Fringes and partings
At about 10 am on Saturday January 16, the DA looked comfortable as far as the battle for the city of Johannesburg is concerned. Its electoral college was about to elect the party’s mayoral candidate for the “city of gold”. Buoyed by the latest internal poll results, it was convinced that the ANC would drop significantly from the 58% it attained in the 2011 elections.
DA activist and development economics professor Rabelani Dagada says at that very moment everybody was gripped by “belief” — the mantra behind the DA’s latest campaigns.
The poll showed that the DA was sitting on 37% and the ANC on 47%. When voter turnout predictions were factored in, the DA would end up with 43% — two percentage points more than the ANC’s 41%. They went on with their election. But something happened soon after the announcement of the winner, businessman Herman Mashaba.
A social media storm erupted over his comments about black business empowerment. What stood out like a sore thumb was his declaration that he was South African first, and that his skin pigmentation was secondary. This, by the founder of hair product label Black Like Me, who also admitted to benefiting from BEE. His statements were music to ANC leaders’ ears.
Instantly they took to social networks, some hurling abuse or calling Mashaba a “hypocrite”. Some even went further to say Mashaba “is not black like us” — parodying the name and spirit of the Black Like Me label, which was a successful operation during the 1980s when apartheid hobbled many black businesses.
Dagada says Mashaba is a bad choice, because “he is a glamour boy”, a publicity-driven man who would not toe the party line.
Dagada stood against Mashaba in the contest for the post and lost. “No, I was beaten terribly, hey! He got 24 votes, I got seven. I got some protest votes, you know.”
Dagada blames the DA’s electoral system as, he says, it did not really help the party test Mashaba’s suitability for the role. If the candidates’ interviews had been done with a greater degree of public scrutiny and involvement, the DA would have realised ahead of time the extent of the public backlash Mashaba’s comments have caused. “If it was like primaries, the way they do it in the US, I swear I would have beaten the guy.”
Dagada says Mashaba’s comments harmed the DA’s fortunes and he has no doubt the next internal poll will indicate a decline in its prospects.
He says the DA will now lose the momentum demonstrated by the positive poll outcome.
“In other words, if elections had taken place a day before [Mashaba] was announced as mayoral candidate, we would have got 43% and the ANC 41% . . . I bet we have lost a huge chunk since Herman became a mayoral candidate.”
But Mashaba is not bothered by his “adversaries”, who he says “twisted what I said [to mean that] I’m denouncing being black.” He will go about handling the campaign his own way.
He says the doddering economy — likely to grow at only about 1% this year — is the reason racial tension is more pronounced. “This cake is declining. Once the economy grows, people will get employment opportunities and government will collect more taxes from the companies making money.
“If this economy was growing at 5%, you would not have this debate about black people not getting opportunities.” His candidacy is about lifting black people from poverty, especially in townships, where people live “in squalor with rats eating their children”.
“I live in this country, I interact extensively with South Africans. I know the level of frustration within my own family in Alexandra, my own family in Soweto, Hammanskraal, all over the country. I know our people have had enough; they are looking for an alternative.”
The township vote will be key, he says, a view also held by Dagada.
Dagada says the DA held focus group research before the January 16 election and that process showed that Mashaba was more popular than the man he would square up with come the local government elections: mayor Parks Tau. But there’s a caveat. The groups were made up of eight people each — and all had voted for the ANC before. But during mock elections, in each group six people voted for the DA and two were undecided. That no-one voted for the ANC is a cause for concern, says Dagada, who cautions his party not to fall for its own spin.
‘‘ IF THIS ECONOMY WAS GROWING AT 5%, YOU WOULD NOT HAVE THIS DEBATE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE NOT GETTING OPPORTUNITIES