THE revelation that opposition parties are discussing the possibility of uniting to challenge the ANC in the 2011 local government election has caused reverberations in the country's political scene.

THE revelation that opposition parties are discussing the possibility of uniting to challenge the ANC in the 2011 local government election has caused reverberations in the country's political scene.

Speaking at a DA provincial conference in Mpumalanga last weekend, DA leader Hellen Zille said there was a need to create a "new political force" that would counter-balance the ANC.

Any country that has the same party in power for longer than 20 years was setting itself up for serious abuse of power, Zille told her audience.

"The only guarantee against a slide into irreversible power abuse, corruption and systemic state failure is the periodic transfer of power between competing political visions and forces," Zille said.

Supporting the unity talks initiative, Cope spokesman Phillip Dexter said opposition parties "have more issues that unite them than divide them".

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille also came out in support of the initiative, describing it as a "realignment of opposition politics".


United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa has described the talks about the realignment of opposition politics as "encouraging".

But questions have been raised about the effectiveness of such an opposition alliance.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi has dismissed such an alliance as "a constellation of lightweights with a dismal opportunity of creating any political heavyweight".

Matshiqi was obviously referring to the dismal performance of parties such as the ID and UDM in the April elections.

Another analyst, Steven Friedman, has warned that although the opposition parties "might think they have a lot in common, one being challenging the ANC, they actually don't."

The DA and parties such as the UDM, ID and Cope have agreed on issues that deal directly with ANC's failure to implement its policies.

But when it comes to key policy issues such as state intervention and affirmative action, the DA has always held a different view.

In general, the majority parties have long believed in state intervention, whereas the DA is more a proponent of the free market.

The DA has always tried to couch its basic opposition to affirmative action in words that accuse the policy of being reverse racism.

But this is disingenuous, because the objective of affirmative action is to redress racial discrimination and it must therefore be racially biased.

There is also the issue of ideological difference.

For example, in her address in Mpumalanga, Zille criticised the fact that the people who are now protesting against poor service delivery were the ones who voted the ANC into power.

Zille said the protestors should understand that they did not bring change into their lives through "toyi-toying but through voting the ANC out of power".

What Zille is saying is that people must just be voting cattle with no ability to use their "people's power" to hold the government of their choice accountable.

As far as Zille is concerned there is no space for extra-parliamentary or civil society politics - in which people are not only recipients of the government's goodwill but also active participants in the changing of their lives - including their ability to organise themselves and challenge government.


If all the opposition parties that are part of the unity talks operate from Zille's ideological framework, the alliance could find itself distanced from the very vote it is meant to attract.

Commenting on opposition alliances, Hesham Sallam of the United States Institution of Peace cited some of the weaknesses experienced by previous opposition alliances in Egypt.

These included:

lFailure to offer an appealing national programme,

lExclusion of relevant civil society structures,

lAlliances based on closed-door bargains excluding the possibility of popular participation,

lLack of political credibility, and

lFailure to increase the role of younger generation leaders.

These are some of the pitfalls the South African opposition alliance will have to overcome, along with the fact that their unity could be driven solely by their desire to depose the ANC - at all cost.