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Ghaleb Cachalia. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Ghaleb Cachalia. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

It is understandable that the DA, the official opposition in the National Assembly and governing party in the Western Cape, should publicly play down the significance of the resignation of MP Ghaleb Cachalia, last week. But its handling of the resignation of one of its prominent recruits is showing worrying faultlines on the eve of an all-important general election.

Cachalia, until recently the public enterprises spokesperson in parliament, resigned last Thursday in what is seen as pre-emptive action. He expressed fears that he would have been excluded from the DA’s line-up of MPs for SA’s seventh parliament despite meeting the selection criteria.

In a curious move, the DA immediately accepted his resignation, effectively closing the door for alternative dispute resolution including possible mediation that could have resulted in him staying. He had timed his resignation to be effective only in February.

Instead of wishing Cachalia well outside the DA, the party’s spokesperson, unwisely, opted to challenge him in the public square. This fuelled the rising narrative that the party is intolerant of diverse views.

Cachalia’s exit has been in the making for weeks. It started with his public condemnation of Israel’s invasion of Gaza after a surprise air, sea and land attack by Hamas on October 7. The party demoted him from his “cabinet” position, asking him to defer to Emma Powell, the party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs.

The rest of the fallout was out of the public domain.

His resignation followed that of another seasoned DA politician, Khumo Ramulifho, who has since joined Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi.

The Gaza war is not only emotive, it is a very divisive issue. But it would be lazy analysis to reduce Cachalia’s resignation from the DA to a difference of views about the characterisation of the war.

As he states in his correspondence to the party, there are other long-standing issues of principle. He is not the first one to feel no longer at home in the DA due to party policy positions and articulation.

In theory at least, Mmusi Maimane was removed from his position as DA leader after a poor performance in the 2019 general election. In reality, however, he led the party with an incoherent message on public policies including BEE and economic redress.

Centrist parties such as the DA and Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC are facing much pressure from extremist parties such as Julius Malema’s EFF and the Freedom Front+. The latter two, with crisper populist promises to voters, have gained support in recent elections.

Diverse parties such as the ANC and DA, with moderate and nuanced messages, are finding it increasingly difficult to pick up electoral support. This explains in part why the ANC’s support of Palestinian people has resonated with its stronghold for the first time in many years. Like the ANC, the DA has a significant Muslim support base. It requires accommodation and to feel heard.

As the election date approaches, the DA needs to sharpen its internal tools for dealing better with dissent. As well as creating space for all voices to be heard, it needs to improve the articulation of its messaging.

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