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The DA's Greg Krumbock. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
The DA's Greg Krumbock. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

In politics the glory is generally reserved for a select few personalities — mainly party leaders, heads of government and those who court controversy. Their impact is analysed, dissected in the media and memorialised.

However, there is a category of people who do the grunt work that enables these figures to be written about: campaign managers. They rarely get the spotlight, and their ink, while indelible, is invisible.

The DA’s leaders over the years, including Tony Leon, Helen Zille and John Steenhuisen, have all stamped their authority on the party in different ways, but their vision has been translated into ultimate electoral success by one man: Greg Krumbock.

Since the 1990s Krumbock built the election machinery of the Democratic Party as its executive director in the 1990s and campaign manager in 1999, and the mastermind behind multiple DA election campaigns since. Krumbock’s operational brilliance makes him the silent architect behind the DA’s successes. 

The 1990s were a tumultuous period for SA and the political opposition. The collapse of confidence in the National Party did not necessarily mean the Democratic Party would benefit, but Krumbock’s strategic initiatives during DP by-elections were revolutionary for a small party. Under his guidance the DP clinched a series of unexpected by-election victories, burying the party’s historic opponent and positioning it for future success.

Underscored brilliance

Krumbock demonstrated his real genius in the 1999 election — a critical election for the Democratic Party — and dragged the party from negligible support in 1994 to the role of official opposition just five years later. Tasked with the monumental challenge of managing the party’s campaign on a shoestring budget compared with those of the ANC and New National Party, Krumbock orchestrated a campaign that not only reinvigorated the DP but set the stage for its operational development, which turned the party into a formidable electoral machine.

Critically, Krumbock understands how to read the political landscape and design a scalable ground operation that can reliably snatch victory from the jaws of defeat during the downturns, and maximise the result during the upturns. 

However, it was the DA’s recovery in the local government elections of 2021 that truly underscored Krumbock’s brilliance. In the lead-up to these elections the DA faced significant media hostility. Many political analysts and commentators had written the party off, predicting a dismal performance. Krumbock’s meticulous planning and execution of an unparalleled ground war effort turned the tide.

The campaign not only defied expectations but rejuvenated the party’s base and expanded its appeal across diverse demographics. The DA’s win in Umgeni — Krumbock’s home municipality — was a demonstration of this. The DA’s performance in 2021 is a testament to his ability to navigate a complex, hostile political landscapes and deliver results against the odds. 

When SA’s MPs were sworn in on the June 14 Krumbock was not among those taking the oath of office for the first time since 1999. Having decided to hang up his campaign whip, his legacy is not just the DA’s unexpected victories in by-elections or in campaigns where the party defied political gravity, it is in the electoral and operational machine that he has built for the DA.

His campaigns were characterised by a relentless pace of work, a strong adherence to data and polling, and agility in response to changes in the political environment. The DA’s campaign machinery is therefore modern, data-driven and able to maximise the party’s potential every time. 

Krumbock’s contributions and his legacy and impact further extend to the manner in which our DA campaigns have strengthened SA democracy. Never afraid of a controversial ad, Krumbock helped solidify the idea that loyal opposition means robustly campaigning against a dominant majority party and, where the DA governs communicating party successes with equal vigour. SA’s democratic fabric, and the role of loyal, robust opposition and alternative governments, owes much to Krumbock. 

As the DA looks to the future as part of a government of national unity (GNU), the lessons from its past campaigns, steered with determination by Krumbock, will undoubtedly serve as the blueprint for the party as it seeks new growth avenues in a new era of permanent coalitions.

His legacy is a powerful reminder of what can be achieved with strategic insight, relentless work and a deep belief in the democratic process. 

• Sarupen is DA deputy federal council chair. 

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