By Aubrey Matshiqi, 26 November 2012
I WAS invited to the federal congress of the Democratic Alliance (DA) at the weekend but could not go. In fact, I smell a rat — a big, fat and anti-DA rodent.
No, I was not kidnapped by African National Congress (ANC) comrades who believe I joined the DA when I became a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation. And that there are DA supporters who think I am an ANC plant is a matter I will address in due course.
What is important for now is the fact that I was eager to attend the DA’s federal congress, but couldn’t. First, my wife engineered an injury to my foot and then proceeded to put me on babysitting duty. Is this the fate that awaits the DA from 2014? Will millions of black voters be put on babysitting duty to prevent them from voting for the DA?
I have a feeling that the extent to which our wives will be prepared to resort to such drastic measures will depend on whether they believe DA leader Helen Zille when she avers that her party is on the verge of proving that democratic theory (the liberal democratic kind) is correct about liberation movements that become ruling parties that squander the liberation dividend on their way to losing power 20 years after a democratic breakthrough.
If she is correct, the electoral environment will, from 2014, get increasingly hostile, to the disadvantage of the ruling party and to the benefit of the DA.
So confident is the DA about this that some of its leaders are beginning to think about the luxury cars Zille will not allow them to buy when she becomes head of state in 2019.
Is the idea of an electoral swing towards the DA illusory? Is it correct to assume that the DA is going to benefit from the possibility that the ruling party’s image crisis will mutate into a crisis of legitimacy?
In all probability, the ANC will fall below 60% in national support before 2029.
In other words, I am not convinced that the swing we are going to see during this period will be enough to dislodge the ANC.
For the ANC, the problem is that even if the swing is not decisive, it will probably coincide with a contraction in the turnout of its supporters.
For its part, the DA needs to manage two key challenges for it to become the ruling party of this country. First, it needs to deal with the damage that was caused by the success of the “Fight Back” campaign in 1999.
This campaign dislodged the New National Party as the official opposition, but defined the DA (the Democratic Party then) as a party of white interests, including those of a reactionary and conservative kind. I suspect that Zille understands this, hence her argument that the DA is not a party for racists (anymore). If I am correct, she understands that the DA must abandon its 1999 conservative base in order to broaden its base among black voters. In the process, the DA must manage the perception that its avowed commitment to nonracialism is nothing but a matter of practical politics.
Second, both the DA and the ANC must deal with the possibility that the realignment of South African politics is about the emergence of a credible alternative to both.
In this regard, the question is whether such an alternative will result from an ANC split or shifts in the political landscape outside both the ANC and the DA. On the other hand, political realignment may depend on the extent to which members and leaders of the ruling party will continue to do damage to the ANC brand and, in turn, cause damage to the legitimacy of the state.
As matters stand, there seems to be a growing perception that, under the current leadership, the post-apartheid state is becoming a state of conspicuous consumption, corruption, wastage and lack of delivery.
Rightly or wrongly, I am convinced that the Mangaung conference of the ANC will probably deliver continuity, not change, in this regard.
If this happens, it may benefit the DA earlier than my 2029 projection.
• Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
Source: Business Day Live