ATHOL Trollip likes water polo. I know this from conversations with him from around 2000, when I was still a novice political journalist, and he a 30-something newcomer to provincial politics in the Eastern Cape.
As part of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) all-male quartet caucus in the provincial parliament, Trollip had a confident air about him: after all, he is royalty in the DA. His father was a prominent leader of the Progressive Federal Party, the precursor to the DA. Trollip now wants to be mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, which is akin to attempting to rip the heart and soul out of the former liberation party in its heartland.
I felt sorry for him, but also watched with awe as the African National Congress (ANC) ran rings around him in Port Elizabeth last week. The party pulled typically thuggish stunts: municipal officials blocked the DA’s application for a march. And ANC mayor Danny Jordaan’s runners paraded two councillors who had defected from the DA, seemingly over discomfort with Trollip’s style of leadership and claims he abused black workers on his farm.
On top of that, the runners picked up that Trollip’s team was planning a march to the Gelvandale stadium, and rushed ahead to “book” it so the DA could not use it. Petty, but effective. All the DA could do, other than carry placards around the city in groups of three of four, was to unveil a billboard with the words: “Danny Jordaan, proudly brought to you by Jacob Zuma”.
In other words: we cannot tackle Jordaan any more, so let’s rather go after the Prince of Nkandla. Word from the DA’s war room is that its campaign is struggling in Port Elizabeth. It has reached a support ceiling around the mid-40s, according to its internal polls.
Meanwhile, the Jordaan camp is increasingly confident that it can retain the metro, possibly with as much as 55%, based on candidate recognition and party strength polls done by the ANC and independent market research firms.
I am not sure if they will still be confident following their failure to round up 46,000 supporters to fill a stadium for the local government election manifesto launch on Saturday.
The DA’s apparent problems in the city are emblematic of a bigger problem in the opposition ranks. It is an indictment that, with all the ANC’s problems, they are not able to make meaningful inroads — a sign of a credibility deficit on the part of the DA and others. A combination of factors are responsible for that. One, the ANC brand is still strong, despite many residents’ utter disgust with Zuma. Another is that the DA continues to fail to capture the imagination of many people who, at the psychological level, cannot bring themselves to support any party besides the one that freed them from apartheid bondage.
Also, the DA runs a one-legged stool campaign, which claims it governs better than the ANC. Well, Jordaan’s performance has been sterling; he has turned the financial books around in 10 months, something that ought to neutralise the DA’s clean governance claim. When you look at the appeal of the candidates, you realise the DA has a problem. In a country in which the youth are the biggest segment of the population, Trollip is old school. If you want to replace the ANC, you need more jazz and steam (with more diverse skills and interests, and not only in water polo) and candidates that represent the future.
Trollip speaks isiXhosa, which is both an advantage and a problem. Nothing could be more patronising to an enlightened mind than the belief that a politician is acceptable to black voters simply because he speaks their language.
Trollip also appears to hang on to DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s coat-tails (or could it be the other way around?), which is problematic because Maimane is himself pretty ineffectual in painting a picture that transcends the history of black suffering and at the same time offer a credible story about a future SA.
• Mkokeli is associate editor