FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: The DA is stuck in no man’s land


As speculation continues around DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s fate following the party’s elections showing, the organisation must reflect on itself and not just its leader.

The DA can choose to lay the blame on Maimane, or ask itself the difficult questions such as the one raised by its now former campaign manager Jonathan Moakes, “who it is and who it is fighting for?”.

The party’s election performance declined for the first time since the party’s incarnation as the Democratic Alliance 19 years ago. The DA has lost five seats after scoring 20.77% in the polls, down from 22.23% in 2014.

Taking some responsibility for the party’s declining fortunes, former party leader Hellen Zille said that her mistake was to try and outplay the ANC in the “racial diversity as proof of being a transformed party” game.

From where I am seated, the DA failed not because it wanted to have a diverse racial groups as members, but rather because it did not care enough what the new members cared about.

The party was all too happy to see its T-shirts worn in the plattelands and in the informal settlements. To it, this was proof that it was growing and “diversified”.

The only glue that held the disparate interests together was that the members of the new grouping agreed that the ANC had to be removed from power. But it could not always agree on why or what the ANC should be replaced with, in the event that the project succeeded.

As a consequence, the party became everything to everyone.

Blacks associate with it in the expectation that the party will say something meaningful to them about how it intends to resolve what they see as the original sin: white racism and privilege.

Whites feel that the party does not fully appreciate the feelings of alienation and scapegoating for all that is wrong in South Africa.

The party is stuck in no man’s land. It is no surprise that it lost some votes to the far right, and most possibly to the persona of President Cyril Ramaphosa as distinct to losing them to the ANC.

The DA’s game of consolidating around being opposed to the ANC is doomed to failure simply because there are just too many ways and good reasons to be opposed to the ANC.

As Moakes said, what the party ought to do is choose and describe in clear language what it seeks to replace the ANC hegemony with – and sell that to the electorate.

The DA must stop trying to be a “broad church” like the ANC is. As Zille says, it cannot outplay the ANC at being the ANC.

The ANC successfully consolidated the varying interests of nationalists, communists, capitalists, workerists and even traditionalists into an anti-apartheid project.

Once apartheid was defeated, the same disparate interests could sit together around the fire of proximity to power and attendant patronage.

The DA does not have the patronage card to play. At least not in the eight provinces it does not govern.

If the DA has to adopt ANC language, it cannot do worse than borrow from former president Thabo Mbeki saying “better fewer, but better”.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.