YONELA DIKO: The Democratic Alliance’s impending death is an inside job
The Democratic Alliance is pretty much on life support. Its demise has not been a matter of creative destruction, where better political parties have emerged and outcompeted it. The Democratic Alliance’s impending death is an inside job.
Ironically, only three years ago, in May 2017, it was the death of the ANC that the then DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, could see in his rose-tinted glasses, in a speech given with great animation and pomp at Constitutional Hill, entitled 'The ANC is dead. Long Live South Africa'.
It was a familiar speech about the corruption of Jacob Zuma and the need to look to a future without the liberation movement.
As Maimane was giving his speech, however, he was becoming smaller and smaller in people’s eyes against the growing shadow of his former boss and mentor, Helen Zille, who had brought an age of turbulence into her own party. So, despite a weakened governing party, the DA was busy cutting itself up into pieces, with its erstwhile leader standing atop of the party with a machete cutting limb by limb.
Since then, Zille has lost all pretences and has been daily charging the wall, offending and insulting every black South African, if not for being ungrateful of the colonial legacy that gave them sewerage pipes and indoor plumbing and what have you, then for being buffoons who live on white minority tax while voting against the white party.
When Maimane had finally amassed enough courage, he decided to throw in a line in his speech, after days and weeks of being in a paralysis, a line which he hoped would rescue his tumbling reputation and take his party out of internal affliction.
Maimane said, “As a black South African whose family lived through colonial and apartheid oppression, I have nothing good to say about those evil systems. So let me say today in clear and unambiguous terms. There is no place for racists, homophobes and sexists in the party I lead”.
With these words, however, what was meant to be the death of the ANC became the death of Maimane and the beginning of the end for the Democratic Alliance.
The country’s official opposition will never recover from Zille's victory to become the DA’s federal chairperson. She has proven to be an undisciplined slob and crude, hell bent on bringing the party to its knees if it’s the last thing she does. Her adventurism and her one women army approach to politics has caused an existential threat to her organisation, as she pushes it further and further into a white man's party.
However, what is happening in the DA goes deeper than Zille. The locust that has been eating at the DA every day and causing public spats between its leaders has been the lack of a unifying ideology, which usually holds together even the most divided of organisations. You can be angry at your colleagues for one thing or the other, but still vote for them for ideological reasons.
This explains why on almost every hot button socio-economic issue, depending on which DA leader you speak to, you will find a different answer.
When former Gauteng DA leader John Moodey was also competing for the position of DA leader after Maimane was leaving the party last year, he said he did not feel at home in a party that was veering off centre right.
The question, of course, is why are white DA members, led by Zille, moving to the illiberal right? According to Mark R Reiffis, a political philosopher at the University of California, Davis, the white move to the illiberal right, evident in almost all parts of the world, is because of the changing demographics and the inevitable loss of cultural dominance. Liberals, who are supposed to embrace everyone, turn to collapse when confronted by their fear of losing power and their fear of losing privilege to define democracy for others.
White fragility therefore swings liberalism from right to left, depending on white fears and self-interest.
So when Zille accused Maimane of turning DA into ANC-lite, which was the first salvo she threw to signal her return to political leadership, she was responding to her fear of whites losing their party, now dominated by blacks who are refusing to be ahistorical about the reality of the country, its poverty, its unemployment and inequality.
All this ideological confusion has alienated the black majority of the party which was not long ago attracted by the neoliberal tropes of clean governance, rule of law and equal opportunity. This was possible because the governing party seemed to represent corruption, lack of respect for rule of law and patronage. Although things are not perfect, at least at the very top, the ANC has turned the corner. This has left the DA without a persuasive message.
The results have been that the DA has been losing power at lightning speed. Voters suddenly don't know what it stands for as its swings from left to right depending on white sensibilities at the time.
Last year on 11 November, 95 by-elections were held across the country. This represented approximately 2.2% of the total 4,400 wards across the country. The ANC retained 64 wards, won six new ones and lost just two, while the DA retained 14, won just two new ones, and lost nine.
In April 2021 another set of by-elections were held and once again the ANC retained ten seats and won two seats from the DA and IFP. The ANC kept all its wards and won two more. The DA lost a crucial ward in Knysna, and made no gains anywhere else.
This has been the story since the 2019 elections where for the first time in DA history, it registered a decline in support.
Without any clear plan to renew the party and give it a unifying ideology, the DA has now been pinning its hopes on problems at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), real or imagined, so that the party does not have to face an election against the mighty ANC and continue the road to perdition. The DA has lost the appetite to compete in elections and has now thrown its weight on administrative mistakes and tricks in order to stop its own electoral humiliation.
Unfortunately, a party that has no hope of ever attaining an electoral victory has no reason to exist.
Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko