DA's interim Leader John Steenhuisen at the DA head office in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
DA's interim Leader John Steenhuisen at the DA head office in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Another day and another political analyst enthusiastically proclaiming the death of the DA (“John Steenhuisen has uphill battle stopping DA from shrinking”, November 19).

This time it was John Dludlu who couldn’t resist jumping on the clickbait bandwagon by declaring that it was “inevitable” and “imminent” that the DA would continue losing support, though the party held its former leadership accountable for poor performance and is rapidly regrowing its backbone.

To borrow from an old Soviet quip: for SA’s political analysts, the future is always certain. It is the past that keeps changing. Since 1994, commentators have been unflinchingly certain about one thing: the DA would inevitably die at the next election.

Trapped in an echoey universe where ANC hegemony makes it impossible to contemplate life beyond racial nationalist dogma, an unashamedly nonracial, liberal, and accountable party like the DA was always going to be viewed as an otherworldly intruder by local soothsayers.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is clear that the future was never certain. Despite the repeated promises (pleas?) that the DA would die at the next poll, the party went from strength to strength after 1994, growing its support from 1.7% to 22.2% by 2014. When its support declined by 1.46% in 2019, we viewed it as a serious warning from our voters, and embarked on thorough introspection through an independent review panel appointed by the then-leader.

Fortunately for members of the commentariat, there will never be an independent review panel to investigate why they have been so consistently wrong about the rise of the DA. This is why they can simply keep changing the past as it suits them. Instead of seriously examining the appeal of the DA’s vision for an open opportunity society based on nonracialism, a market economy and a capable, accountable state, political analysts simply keep changing the past to suit their own narratives.

In trying to explain how a party that was declared terminally ill by the media more times than Shabir Shaik, grew into a national force over the past quarter of a century, the commentariat always finds a convenient excuse in hindsight.

In this alternate universe, the DA did not become the official opposition because its public representatives worked their tails off to hold the ANC accountable. In the racial nationalist cosmos, the DA never managed to build the most diverse political support base in the country. It never won Cape Town and later the Western Cape on the basis of its world-class service delivery record. And it certainly didn’t make large inroads among black voters on the basis of its values and track record, to the point that it dragged the ANC below 50% in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.

No, to the commentariat this past never existed, and their “reasons” for the DA’s success kept shifting. First, they said the DA grew because of “racism” when the party decided to “Fight Back” against corruption and an increasingly racialist ANC. Next, they tried to argue that the party did not really “Deliver For All”.

When this proved to be untrue and when millions of voters heeded the DA’s call to “Stop Zuma” in 2009, the media said it was down to “alarmism.” Next, as even more voters abandoned the ANC, they suddenly agreed that Zuma was a bad guy because that was a convenient way to explain away the DA’s continued growth.

With every election commentators simply change the past, because it is the only way for them to avoid admitting that they have consistently been wrong in their predictions of the DA’s demise. But fear not, for the future remains absolutely certain.

In the here and now of late 2019, commentators like Dludlu are as drunk as ever on their conviction that the DA will not survive past 2021 or 2024. Most astonishingly of all, Dludlu compares the DA’s response to our disappointing 2019 election with that of the ANC, writing that “in all likelihood it seems set to suffer the same fate as its arch-rival, the governing ANC, and continue shrinking. This seems not only inevitable, but also imminent”.

The DA has in fact done the exact opposite of the ANC after 2019. We lost 1.46 percentage points and decided to overhaul the party from top to bottom by acknowledging and correcting our mistakes, however painful. In contrast, the ANC has lost 12.19 points since 2004 without seriously examining how its track record of limitless looting, cadre deployment and evermore destructive policies contribute to its decline.

It is the DA’s unwavering commitment to accountability that sets us apart from all other parties in SA, and that gives us more than a fighting chance to consolidate our support and get back to winning ways. Unlike those who are busy filling in the DA’s death certificate for the umpteenth time, we will never again take the future for granted.

As we continue to implement the review report’s recommendations over the next few months by revamping our policy offer and electing new leaders, we will draw inspiration from the certainty of a proud past filled with many victories, as we march into a future filled with limitless possibilities for a reinvigorated DA to help build a prosperous SA.

Leon Schreiber
DA shadow public service and administration minister