William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Zuma’s muti leaves the opposition wilting

Not in two decades – not in 66 years, come to think of it – has South Africa’s Official Opposition had better prospects of landing the ruling party a bruising body blow. As things stand, however, it might well botch the opportunity.

The African National Congress is, after all, in unparalleled disarray. It has squandered its liberation dividend, the emotional cachet that elsewhere in Africa kept post-colonial ruling parties in power for aeons.

Although the ANC can credibly argue, as President Jacob Zuma did in the State of the Nation Address last week, that there is a ‘good story’ to service delivery, voters just aren’t listening. The expectations of the poor have galloped way ahead of realistic delivery targets, fuelled partly by the Economic Freedom Fighters’ canny promises of state-dispensed largesse.

Then there is disaffection over corruption, crony capitalism and the governing elite’s arrogance. Most damaging has been the inability of the tripartite alliance to facilitate job creation, leaving the more than 7 million unemployed, disillusioned and increasingly angry.

Against such an enabling backdrop the opposition should be rampant. And indeed, the Democratic Alliance has assiduously exploited these pressure points and Zuma’s increasing personal unpopularity. It championed the youth wage subsidy and, like the showy but pointless drill of the nursery’s Grand Old Duke of York, DA leader Helen Zille marched her 10,000 men up to Luthuli House and then down again, supposedly in support of ‘real jobs’.

Many in a media industry that is often surprisingly gullible when it comes to political parties’ propaganda, bought the DA’s prediction of 30% of the vote in the May election. The DA, incidentally, is now disavowing that estimate, unsurprising given the public relations disasters that have befallen it recently.

The party has been hurt by a series of missteps, which are cited by the DA old guard as evidence of Zille moving the DA closer to the ANC in order to draw black votes, and in the process abandoning cherished liberal values.

The first debacle was the DA voting for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill (EEAB), which prescribes swinging penalties for private entities that don’t meet racial and gender targets. In response to the ensuing old guard outcry, Zille had to flip-flop and withdraw DA’s support for the now suddenly ‘Verwoerdian’ Bill.

The second debacle was the DA’s cringingly humiliating ‘merger’ with Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang. This collapsed in recriminations within days, when it became apparent that Agang’s furious provincial leaders had not been consulted.

Unlike with the EEAB incident – when Zille placed the entire blame for the ‘plane crash’ on the parliamentary team – she this time apologised for erroneously trusting her old friend, who had turned out to be duplicitous.

The most recent debacle is a parliamentary conference on Palestine attended by Justus De Goede, DA shadow minister for International Relations, and his deputy, Bill Eloff. Abandoning the DA’s official, scrupulously even-handed position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, they stood mute as the conference endorsed a punitively anti-Israeli action plan.

The DA’s Eloff then gave fulsome closing thanks to the delegates for ‘fostering solidarity to build a just and better world’. Only the African Christian Democratic Party voted against.

The Jewish community, which has historically provided the DA with substantial support, is outraged. The DA leadership’s response, by now a habitual reaction, has been to lie low and hope that it will all blow over.

The official line is that whatever transpired at the conference, the DA’s policy remains unchanged. In fact, De Goede had left early for a flight and is thus blameless. Eloff, at worst, ‘erred’ in supporting a position that ‘lacks a balance of views’. The ACDP must be rubbing its hands in glee.

There are other small but telling indications of DA atrophy. For decades it boasted the slickest, best-organised party machine. Now the organisational cogs are creaking. Take its public face, the website: the news section hasn’t been updated for over two years, so too its list of DA office bearers.

That might be why when I last week phoned the DA national office, the switchboard hadn’t a clue who handled the International Relations portfolio. Eventually I hacked my way to Zille’s office to speak with one of her top staffers and it got worse.

Him: ‘Who’s De Goede?’
Me: ‘Um, your shadow minister of International Relations.’
Him: ‘Oh! Yes! There’re lots of new people in new positions.’
Me: ‘Six months in the job, clearly he hasn’t made much of an impression…’

Were I either De Goede or Eloff, I’d start clearing out my desk. Were I in the DA leadership, I’d be worried. And were I Zuma, I’d keep working that metaphorical muti that so confounds his enemies.

