A voting station in Umlazi, Durban, during the local government elections in this file photo. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
A voting station in Umlazi, Durban, during the local government elections in this file photo. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

On Saturday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane was greeted with cheers from thousands of supporters decked out in the party’s signature blue. In a fiery address in Joburg to launch the party’s manifesto, he emphasised the DA’s claim to offer a real alternative to the ANC in the May 8 national elections.

"I can promise you that if the DA is in government, Life Esidimeni will never happen, and neither will state capture," he said.

The official opposition party in parliament, the DA received 22% of the vote under its former leader, Helen Zille, in the 2014 elections.

It made a strong showing in Gauteng that year, garnering 30.78% of the vote. And it is again setting its sights on SA’s economic hub in the run-up to the polls in May.

The DA is also looking to take control of the Northern Cape and increase its support in the Western Cape. But it will have to work harder in the Western Cape than it did last time around after the party leadership fell out with former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. She has since left the DA to form her own party, Good, which will also contest the elections.

Two DA leaders who declined to be named said that late last year the party’s support in the province was down on the almost 60% it secured in 2014. But they said support had since recovered and they were confident the DA would retain the Western Cape with a majority.

The party is looking to the Western Cape as its blueprint for winning Gauteng: show it can run the major metro, and then take the province.

At the manifesto launch, Maimane spoke of the ANC’s failings in government: its inability to create jobs and ensure meaningful land reform; the mismanagement of state-owned enterprises (SOEs); and the overall decline in the economy.

For the DA, the ANC is the face of failure. But the party may have to rethink its working relationship with its political nemesis in Gauteng, where the ANC received 54% of the vote five years ago. And this is exactly what some groups within the DA are considering.

The issue of the Gauteng premiership would be a likely stumbling block to any negotiations between the DA and ANC

There’s a strong possibility that the ANC’s support in Gauteng could fall below 50% in May. The DA’s candidate for Gauteng premier, Solly Msimanga, has said his party’s internal polling shows the ANC has already dipped below 50%.

The numbers open up an interesting electoral prospect for the DA: to choose between the EFF and the ANC as a partner in the province.

The DA has been struggling to manage its relationship with the EFF in crucial metros such as Joburg and Tshwane. And it’s surely learnt some lessons about how easy it is to get burnt by the red berets.

For all its radical talk, the ANC walks a centrist policy line that is more closely aligned with the DA than with the EFF’s extreme leftist position — most crucially on land reform.

Outside of changing the constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation (EWC), the ANC and DA are largely on the same page when it comes to land reform. Both parties believe people should own their land and that state-owned land should be allocated for housing.

On the question of amending section 25 of the constitution, the DA takes a strong stand: it has vowed to fight the matter in court.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC, for its part, is being quite careful about the issue. In its election manifesto, the party says it supports an amendment that will "clearly define the conditions under which EWC can take place".

The EFF also supports an amendment — but, unlike the DA and ANC, it’s pushing for the wholesale nationalisation of land.

Another central issue on which the two parties see almost eye to eye is Eskom. Similar to the ANC plan to unbundle Eskom, the DA in its manifesto has called to end the struggling utility’s monopoly by splitting it into electricity generation and transmission entities. However, the DA takes a harder line than the ANC on SOEs generally: it would sell off companies like SAA and partially privatise others, including Eskom, to end their monopoly.

So if Ramaphosa were able to block the radical element in his party — the faction considered to be against him — he could expect DA support in parliament in pushing through some policy decisions.

At a provincial level, however, more formalised co-operation is a possibility.

Reliable sources in the DA have told the FM there is a group within the party that will push for a coalition with the ANC over one with the EFF at the provincial level.

Broadly speaking, Ramaphosa offers a much more palatable match as ANC leader than former president Jacob Zuma did, and Gauteng premier David Makhura has a good relationship with the DA in the province.

What it means

Sources in the DA say the party does not rule out has have not written off the possibility of co-operating with the ANC at provincial level

More crucially, the DA has sweated through some steep learning curves with the EFF at municipal level. The DA and its coalition partners were on various occasions held to ransom by the red berets, with which the DA had no official coalition agreement. To be forced to revisit such an arrangement could leave a sour taste. And not being dependent on the EFF for important issues, such as passing budgets, would be a relief.

A highly placed source in the DA, speaking to the FM, outlined three possible scenarios in a province such as Gauteng if the party fails to win the province outright but does well enough to push the ANC into having to form some kind of coalition government.

In one scenario, the ANC and the EFF form a coalition on a provincial level, playing musical chairs in Tshwane and Joburg. In this scenario, the ANC could retake control of Joburg, with the EFF attaining its goal of running Tshwane.

In a second scenario, the DA could form a coalition with the EFF. Here, the DA might hold onto Tshwane and Joburg but offer the EFF the mayorship or speaker’s post in Mogale City as a trade-off.

The third possibility, according to the source, is a DA-ANC coalition in Gauteng. This could allow for more stability in the metros, as the parties together would have unassailable majorities in Tshwane, Joburg and Ekurhuleni — as well as at provincial level. This would keep the EFF in check.

A similar kind of coalition could emerge in a province such as Limpopo, if the EFF were to again grab a substantial chunk of ANC support as it did in the 2016 local government elections.

Of course, the possibility of any coalition would arise only if the ANC lost its overall majority in a province. And if it did, the issue of the premiership would be a stumbling block: it’s unlikely either party would be prepared to step back from the top position in a prime province such as Gauteng.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what bedfellows politics will make come May.

Party promises

The DA launched its 2019 manifesto at the Rand Stadium in Joburg last weekend. These are some of its main policy offerings:

• The introduction of fiscal spending rules, as envisioned in the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, to prevent the debt-to-GDP ratio spiralling out of control. The key stabilising initiative will be implementing a debt ceiling at a maximum of 60% of GDP.

• Ensuring government guarantees to state-owned enterprises do not increase as a percentage of GDP.

• Introducing a jobs act to serve as an “economic stimulus shock”. The act will make special incentive offers open to foreign and domestic investors that meet a minimum employment threshold. The DA wants to ensure there is at least one job in every household.

• Introducing a year of “voluntary national civilian service”, creating a bridge between school and work. This will also provide work experience to school-leavers and those not moving on to tertiary education.

• Creating an independent and fully resourced anticorruption unit staffed by specialist prosecutors and investigators.

• Introducing a minimum sentence of 15 years for anyone found guilty of corruption in cases involving government officials or public office bearers, or involving public funds of more than R10,000.

• Simplifying the current broad-based BEE scorecard. This would include time frames to help businesses plan for the medium and long term. It also plans to set requirements “to ensure that the beneficiaries of genuinely broad-based BEE are not just a politically connected elite, or individuals who are continually re-enriched”.

• Rejecting the proposed national health insurance plan, which it says is “little more than the creation of another enormous state-owned entity”. It proposes a plan that it says will improve health care without threatening the financial health of SA.

• Providing comprehensive bursary packages to tertiary students from low-income families who could otherwise not afford to study.

• Introducing a new social assistance system that aims to set a basic income floor, with an initial focus on children.