What does the DA ac­tu­ally stand for?

Sunday Times - - Opinion - Grindrod, a for­mer In­de­pen­dent Democrats of­fice bearer, writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

In most con­sti­tu­tional democ­ra­cies, the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion is viewed as an al­ter­na­tive gov­ern­ment, a gov­ern­ment in wait­ing. Given that it, as the largest op­po­si­tion party, as­pires to lead the coun­try, its poli­cies and per­for­mance are sub­ject to the same scru­tiny as the gov­ern­ment’s. It is right that it should be so. SA, how­ever, has been very poorly served by the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion. The DA over the past two years has floun­dered in terms of both style and sub­stance. We have wit­nessed a lot of rhetoric, me­dia stunts and the­atrics but lit­tle to in­spire us to elect Mmusi Maimane as pres­i­dent of the repub­lic this year. This has largely al­lowed the ANC a free pass to per­pet­u­ate the medi­ocrity, cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment we have suf­fered.

How can it be that even at the pin­na­cle of for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ru­inous ad­min­is­tra­tion, and with a new young black leader, this well-re­sourced party could only muster 22% of the na­tional vote in 2014? If the op­po­si­tion could not land a heav­ier punch on some­one like Zuma, it should not be in busi­ness. Its prob­lem is now com­pounded as the stay­away ANC vot­ers of 2014 show signs of re­turn­ing to their po­lit­i­cal home in big num­bers.

In its fran­tic ef­forts to be all things to all peo­ple, the DA is pleas­ing very few. Its much­vaunted takeover of met­ros such as Joburg and Tsh­wane in 2016 came only as a re­sult of an un­holy al­liance with the EFF. A wholly un­prin­ci­pled move that il­lus­trated hunger for power at any cost to its claimed val­ues.

The DA’s on­go­ing adop­tion of ANC poli­cies on is­sues such as broad-based BEE and af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion has been a catas­tro­phe. What is the point of vot­ing for an op­po­si­tion that largely repli­cates gov­ern­ment pol­icy? It takes a lot more than vague pol­icy state­ments and sound bites to at­tract vot­ers.

Her­man Mashaba un­der­stands that this vac­uum of sub­stance is a threat to his sup­port base and has un­wisely cho­sen to fill it with Trumpesque, and ar­guably xeno­pho­bic, rhetoric about for­eign­ers. By cap­i­tal­is­ing on fear, and the worst in us, he is dis­play­ing the true colours of his party. This shal­low and pop­ulist strat­egy clearly il­lus­trates how des­per­ate the DA has be­come. It is piti­ful to watch.

The DA needs to de­cide if it is a gov­ern­ment in wait­ing or merely an op­po­si­tion party for its own sake. Very lit­tle of its out­put ar­tic­u­lates so­lu­tions or al­ter­na­tives for the larger part it sim­ply ex­ists to crit­i­cise. A year af­ter Zuma’s res­ig­na­tion, it is still on its Stop Zuma cam­paign. If Zuma did not ex­ist, the DA would have to in­vent him.

The self-in­flicted mis­for­tunes of the DA can be di­rectly at­trib­uted to three fac­tors: weak lead­er­ship, aban­don­ment of its found­ing prin­ci­ples, and a fail­ure to un­der­stand that South Africans are look­ing for a change in di­rec­tion, not just in PR brand­ing. As a re­sult, its right flank is bleed­ing off to AfriFo­rum (via COPE) and the FF Plus, its left flank is march­ing back to Ramaphosa’s re­vi­talised ANC, and its cen­tre is a shrink­ing mass of grudge vot­ers with nowhere else to go.

They have be­come a mot­ley group of naysay­ers and Afro-pes­simists. I some­times think they rel­ish it when our coun­try falls short. In some per­verse way it may af­firm their smug “told you so” at­ti­tude. The party should op­pose the gov­ern­ment by any means, but that does not mean it should talk down our coun­try in the process.

Maimane is prob­a­bly a de­cent enough man, but he is en­tirely out of his depth. The per­cep­tion that he is stage-man­aged by party han­dlers, me­dia ad­vi­sors and speech writ­ers is deep­en­ing. He does not seem to be his own man. How can he ex­pect to lead a na­tion if he can­not yet lead a party? The ANC reg­u­larly of­fers him an open goal but he just does not have the grav­i­tas or skill to fol­low through and score.

The DA’s botched and ma­li­cious at­tempt to re­move Pa­tri­cia de Lille as mayor of Cape Town back­fired spec­tac­u­larly. To date, not a sin­gle one of its “charges” against De Lille has been proven. In fact, most of them have ei­ther been with­drawn or thrown out by the courts and other in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The DA added in­sult to in­jury by re­plac­ing her with a re­cy­cled for­mer Na­tional Party ac­tivist in the form of Dan Plato. It missed a golden op­por­tu­nity to show the na­tion it did in­deed have fresh young tal­ent in the party. Pa­tri­cia is go­ing to give the DA a good les­son in real pol­i­tics.

Healthy op­po­si­tion is crit­i­cal to our democ­racy. The DA would do well to drop its ar­ro­gance, neg­a­tiv­ity and hypocrisy and start the real work of giv­ing vot­ers pos­i­tive rea­sons to vote for it — and not just rea­sons to vote against the ANC.



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