Perhaps it is time for the DA to die so that a more viable alternative to the governing ANC can emerge.
The various self-induced crises the country’s largest opposition party finds itself in – from the expulsion of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille to DA leader Mmusi Maimane facing a rebellion from a supposedly anti-transformation clique – are symptoms of a much deeper problem for the party.
Political commentator Somadoda Fikeni is quoted as having recently remarked that the DA is busy “mutilating itself in a corner, unprovoked”. It does indeed seem so, for many of us outsiders.
Theoretically, this is supposed to be the best of times for the DA. Its main political competitor, the ANC, is still trying to recover from the trauma of the Jacob Zuma decade.
As it tries to rediscover itself under President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC veers from one political and ideological extreme to another - leaving one wondering if kwaito outfit Trompies was not prophesying about the post-Zuma ANC when they sang about Madibuseng: “Sometimes uRed [as in when it borrows EFF rhetoric on land]/ Sometimes uGreen/ Sometimes uOrange...”
Policy positions largely depend on who is speaking for the ANC at that particular time. You can’t assume that what secretary-general Ace Magashule says is the same as his comrade Paul Mashatile.
In light of that confusion, and the fact that the other competitor, the EFF, appears uncertain if its path to power will be through an independent political programme or seeking some form of accommodation with the ANC, the DA should be consolidating its base and working towards winning elections.
But, so far, it seems determined to prove to voters that its internal politics are as messy and short-termist as those of the party it seeks to dislodge from power.
At the heart of the problem is the contestation about the party’s positioning as well as its future. In its current form, the DA is unlikely to grow much further than it has over the past two general elections. Despite all its efforts and changes in leadership over the past few years, it would be lucky to breach the 30% mark it informally set itself for the 2014 elections at next year’s polls.
It is too encumbered by its history to even dream of winning more than 50% of the votes by itself in 2024, not with this changed political environment in which black younger voters – the only real constituency that can deliver this growth – increasingly intolerant of continued racial inequality.
The DA may argue it was not responsible for apartheid, but the reality is that – since its creation as a merger between the Democratic Party and the New National Party in the early 2000s – it was perceived as a political party whose main goal was to protect “white privilege” in a democratic SA.
The merger may have helped grow its support base by attracting Afrikaans National Party voters, but it will struggle with this stigma for years as it seeks to woo black voters.
Perhaps it is time the DA, in its current form, folded. The party, in its various guises over the decades, has survived and stayed relevant through reinventing itself by merging with others depending on the political dynamic of the time.
Post the 2009 elections, Maimane’s predecessor, Helen Zille, seemed to believe its future depended on the “realignment of politics” that would see it and like-minded parties collapsing into one super-party.
At some stage this seemed a reality. But in the end, only De Lille’s Independent Democrats and Ziba Jiyane’s South African Democratic Convention came to the party. Even then, the DA got to keep its name. It is time Maimane revisited this blueprint.