At the party congress for the DA in Gauteng, party leader Helen Zille revealed what the DA message is going to be. Basically, the opposition party will attempt to convince the South African voters the ruling party is launching a full attack on the Constitution to ensure it never loses power. And more specifically, Nelson Mandela Bay (or Port Elizabeth, if you wear tweeds) has been abandoned as the next big target in favour of a big municipality in Gauteng. In Parliament, the party has its sights on a 30% figure come 2014, according to the parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.
The year 2009 was very interesting for South Africa’s political scene. Ahead of the national elections that year, the African National Congress was facing a serious crisis – a significant portion of members had broken off to form the Congress of the People (Cope) and there was a serious scare that this new party would dent the parent enough to cripple it. In the midst of campaigning for the elections, the ANC had a strategic rethink and despatched a little-known Collins Chabane to deal with Cope. The new party seemed to have strong headway in what were perceived to be strongholds of Thabo Mbeki, especially in the Eastern Cape. In the end, Cope managed a modest 7.66% of the vote, which still prevented the ANC from clinching a clear two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Over the next months, Cope fell apart.
The party watching Cope with the closest interest was definitely the ANC, but the Democratic Alliance was also very interested. For this small, upstart party, Cope’s ascendancy provided a unique opportunity. After it had become the party of governance in the Western Cape, the DA shifted its growth strategy away from criticising the ANC towards providing a better service delivery. And it was pretty confident that it could do a better job than the ruling party if it could only get a foothold into new territory. But being a small party, this was proving difficult on its own. Hence, alliances became important.
And in the 2011 local government elections, Cope and the DA were supposed to work together to wrest the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality away from the ANC. It would become the second major metropolis outside of Cape Town to fall out of the ANC’s grasp. Unfortunately for the DA, their partner turned out to be horribly unreliable. The ANC kept the municipality, albeit by the slenderest of margins.
The DA has learned its lesson. Its growth strategy is now focused on what it does best: finding the areas where the ANC is doing really badly, and where there is a significant number of swing voters, and then convincing the people to vote their way. No other place in the country is better than Gauteng.
At the DA’s provincial congress for Gauteng this past weekend, the party leader Helen Zille made it perfectly clear they now consider Gauteng to be the next target. This new focus could be because the party believes it no longer needs partners to get PE and can thus pour its resources into Gauteng; but more crucially, the party’s growth trajectory now suggests that an outright win is possible for Gauteng, and the two major metropoles in the province, Johannesburg and Tshwane.
From 2004 to 2009, the DA managed an impressive 50% growth in the number of voters, from 1.931,201 to just under 3-million. The numbers for the total number of votes polled comparing the 2006 to the 2011 local elections proved the trend to be true – the ANC was retreating, while the DA was gaining considerable (based on a comparison of its own numbers in previous elections) ground in several key municipalities. In the City of Johannesburg, the DA currently holds 90 out of an available 260 seats in the city council. An additional 41 seats would see it clinching the city. You can almost sense the excitement of the DA’s people with the calculators. However, growth in Gauteng hasn’t been electric for the DA. In 2011, it managed to get 21.86% of the vote, representing just 1.08% in growth compared to the last provincial elections.
In order to win Gauteng, the party needs an additional 1-million voters to complement the 908,616 who voted for them last time. It is a huge ask.
According to the new DA leader in Gauteng John Moodey, they can double the number of people who vote for them by targeting disillusioned former ANC voters. “The first thing I have recognised is that the 1-million new voters we need are going to have to [come from] the ANC,” he said. “So, why is it that we battle to make inroads in those communities? I believe we have never really introduced ourselves properly. The ground has been prepared through 18 years of broken promises. They are now waiting for us to introduce ourselves and tell them what we are about.”
As the leader of the party in Gauteng, Moodey is now responsible for preparing the ground so that Zille’s grand vision can be recognised. He is saddled with the task of finding this lost constituency of 1-million voters.
On a marketing level, Zille also gave away a taste for what the strategy against the ANC is going to be in the coming years when she delivered her keynote address at the party provincial congress. The ANC has handed the DA its offensive on a platter with its plans to perhaps redraw the Constitution for a “second transition”. According to the ANC, the first transition was a political one, and that is what our Constitution has been good for. Now, it stands in the way of the second (economic) transition, and must therefore be rewritten. ANC discussion documents suggest that sunset clauses on property be done away with, for one thing.
The reason why the ANC has failed to adequately transform the country isn’t because of the Constitution, Zille told the gathered delegates, but because the ANC has abandoned its roots and has become a party for personal patronage. The DA is now the party that delivers on the ANC’s own promise for “a better life for all”, she said.
In the coming years, the DA will embark on an extensive campaign to educate voters on just what the “second transition” that the ANC wants will entail, Zille said. She painted a horrifying picture of a subservient judiciary and media, at the beck-and-call of an all-powerful executive branch.
“We all know this is Orwellian double-speak to disguise the blatant attempt to turn our criminal justice system (from the prosecuting authority to the courts) into an extension of the ruling party. We know that this so-called Second Transition will be the transition to a failed state,” Zille said. “The DA must do everything it takes to ensure that every South African knows what is at stake when they make their cross on the ballot paper in two years time. It must be the catalyst to galvanise South Africans and show the ANC that it will not govern till the Second Coming. We will stop their so-called Second Transition long before that.??“We will expose the lie that the ANC needs to change the Constitution at all to achieve the socio-economic transition. Not only does the government have all the powers it needs in the Constitution to drive the socio-economic transition, in fact the Constitution mandates it to do so. It is actually unconstitutional for them not to do so,” she said.
To make this particular strategy work, the DA will need to make it very clear that the ANC is disguising the attack on freedoms by claiming it is in aid of a second transition. It’ll have to be a surgically-fine job. The nub is that it is difficult to argue against the need for economic transformation in South Africa.
At a press conference held on the sideline of the congress, Zille said that she would argue that the political and economic transformations of the country should have happened simultaneously (the subtext obviously being that the need for economic transformation is a given).
Also present at the press conference was the party’s parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko. She said that the DA would be aiming for a 30% representivity in Parliament in the next elections. While this sounds unambitious on the face of it, it would actually be a significant jump for the party in parliamentary seat numbers. The party went from seven seats in 1999 to 67 seats in 2009. The 30% figure would give the DA 120 seats in 2014.
Mazibuko said that their projections were based on a similar turn-out to the 2009 elections (roughly 17.700,000 people) and that their additional 52 seats would ensure that the ANC’s two-thirds majority would be decisively eroded, making it much harder for the party to pull smaller parties in for the majority it needs to change the Constitution. It would also give the DA greater capacity to cajole the ANC in portfolio committee meetings – essentially, more eyes will lead to greater scrutiny.
The language and tone of Zille and Mazibuko at the provincial congress suggested very strongly that the DA needs to consolidate its past wins in the next elections by taking a big prize (one would think that taking Gauteng while not securing one of the two big metropoles would pretty useless), and yet at the same time, the message hinted at even greater things to come. The really big prize here is 2019. Based on current growth levels, it would put the DA’s voter number in the mid-40 percentile, if not (dare we say it) in the fifties. But nobody should be fooled: the immediate goal for Zille and Moodey is making sure the DA in Gauteng is ready to run the kind of campaign that will deliver a province and a city in the next elections. DM
Photo: The DA could make a serious run at the ANC in 2019. DAILY MAVERICK/Sipho Hlongwane.