Rumour has it that the once promising,
self-proclaimed leader of the opposition is facing a moment of reckoning, 100 days
after Cyril Ramaphosa took over as the president of the country.
The DA is reportedly facing a possible
split due to concern by some within the party that Mmusi Maimane is trying to
turn the DA into a civilised EFF, instead of maintaining its roots as a Liberal
party with a capital letter “L”.
Those who are unhappy with Maimane’s grand
experimentation with the DA are said to be considering forming a new party
which will be set to oppose everything in the country. They want a DA that will
embark on ruthless opposition to everything! Helen Zille is touted to be a
possible leader of the new party that will be formed.
Before everyone starts denying the
reports about this move, allow me to indulge in how senseless this idea is. In
the current South African landscape, there is no space for the type of
liberalism that is being propagated by Zille’s fans, or Maimane’s detractors
for that matter. To put it differently, such liberalism will guarantee you a
permanent role as an opposition party and is not a recipe for winning the
elections in South Africa.
One really wonders what the electoral
prospects are for a political party that is a conglomeration of colonialism and
apartheid denialists whose main submission is to try to put apartheid into
Competition in this category is cut-throat.
There is already a well-established grouping that excels when it comes to
denying the impacts of apartheid on inequality in South Africa. The group has
already successfully staged a national dialogue on whether apartheid really
happened. Why would anyone in their right mind try to form a new outfit with
the intention to compete in this field?
I believe that the existential crisis the
DA is confronted with is genuine. Ramaphosa’s first 100 days in office contributed
to the DA’s inability to gather a sense of perspective and find a way to
regroup in time to contest the 2019 elections as a united party.
I also believe that Maimane might not be
the perfect person to take the DA forward and help the party gather its mojo.
Yet, I think that Maimane is the best man for the job now; someone who should
be allowed to set the stage for the possible transition of the DA.
Instead of resorting to comfort zones and
trying to be more conservative than the Freedom Front Plus, the DA should take the
opportunity and reformulate its brand of liberalism to ensure it stays relevant
to the challenges South Africa faces. Becoming an ultra-right-wing party is not
a solution to the DA’s problems. This may only bring a short-term sense of
reprieve to those DA members who feel overwhelmed by the South Africa they live
in, just like comfort eating is a solution to stress.
Further, the DA should begin to focus on
its own identity and not allow itself to be overwhelmed by the relative success of the Ramaphosa presidency. In order to respond to the land issue
and Ramaphosa’s popularity as a champion of everything – including the
impossible – the DA should focus on how to position itself for the 2019
elections. The party should try not to lose votes in 2019.
Those who want to
jump ship from the DA should understand that they are sentencing themselves to
a permanent role as a small opposition party with no prospects of governing
anything beyond a small farming town.
Indeed, members of the DA should engage
each other on the type of liberalism they wish to stand for. This conversation
requires level-headed people, and not attention-seeking individuals with
– Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.
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