The party’s problems are not all due to external forces. Picture: DAVID HARRISON
The party’s problems are not all due to external forces. Picture: DAVID HARRISON

With SA due to hold general elections in less than a year, one would expect the main opposition party to be in a buoyant mood.

In about a fortnight it will be the two-year anniversary of the party’s greatest achievement.

Winning the Western Cape in the past two elections can hardly be said to have been in itself a great achievement, considering that province has always been a stronghold. Wresting away former ANC strongholds in the local elections of 2016 through getting enough votes to enable it to form city governments with the help of smaller parties, as in Johannesburg, Tshwane and the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in the Eastern Cape, was supposed to be a game-changer.

It was supposed to put an end to the idea of the DA as a white party, ever destined to appeal to a minority that was getting smaller and smaller. Among the eight metros, the DA emerged as the top party in three, cementing its position as the biggest challenger and most credible challenger to the ANC.

Perhaps Zuma’s demise was the worst thing that could have happened to the DA, which together with the EFF lost a powerful mobilising tool.

In the cities where it didn’t get the top spot, its lowest share of the vote was the 23.4% it received in Buffalo City. Those kind of numbers made it hard to sustain the "white party" caricature, especially when you consider that the EFF couldn’t muster more than 11% in any of the metros.

Problems in the Johannesburg metro are well documented, but the original blueprint of using its victories and record of delivery in the Western Cape to demonstrate its credentials as an alternative government for the country is also holding up.

The province was the country’s best-performing province in the 2016-17 fiscal year, with Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu giving clean audits to 80% of its provincial departments, municipalities and public entities.

On the other side, the ANC is beset by infighting. Every day another horrifying story of the corruption and mismanagement that was allowed to entrench itself during the Jacob Zuma presidency emerges.

Zuma’s departure has hardly resulted in the renewal that party leaders hoped for, and the former president’s supporters are not in a mood to be charitable to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

And yet the DA is looking like anything but a government in waiting and may instead find itself struggling to reach the high numbers it has had in the Western Cape, let alone grab some of the provinces under the control of the ANC.

What happened?

Perhaps Zuma’s demise was the worst thing that could have happened to the DA, which together with the EFF lost a powerful mobilising tool. Zuma’s supporters sniping at Ramaphosa has also not done the party any favours because even non-ANC voters are rooting for Ramaphosa, potential voters who would be lost to the DA. That’s because they don’t see the choice as being between the ANC and the DA but rather between two competing strands within the ANC.

The party’s problems are not all due to external forces. Its failure to deal with the Patricia de Lille matter continues to cause damage. The DA said on Monday it would appeal against the high court decision to set aside its decision to strip Cape Town mayor De Lille of her party membership.

And its federal council made it clear at the weekend that the party is far from settling internal debates on everything from economic policy to the power its provincial leaders hold, preventing it from going to the general electorate with a coherent message.

In the places where the DA has won political power, it has demonstrated an ability to govern. In order to take the next step, it must show it can also do politics.

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