Financial Mail

Fringes and part­ings

- Sam Mkokeli mkoke­

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.



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