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Doomed Multi-Party Charter highlights pitfalls of arrogance and oversimplification

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

Anyone who has watched a child’s face when a balloon leaves their grip and disappears into the sky will spare a thought for the DA’s Helen Zille having to speak dejectedly to camera about the Multi-­Party Charter being in danger.

As parties head into the final furlong of the 29 May general election, the Multi-Party Charter (MPC), or “moonshot pact”, spearheaded by the DA as an ambitious endeavour aimed at mobilising smaller parties in opposition to the ANC, seems to be floating away with hardly a whimper.

The MPC, envisioned as a potential game changer in South African politics, has instead revealed critical misjudgements and miscalculations.

At the heart of the floundering pact is the DA’s arrogant belief that its governance in the Western Cape automatically positions it as the default alternative for those dis­enchanted with the ANC. Though the Western Cape has certainly performed better – for some people at least – than other provinces, its accomplishments do not necessarily translate into nationwide appeal.

This is despite the ANC’s track record in both governance and service delivery being nothing to write home about.

South Africa’s political landscape is loaded with diverse interests, issues and identities that cannot be homogenised under the banner of a single party, no matter its regional accomplishments.

Moreover, the DA’s assumptions overlooked the tricky dynamics of South Africa’s political landscape, in which historical allegiances, pa­tronage, identity politics, ethnicity and regional disparities play significant roles. This oversight became glaringly evident in KwaZulu-Natal, where the emergence of Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party diverted supporters away from the IFP.

The DA had pinned its hopes on leveraging the political shift to wrest control of the province from the ANC. However, the reality proved to be far more complex as local dynamics and allegiances outweighed the pipedream astrology of the moonshot.

A sad-looking Zille’s acknowledgment of the impact of the MK party on the political landscape, in an interview with Alec Hogg on BizNews, underscores the fluidity of South African politics. The interplay of personalities, historical legacies and regional dynamics often defy simplistic interpretations and strategies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

As the MPC is mentioned less and less, it serves as a powerful reminder of the intricacies involved in navigating South Africa’s political terrain and the pitfalls of assuming a messianic approach. Furthermore, the quiet slinking into the shadows of the MPC highlights the challenges facing opposition parties in South Africa.

Although the ANC has faced mounting criticism and internal strife, the opposition has struggled to present a coherent and compelling alternative.

The DA’s big-sister bullying, however benevolent, endears it to no one.

The fragmentation in the opposition ranks, coupled with the ANC’s entrenched position, has created a formidable barrier to any significant electoral breakthrough.

Moving forward, the MPC’s slow sunset disappearance presents an opportunity for reflection and recalibration in the DA and the broader opposition.

There is a need for a more context-specific approach to politics, one that recognises the rapidly shifting sands of South Africa’s political landscape.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA gets a glimpse of a Multi-Party Charter coalition post the May elections and it’s not pretty

Building mea­­ningful alliances and addressing the multifaceted concerns of voters re­­quires a far more sophisticated understanding of local dynamics and a willingness to engage in dialogue and compromise.

The DA’s big-sister bullying, however benevolent, endears it to no one. Such has been the haemorrhaging of its brightest – mainly black African – protégés that the likes of Mmusi Maimane, Mbali Ntuli, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Sizwe Mchunu and Zwakele Mncwango find themselves elsewhere on the political spectrum, even heading up parties in direct opposition to the DA.

The doomed MPC highlights the pitfalls of historical arrogance and oversimplification. In this 30th year of democracy, South Africa’s political players need to fine-tune their reading of the country’s convoluted socio­political and economic landscape if they are to hold on to their balloons. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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  • Tim Spring says:

    Shallow analysis

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Yes, a very shallow analysis. For a start the “arrogance” is mainly on the side of the tiny parties who have zero cause to be arrogant.

      One other point, it seems as tho’, same as previous elections, the media have no drive to get a better government in SA.

      • Grumpy Old Man says:

        That is not the role of media Glyn. I repeat, that is not the role of media

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        In America, an astute analyst called Beinart (probably worthy of the ‘self hating’ Jew – like Zapiro label) has used the polite term hubris to describe the arrogance . Take your pick .

  • The Proven says:

    This is probably the worst analysis I have read on the Daily Maverick in a long time. All you say repeatedly is that “[t]he doomed MPC highlights the pitfalls of historical arrogance and oversimplification.”

    I disagree with your statement that “the opposition has struggled to present a coherent and compelling alternative.”. All smaller parties struggle (and not only the DA) and I would much rather understand why, than to just say so. I would have expected a well-argued analysis investigating the crux: The impact of MK joining the race, throwing a spanner in the works, shifting the power dramatically.

  • Cachunk Cachunk says:

    The anc has murdered vulnerable people (Life Esifimeni), looted (take your pick), destroyed the pensions of supporters (VBS), obliterated the futures of our children (read for meaning survey), killed the economy (any parastatal you can think of), squandered any accountability we had (Scorpions, police, npa), alienated our true allies (US, EU), wrecked our future (nhi steamrolling), etc, etc… And yet the fault this author finds with the DA is that they’re arrogant. Ja bru, that’s much worse.

  • Joe Slabbert says:

    With all the ammunition in the world, to utterly machine gun the ANC, the DA comes across as ineffectual, elitist, isolated, high- pitched, whinging and defensive. Why?
    I don’t think Steenhuisen is a good leader for the DA, never mind the country. I will probably vote for them, because they are a lesser evil, but I do so reluctantly. They do not inspire me. The DA needs the Lindiwe’s and the Maimanes it once had.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      “The DA needs the Lindiwe’s and the Maimanes it once had.”

