What does the DA actually stand for?
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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