Election Watch

Towards a DA-led Government?


The political landscape in South Africa has dramatically changed and a coalition government led by the Democratic Alliance is no longer unthinkable.

Since the 1994 dawn of democracy in South Africa, its politics and party affiliation have been racially defined. Having secured the democratic right to vote following a lengthy liberation struggle led by the African National Congress (ANC), black people saw the ANC as their only political home, and hope for a better future.

It’s maiden term in government began with introducing legislative reforms and policies aimed at redressing the injustices of the apartheid regime. However, having comfortably tucking itself in government for three – arguably successful – consecutive administrations, the ANC found itself deeply divided in the run up to the 2007 National Elective Conference and its fourth administration.

This saw the removal of Thabo Mbeki as President, and breakaway parties in the Congress of the People (COPE) led by Mosiua Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, and in 2013 the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by expelled ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema.

These ANC divisions changed South Africa’s political landscape forever as many voters fled to other political homes as ANC divisions, mounting corruption, high unemployment, and rising inequality saw the ANC had failing to deliver on its core mandate.

Coincidently, in the mist of the ANC’s political uncertainty, another political party in the form of the Democratic Alliance (DA) ushered in new leadership in 2008 led by Helen Zille. For much of its history, black voters have perceived the DA as a ‘white party’ nostalgic of the apartheid past.

However, with Helen Zille dawned a new era for the party, which the former leader asserted would be “more reflective of South Africa’s rich racial, linguistic and cultural heritage”.

Zille furthermore described the future of the DA as one of a “party for all the people”. New slogans reflecting this vision were encapsulated in the “One Nation, One Future” until substituted when Mmusi Maimane launched the party’s “Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity” values charter, reinforcing the party’s transformation since democracy.

It became the official opposition, a strong alternative to the ANC, and a governing party in the Western Cape and 38 municipalities nationally.

The 2015/16 Auditor General Report revealed that DA governments were less susceptible to corruption – 80% of its municipalities receiving clean audits.

Clean government being part of the DA’s philosophy, it managed to capitalise heavily on the ANC’s poor performance in audits owing to a surge of corruption.  

Unlike its opponents, the DA attempts to shift from ideology and race-based politics to performance-based politics, delivering to the people rather than focusing on rhetoric and undeliverable promises.

However, it has had its fair share of problems both in and out of government.

The City of Cape Town, which the DA lords as the best-run city and often referred to as “where we govern” in their election campaigns, is also one of the most unequal cities in the world.

Flying into Cape Town International Airport one see large stretches of slums, in astonishing contrast with, a few kilometres away, a playground of the rich and famous.

That this scene is still reminiscent of apartheid, indicates how slow transformation has been.

For a broader perspective, one should not look at it in isolation – the very same story plays out in other South African major towns and cities.

Moreover, it would be cynical and totally divorced from the truth to assert that the DA is not doing anything about the situation in Cape Town’s townships. In fact, it has done more in the province and the city, than the ANC has ever done during their years of governance. Yet, of course, more needs to be done.

In 2017, the Western Cape provincial government passed a budget of R59.360 billion, a substantial chunk being invested in various community upliftment initiatives directed at the poor.

In theory, this process happens in every municipality, yet change seems slow or non-existent. What is then special about the DA’s budget?

A clean audit often means that every cent spent is accounted for, and with the DA boasting 80% clean audits mean they are far ahead of the ANC in performance-based politics.

The DA’s performance in government is supported by electoral growth in areas they govern, in contrast to the ANC’s declining trajectory.

To delve into the DA outside of politics and governance, one need not go too far to also find some controversy, Helen Zille being found to have brought the party into disrepute following a series of 12 tweets in March.  

At the crest of the 12 series tweets, Zille asserted that, “For those the claiming legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”

This single tweet saw the party’s image dwindle, reinforcing the perception of a ‘white party’ nostalgic of the past.

That the tweets were offensive cannot be airbrushed, considering that South Africa remains a racially charged country – everything from economics to politics remaining racially defined and skewed. But, is it fair to punish the DA at the ballot?

To answer that, one should assess the DA’s performance in government and in relation to the people, and compare it with other political parties.

For example, many ANC- and EFF leaders said equally-offensive things in public. No one was ever removed from their position nor any action taken against them.

Even with state capture hovering over Zuma’s presidency, a Constitutional Court ruling that he failed to protect the Constitution, and uphold his oath of office, he remains President and unpunished. In contrast, Zille apologised and, still lost her privileges within the DA.

For the DA and those supporting it, it has become increasingly clear that it’s not the perfect party. Everyone makes mistakes – political parties too. It’s not a matter of trying to avoid making mistakes, but how a party learn from those mistakes and the measures employed to avert further misconduct.

Considering this, the DA emerges as the ideal party. The whole Helen Zille debacle spanned over only three months until she was suspended from and relieved of her duties in the Federal Council and other party bodies.

To act against arguably its biggest figure in its contemporary history, is a tell-tale sign of a party which truly embodies its values to the highest order, and strives for what is morally and legally right.

More so, it is indicative of a party transformed under the leadership of Mmusi Maimane – refuting claims that a ‘white force’ pulls the strings.

Building up to the 2019 general elections, the DA is preparing itself as a party of government via coalition.

The 2016 local government election gave the opposition the zest to push for national government in 2019, the ANC being humbled in key areas of the country.

Many South Africans are open to the idea of a coalition government to improve service delivery and accountability. However, coalition governments can also fail owing to ideological differences and clashing manifesto targets.

With the EFF the likeliest DA coalition partner, and the parties ideologically and in principles, miles apart, the prospect of success such a coalition remains a contentious debate.

However, considering what we know of the DA as a clean and effective governor, we can rest assured that with the DA running the country from 2019, the future will potentially be bright.

                                                                                                                                 by Neo Mkwane

(This is a shortened version of an article first published by Rational Standard. To read the original article, click here. Neo Mkwane is a liberal thinker, youth activist and democrat. He holds a BA in politics and public management from the North-West University and is pursuing post-graduate studies in politics at the University of Cape Town. He’s a former commentator on the blog Think Like a Liberal and is obsessed with political current affairs.)

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