      What for the useless window dressings they were? How racist of you!

      • MT Wessels says:

        Ding ! Ding! Ding! … and we have a winner.

        Woooooosh! (But hey, the DA is YOUR party, and you can cry alone afterwards if you want to.)

  • Joe Slabbert says:

    With all the ammunition in the world, to utterly machine gun the ANC, the DA comes across as ineffectual, elitist, isolated, high- pitched, whinging and defensive. Why?
    I don’t think Steenhuisen is a good leader for the DA, never mind the country. I will probably vote for them, because they are a lesser evil, but I do so reluctantly. They do not inspire me. The DA needs the Lindiwe’s and the Maimanes it once had.

  • Joe Slabbert says:

    The DA leadership have the political personality and charm of a damp sponge.
    Imagine if Zuma was campaigning for the DA?

    • Lyle Ferrett says:

      The DA is an organisation structured like a pyramid with various levels. Don’t focus solely on the top of the pyramid…

    • Impie Mann says:

      Me: White male mid age social/political liberal, who always voted left of the ANC/DA crap. I was just about to give the DA my first ever vote, but they have lost me in the boredom of their campaign and leadership and now, their blatant silence over Israeli genocide in Palestine. Get rid of of Steenhuisen and Zille and build a real alternative to the ANC…without the “white attitude”. I have reluctantly found an alternative vote (for now) to DA, but still not ideal. At least it’s not led by “stale white bread” aka Zille/Steenhuisen.

  • Lyle Ferrett says:

    I’m voting for the DA on May 29th, not because it’s a “white” party (which is factually incorrect) or because I’m white, but because it is well-organised.

    I’m not voting for the politicians in the DA; I’m voting for the hardworking administrators who have consistently proven themselves wherever they’ve governed (metric after metric points to the DA being more capable of governing than the ANC from the Western Cape to KZN).

    Building an organisation as large and well-governed as the DA is no small feat. It makes logical sense to vote for the DA but it seems most voters are going to be voting along racial lines.

  • Philemon Solomon says:

    So if you’re so clever then tell me who should everyone vote for to save our country?? At this point the MPC is literally the only option whether we like it or not, and DM insists on baseless DA bashing the whole time. I just don’t get it. Or are you captured as well?

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      You do understand that this is an ‘Opinion’ column, right? It is not the DM’s own view, but that of the writer. And if you’ve read DM long enough, you would know they offer a platform – especially in terms of opinions – to a broad spectrum of writers from both the left and the right.
      But I suppose it’s easier simply to smear one of the best and most dedicated bastions of journalism in SA with the claim of ‘captured’, simply because you don’t like some of the OPINIONS published by certain freelance writers on this page.
      (Oh, and they don’t pick on the DA any more than than they bash any of the other political parties – which is yet another strong indication that they are as independent and neutral as it is possible to be.)

  • Dellarose Bassa says:

    This article is beyond embarrassing. Dunning -Kruger? How does any self-respecting academic, much less a Post-Doctoral Fellow, write this kind of wholly subjective, clearly emotionally vested excuse for an ‘opinion’ piece. Even though it is an opinion piece, given that the subject matter is really serious, especially on the verge of our election, and given that the writer has somehow managed to reach this supposed high standard of academic endeavor, such opinion should be based on factual evidence. Unearthing this factual evidence is as easy as a click away. But noooo. Mr Buckus rushes headlong into claim after heavily loaded claim in an unconcealed attempt at bashing the DA. He should realize by now that he felt something doesn’t mean it happened (🙈🤣). Didn’t he learn the first rule of academic endeavor? Back up all statements/sllegations/hypotheses with EVIDENCE! For heave’s sakes, any good teacher would drum this into high school students!
    When I read this kind of drivel, I just wonder- despite my best attempts not to – about the standards at universities in South Africa today. DM, your standards are dropping. Please look for some really accomplished writers who know how to park their glaring bias to one side and write as objectively as possible. Snide asides and unsophisticated innuendo do not an article make.

  • Denise Smit says:

    This is not the first time this nonsense have been uttered by this writer. How do you still place his pieces DM?

    • Paddy Ross says:

      Not once but twice does this article appear in this self same After the Bell. This seems to justify one’s paranoia that DM doesn’t like the DA.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    The personal rancour, palpable bitterness, thinly veiled Europhobia, and predictable DA-bashing I do not intend to dignify with comment. I would however like to address how the author might reconcile the Western Cape’s perceived “lack of national appeal” with its net-positive migration of over a million people, from the Eastern Cape alone, in the last decade. They don’t go there for the weather, my China.
    It seems to me that political parties in SA are like computer operating systems, there’s the one that everyone bitches about, the one that’s hopelessly broken, and the one no-one in their right mind would want to use.

  • Ann Bown says:

    Yep, the MPC ‘moonshot pact’ has failed…pathetic and arrogant messaging from the DA! Burning of the flag, digitised or not, is unacceptable, in fact immature! They must have consulted a far-right focus group to think it would work. Optics matter.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      Flag burning has a long history and has been been done across the political spectrum.
      And while clearly many people like to describe anything they don’t agree with as far left or far right depending on their own political position, the DA is (based on its policies and governing) a slightly conservative centrist party.
      While of course you are welcome to your own opinion, and I even agree that some of the leadership in the DA has its flaws, when I look at things like the ANCs full blown looting and ramming through of unworkable policies, or the EFF race based threats, or an MK party that would contest elections if they dont win, I really don’t understand your accusation of arrogance of the DA as a party (not individuals in the party).

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