Ends

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    • http://M&G Diana

      Maybe Zille needs to do the “re” thing.
      Re- group, re-think, re- strategize, re- plan, re-focus, re- do and make use of the confusion in the ANC to re- launch her plan of action that had brought her to where she and her party was.
      Getting caught up in chaos and not communicating with your group will lead to
      DA=dissolution, atrophy. She needs to tell a story that is not ANC= arrogant, not-popular, chaos.
      FOCUS is the name of the game.

    • bernpm

      One of your not so intellectual incoherent bubbles. Lovely to read for fun, not to be taken seriously !

    • Mariana De Leuca

      “the news section hasn’t been updated for more than two years”

      I wonder what website William looked at?

      On the DA Website, Click on ‘newsroom’ then follow the links to speeches, press releases etc. The most recent updates are 21 / 22 February 2014.

    • Mariana De Leuca

      Regarding the Israeli / Palestinian conference, this statement by Helen Zille appears on the facebook page of ‘Stop the JNF SA – Exposed’ (I have selected quotes because her entire statement is too long to repeat here):

      “The DA’s representative on that day failed to set out the DA’s clear, unequivocal and long-held position, creating the misperception that the DA supported the Declaration. The representative in question will not be returning to Parliament after the elections this year”.

      “It is important to note that the so-called Cape Town Declaration has no legal standing at this point in time. It will be tabled for scrutiny and discussion by the Portfolio committee on International Relations, where it will be subject to stringent evaluation. The DA will reject the Declaration in its present form in keeping with our consistent policy position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

      “The DA is excited by our diverse group of candidates who will be elected to Parliament or legislatures in this election, including many Jewish and Muslim candidates – people like Michael Bagraim, Darren Bergman, Jack Bloom, Haniff Hoosen, Imran Keeka and Yusuf Cassim”.

    • WSM

      @ Mariana: News pages just been updated. Lists still not updated, eg today:

      Ian Davidson

      Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
      After joining the then-Progressive Party while at university, Ian worked his way up the ladder in the party and was elected to the Johannesburg City Council in 1982, where he became the Chairman of the Management Committee. In 1994, he was elected to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature and, in 1999, to Parliament. Ian served as Chief Whip from 2007 to 2011. He has also served as Gauteng Provincial Leader of the DA.

      Email me >>

    • Brianb

      In the context of South African politics the only way to achieve change is within the ANC.
      They are indelibly entrenched in the hearts of their electorate for overthrowing Apartheid.
      That is why it is so despicable that the current leaders have become so corrupt and incompetent instead of working for the good of their supporters.
      The DA would undoubtedly do a better job of running the country but will not ever get an opportunity to prove this.
      The EFF , Agang, COPE and all other political parties are largely irrelevant.

      Lets hope some real leaders within the ANC come to the fore.

    • John

      Interesting observations William but a clanger on the website- the DA updates its newsroom every day, maybe you last visited 2 years ago and were offline when you checked (cached content)?

    • http://M&G Dennis

      The writer speaks about the Jewish community giving ‘Substantial” support for the DA. At my last check I found that there are only 75000 Jews in SA. That is only 0.13% of the population. Even if every single Jew voted for the DA (we know that this in not possible, taking age and other factors into account) their contribution to the vote count is negligible.

    • WSM

      @ Marian: “The DA’s representative on that day failed to set out the DA’s clear, unequivocal and long-held position, creating the misperception that the DA supported the Declaration. The representative in question will not be returning to Parliament after the elections this year”. Nifty footwork by Zille but contrary to the impression that he is being booted for his performance, the fact is Eloff never was going back to Parliament. He had been put on the DA WC provincial list.
      @ John: No, not a cache nor a clanger. The front page news section is updated daily. There was also another under a subhead, now removed, that was two years out of date.
      @ Dennis: The Jewish community’s DA support is not only in votes but as volunteer workers and as financial contributors.

    • Clarion Call

      Despite the DA/Agang short-lived engagement debacle, it is time for opposition parties to form meaningful coalitions and join together for common purpose and common good in ridding this country of a government, which as William says, is already in disarray. People must pull together against (quote) “its disaffection over corruption, crony capitalism and the governing elite’s arrogance. Most damaging has been the inability of the tripartite alliance to facilitate job creation, leaving the more than 7 million unemployed, disillusioned and increasingly angry”.

      Petty politics and positioning should be put aside in a concerted effort to provide a better future for all South Africans – not only those who are creaming it in ANC leadership and giving nothing in return. Nkandla is a case in point..