support, all possible permutations and scenarios will arise for coalitions and there will be possibilities of dislodging the ANC from the Union Building.
Depending on how many votes the DA gets at the general election — whether it is above 20%, or 30% — it is possible for the ANC to be removed from government. There will be intensive negotiations between the opposition parties, with bartering and counter-bartering. It will be a period of courtship between the political parties, of who you go in bed with… but anything is possible.
Leaving aside the ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters, the DA can negotiate with the Inkatha Freedom Party, the ACDP, ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus, Patriotic Front, and the African Transformation Movement. If its negotiations are successful, the DA can produce a coalition that excludes the ANC from government.
It will not be easy but it can be achieved if the ANC continues with its corruption and state looting.
A DA-led coalition in the Union Buildings will disrupt the looting spree by ANC politicians and bring relief to the fiscus, but it does not guarantee that South Africa will be free from corruption. There is no political party without corrupt individuals, in a political system in which voters have no say on which politicians they can choose or remove.
South African voters are stuck between the ANC, with good policies but extremely corrupt leadership, and the DA as a white-male-led party taking care of the interests of whites and coloureds but a history in its Cape Town base of neglecting the black population. Which way to go?
Ultimately, relief for the South African population can only come from a reform of the parliamentary electoral system by putting voters in power over individual politicians, and removing that power of control from party headquarters.
The people of South Africa need the power of choice to directly elect their Members of Parliament, and their premiers and mayors. For now, it is the period of coalitions, and the party which excels with its courtship skills will win the day. DM