subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

The history of the DA presents an important lesson for new parties such as ActionSA (ASA), Build One SA (Bosa) and Rise Mzansi. In case some have since forgotten, the DA has its origin in three parties that merged in 1989 to form the DA’s predecessor, the Democratic Party (DP).

Those parties were the more established Progressive Federal Party, which was led by the late Zach de Beer and historically did not fare well in the whites-only elections of the time, the Independent Party (formed two years earlier by Denis Worrall and Wynand Malan), and the National Democratic Movement, which Worrall went on to form the following year after he fell out with Malan.

A former National Party (NP) MP for Randburg, Malan became progressively disillusioned with the party when it dragged its feet on meaningful reform as it became obsessed, under PW Botha’s leadership, with a security clampdown on anti-apartheid forces through a state of emergency.

A former academic and NP MP for Gardens in Cape Town, an equally disillusioned Worrall resigned from his job as SA’s ambassador to the UK and returned home to contest the 1987 elections, but lost narrowly by 39 votes. Previously the youngest MP in the apartheid parliament, De Beer — who was 24 when he was first elected in 1953 — became PFP leader in 1988. 

In 1989 the three men merged their respective parties to form the DP, and they became co-leaders of the new entity. Worrall was the first to stand down from the troika in 1990, with Malan doing the same on the eve of our inaugural democratic elections in 1993, leaving De Beer as sole leader. In those elections the DP obtained 1.7% of the vote, which gave it seven seats in the National Assembly. Disappointed with the outcome, De Beer resigned as DP leader and was replaced by the more combative Tony Leon. 

Thanks to Leon’s “Fight Back” campaign, which mobilised the country’s minorities against the governing ANC, the DP obtained 9.56% in the 1999 elections, while the New National Party’s (NNP’s) share of the vote dropped from 20.39% in 1994 to 6.87%. The DP thus became the country’s official opposition, a position the party and its successor have held onto since then.

BOSA leader Mmusi Maimane and Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
BOSA leader Mmusi Maimane and Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

A year later agreement was reached to merge the DP with the NNP and Louis Luyt’s Federal Alliance to form the DA, a merger that was later aborted, with the NNP eventually being absorbed into the ANC. In the 2004 election the DA cemented its position as the official opposition and obtained 12.37% of the vote. Since then it has grown to the level of the NNP’s 1994 performance, where it has plateaued.

It should be clear from the above that the DA’s history is one of a series of mergers, going back to the United Party in the 1950s. I believe there is a lesson here for ASA, Bosa and Rise, which are all fairly recent creations. Though Herman Mashaba’s ASA performed well in the 2021 local government elections, obtaining a respectable 16.05% in Johannesburg and 8.64% in Tshwane, the party did not do as well in the 2024 national and provincial elections, and nor did Bosa and Rise. Collectively, they obtained just more than 2% of the vote. 

While there is a chance that most of the established parties, including ASA, would have done better had the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party not contested the election, the fact remains that the three newbies fared poorly in these elections. They will no doubt welcome the fact that they managed to secure a presence in the seventh parliament, but that is merely a start.

While they will now have an opportunity to build national profiles for themselves, there is something even better that they should consider doing right away in preparation for the 2026 local government elections. They should merge, form a new political party and contest the forthcoming elections as a new entity. 

As shown above the DA grew through mergers from a paltry 1.7% of the vote in 1994 to 21.81% in 2024. As far as I can tell there is no major ideological difference among the three parties. In fact, when Mmusi Maimane stepped down as DA leader in October 2019, shortly after Herman Mashaba announced his resignation as Johannesburg mayor, there was a widely held belief that they were going to club together to form a new party, especially since Maimane was effusive in his praise for Mashaba at that press conference, describing him as somebody who was a hero to him. There was therefore some disappointment when that did not happen.

The three parties are all nonracial, pro market, pro meritocracy, anti-corruption and appreciate the urgent need for economic growth. Largely, they are also funded by the same individuals and organisations, as their declarations to the Electoral Commission have shown. It is unfortunate that Mashaba has been labelled a xenophobe by some in the media for merely calling for orderly immigration into the country, with those who are in the country illegally having to face the full might of the law. After all, no self-respecting country (especially one with the kind of unemployment problems we have) has such a lackadaisical approach to illegal immigration.    

The only difference between them, it appears to some of us, is the question of who should be leader. I suggest that between now and the 2026 local government elections Maimane, Mashaba and Rise Mzansi leader Songezo Zibi seriously consider merging their respective parties in the best interests of the country, and serve as a troika of leaders in much the same way as De Beer, Worrall and Malan did in 1999.

An alternative may be a rotating presidency for the first five years, with each man getting an opportunity to lead the new party while the others serve as deputy president and chair respectively. That way they will lead a bigger caucus in parliament and give members of their respective parties an opportunity to get to know them better, to be able to make a choice among them for the sole leadership when a national conference is eventually held five years hence. 

As the outcome of the recent elections has shown, SA desperately needs a consolidation of political parties, rather than a mushrooming of smaller parties that on their own will not be effective in parliament. Given the fact that the late Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi walked out of the IFP to form the National Freedom Party after falling out with Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the NFP may also be better served by either returning to the IFP or throwing its lot in with the new party that would result from the merger suggested above. 

The time for big egos is over. Maimane, Mashaba and Zibi should seriously consider putting the country’s interests ahead of their own. 

• Dr Nyatsumba, a former associate editor of The Independent in London, business rescue practitioner, chartered director, academic and author, is MD of KMN Consulting.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.