The Democratic Alliance (DA) is continuously letting the democratic project down, and at this rate, the moment could be nearing for an alternative official opposition to replace them. If it is not an epic political fumble like last week’s Agang shenanigan, then it is flip-flopping on sensitive policy issues like the BBEEE blunder some months ago. This time around, they are provocatively marching to Luthuli House, the ANC’s political headquarters, despite the scores of injuries that occurred two years ago when they pulled a similar stunt at Cosatu House.
In political science, a distinction is made between a one-party state and a dominant-party state. Even though South Africa is characterised as the latter system, and this is definitely a better situation than the former, these two systems are, respectively, regarded as the antithesis and the antipathy of democracy. It is needless to highlight that neither system is optimal for the promotion of political choice and the improvement of public participation in the democratic process. Democracies are observed to function better when there is a strong and viable opposition. But in South Africa, two decades into the democracy project, the DA, which is the official opposition so far, sees fit to launch a march to the ruling party’s headquarters, merely to present what amounts to a memorandum of their semantic differences on job-creation policy sets. Other differences presumably include the state’s capacity challenges with regards to policy implementation, for which the DA itself has not set a shining example of being able to overcome either of these in the Western Cape (WC) province.
The DA’s behaviour speaks to the general poverty of opposition politics in South Africa. The petty politicking for the sake of electioneering and the appeal to populism to solicit the liberal media’s attention. These are all attempts to efface one’s lack of creative and substantive contribution to resolving the current logjams that our society faces. As just mentioned, we know this much about the DA from assessing the party’s track record on the fundamental socio-economic indicators in the WC since they took over governance of that stubborn, colonial vestige of a South African province.
The DA, and I suppose all other opposition, “in defence of democracy”, must shake off this cheap populist politicking, and instead stick to principled politics, contest and march for substantive national issues such as the matter of transparency in party political funding for example. This is a political hot potato that the DA is seemingly recalcitrant to champion in spite of the obvious democratic risks this issue exposes the nation to, as it and Agang reminded us the other day with their botched clientelism.
If there is ever a wish to contest government policy instruments and the paucity in the capacity of the state to implement those policies, there are channels for the DA to challenge this. For one, the DA is the official opposition and it has parliamentary processes to lobby and challenge government. It can also march to the coalface of the state: the Union Buildings. Failing this, democracy has taken its course and they must accept. What sense is it to launch a risky provocative protest march against a relatively unchanged manifesto of another political party? What has changed so significantly in the ANC’s policies that warrants such a spurious march? Is it the desperations of election season that have changed, as in the desperations have gone up a notch? Worse yet, and perhaps also indicative of the political immaturity of opposition politics, the president is delivering a State of the Nation address roughly a day after this march. Why would the DA not wait to aggregate the ANC’s manifesto and the posture that this manifesto would take once in government? What’s with the kindergarten haste?
Another political sleight-of-hand deployed by the DA is precisely to position this march as a constitutional exercise of its democratic rights as a political party, for which until this morning the march was sanctioned by the courts too. Again, a distinction ought to be made between legalistic disputes and political overtures. Even though the ANC sought avenues, including through the judiciary, to stop the march — a political error in my view with some even suggesting that the ANC should have just done nothing to respond — this matter is ultimately a (cheap) political overture by the DA and it should be handled as such.
In the final analysis, for as long as opposition politics is characterised by this chronic lack of substance, and an acute propensity to be guided by populism and pettiness around election season, our democratic project will remain in its infancy.