DA: A party looking for a future
For a long time, the Democratic Alliance has relied on spooking the public into voting for it. It was a strategy based on the fact that its slice of Parliament is paltry compared to that of the ruling African National Congress, and thus presenting opposing policies was pretty pointless.
Instead, the ruling party's mistakes were relentlessly picked at. But although this yielded some fantastic battles in the National Assembly, it didn't necessarily bring the multitudes in.
Then, under the leadership of Helen Zille, the thrust changed to small victories. Cape Town was won, then the Western Cape. A scattering of municipalities across the rest of the country bear the blue of the DA. The message then became about how much better these areas were run than those controlled by the ANC. The "Cape Town story" election manifesto was this strategy at its crispest.
With its federal congress coming up on the weekend, the party must now ask what strategy will work best to achieve the lofty goals the DA has set for itself.
The DA has already made some strides in addressing its colour problem. It always struggles with the perception that it too white, and has of late aggressively recruited prominent older black politicians from outside, and cherry-picked young black politicians from within for leadership positions.
A member of the party's federal council said the party recognised that people no longer happy with the ANC did not come to the DA because it wasn't visible enough.
"The sad reality is that people will not vote for us just because we are not the ANC; they need to be convinced that we can deliver on our promises. We have also adopted a strategy to be visible in all communities, especially in Gauteng. It should be easy to get hold of a DA leader at all times," he said.
In areas where the party has been weak, like predominantly black townships, DA members are being encouraged to be more assertive.
He said, "We have recognised that we lack confidence when interacting with community members, especially those that have links to the ANC.
"Our members in townships need to be graduated from being comfortable with just wearing our T-shirts as a show of support to the level that they can stand their ground against supporters of other parties. Community members must see the DA through our activists."
Zille has made clear in the past that the next target is Gauteng, and its two major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. She also expects the party to seize power within the next two national elections. It may be an ambitious target; the numbers are currently simply not in its favour. Still, the party's leaders seem unperturbed, favouring a strategy that falls between its demands for "better governance" and presenting itself as "scrappy opposers".
At the congress of the DA Gauteng, Zille painted a terrifying picture of what South Africa would be if the ANC continued to rule unchecked.
"We all know this is Orwellian doublespeak [referring to the ANC second transition document] to disguise the blatant attempt to turn our criminal justice system from the prosecuting authority to the courts into an extension of the ruling party. We know that this so-called Second Transition will be the transition to a failed state," Zille said.
"The DA must do everything it takes to ensure that every South African knows what is at stake when they make their cross on the ballot paper in two years' time. It must be the catalyst to galvanise South Africans and show the ANC that it will not govern till the Second Coming. We will stop their so-called Second Transition long before that. We will expose the lie that the ANC needs to change the Constitution at all to achieve the socio-economic transition.
"Not only does the government have all the powers it needs in the Constitution to drive the socio-economic transition, in fact the Constitution mandates it to do so. It is actually unconstitutional for them not to do so," she said.
Zille spoke of how the country was being ruined by the ANC, and suggested that the DA could do a better job because it actually understood the mandate handed to any government of the country by the Constitution.
We saw more of the old DA when its parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, led a coalition of eight opposition parties in attempting to bring a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma. The ANC predictably closed ranks and made sure that the motion never reached the floor of the National Assembly, only to signal on Monday that it would allow the confidence vote at some time in the near future. The exercise drew massive attention to what the DA calls the lack of leadership in the country; when Zuma visited Parliament a few days later, it was a volcanic affair.
DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane said that the attempt to table a motion of no confidence was not merely symbolic.
"We believe there are large numbers of ANC MPs who have also lost confidence in the president. If the speaker allows a secret ballot, we believe there is a chance that those MPs will vote yes for a motion of no confidence and that there is therefore a chance that the motion could pass. We only need about 60 ANC MPs to vote with their conscience," Maimane said.
At its congress, the party will need to consider ways to make its newer strategy as successful as its publicity exercises. Simply put, how does the party make its governance record as talked-about as its Nkandla trip? The usefulness of documents like "Cape Town story" grows as more of the country buckles under poor service delivery, and more people take to the streets to complain.
If people are not convinced that the DA is a viable option, they will simply continue either to vote ANC or to not vote at all. The country is nearing the time when history dictates that the liberation-movement-turned-political- party will start to weaken significantly. But the gap between it losing power, and the DA taking over, is still considerable. In Gauteng alone the party needs more than a million votes to take the province. As its delegates will probably entrust Zille to continue leading it, they must at least hope that her message in Parliament will point more towards the party, and less at the ANC, in the future.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.