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DA march irresponsible

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.


  • Gareth Setati holds a masters degree in electrical engineering and qualifications in business management and economics. He is a graduate of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute and is currently pursuing further studies there. He works in the Communications Service Provider industry involved with systems and software engineering.


  1. Observing Observing 12 February 2014

    I think you are right that it may be a bit ‘populist’ for the DA to march – and it may also be a bit of a cheap tactic. However, maybe the point is that the ANC has always had a monopoly on populism, or simplistic slogans, mobilising of masses, and ‘machtpolitik’ – politics by force, rather than by principle.

    I think perhaps the other reason that the march is in poor taste is that the ANC’s response to the march – as shown by its supporters attacking the marchers and having to be restrained by police – shows that the ANC has always considered itself to have a monopoly on violence. That is not a good sign for the future of democracy in SA.

  2. Gatsheni Gatsheni 12 February 2014

    A well written piece !!! Opportunistic for the DA to partake on the march just to score some votes, but this is their democratic right, what the hell were the ANC supporters gathering for ? We demand political tolerance and maturity from all parties as the electorates

  3. Foom Foom 12 February 2014

    What feeble, clumsy spin doctoring.

    Perhaps you have failed to read the RSA bill of rights:

    Note the following:

    You can hold a demonstration, picket and present a petition. But you must do this peacefully.
    You have the right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and protest.”

    This, btw, is a right that the ANC fought for under Apartheid. The irony in them violently breaking up the DA march is palpable.

  4. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 12 February 2014

    It should be clear that ‘political science’ cannot and does not draw any meaningful distinction between a party-state ‘democracy’ and a ‘party-dominant democracy’. Both forms relate to a situation where one party exercises prolonged or indefinite government with all the drawbacks this entails.

    Any difference between the two can in fact only be one of terminology (most commentators in SA seem happy with the euphemism) or exist in experience of how the two supposed forms operate in practice.

    But article perfectly illustrates how easily in fact the two run together in practice. Instead of seeing the right to march as a democratic right enjoyed by all, it takes as the norm that which plainly suits the interests and convenience of the ruling party and is thus laid down by it as ‘correct’.

  5. bernpm bernpm 12 February 2014

    As you say in your closing sentence:
    “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.”

    As long as the ANC and its offspring use this method (populism and pettiness) as the “ruling party” they set the tone and often use violence to force it down our throats.

    Today we saw that the DA (1) has a large following amongst people of all races, and (2) did NOT fall for the ANC trap to the invited violence. They simply returned to base.

    An ANC senior stated that the DA should have continued the protest to their target, forgetting in the process that the DA march was interrupted on police orders.

  6. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 12 February 2014

    @Gareth, this march brings back memories of Selma, Alabama in the US. MLK led a march in Selma to cross a bride in that town, Bull Conner met them and tried to stop this march with his KKK boys and MLK refuses to back down because of their right to march. It was said at that time that this march irresponsible and MLK was nothing but a trouble maker. Today that march is considered a great thing and a big tourist attraction in that state. This article shows how ignorant you are of the word freedom and democracy, and you aren’t ready for it. When the ANC marched last week on the DA there weren’t any violence.

  7. Cam Cameron Cam Cameron 13 February 2014

    The DA baited their big 9/0 hook and — as expected — the old ANC lumpenfish came out and bit it.

    Irresponsible to prove beyond all doubt that your opponent is deeply anti-democratic?

    I don’t think so.

    It’s responsible. And it’s very, very democratic.

  8. Heinrich Heinrich 13 February 2014

    “Political Science”

    Whoever thought of this concept is probably still laughing at the many people who take this joke seriously.

    This article conjures up visions of bright lights in a white walled room with white ceilings and white floors, somewhere in Siberia.

    The sooner we scrap political parties and introduce proper democracy to South Africa, the sooner we can stop the rot of political brainwashing.

  9. Martin Warburg Martin Warburg 13 February 2014

    And your point is?
    I don’t read of any new options in your piece.

  10. rmr rmr 13 February 2014

    I agree with this piece. There appears to be no purpose to the march other than the scoring of cheap political points. One fails to understand why the DA is willing to risk the violence that might well ensue. I had planned to vote for Agang on a national level and for the DA on provincial level but, what with recent events, have no appetite for the former and almost none for the latter. The unimpressive state of politics is a threat to democracy in itself. I doubt that I am the only voter so unenthusiastic about the forthcoming elections.

  11. Trevor Trevor 13 February 2014

    Yes, maybe the DA should not have marched, then the ANC would not have been forced to violence, come with bricks in their hands and had 4 ANC T-shirts arrested. Shame on you DA.


  12. proactive proactive 13 February 2014

    Must be quite advanced political science being taught in “Thabo Mbeki’s African Leadership Institute”, alternatively referred to as the “ANC Leadership Institute for future cadres”.

    Rule 1: Ridicule and call all fair & legal opposition to the ruling party as kindergarten hast, shenanigan’s, blundering, fumbling, pestering, disrespectful, petty politicking, electioneering, populist, spurious- don’t you get it yet? It is just plain unholy to do that, because we are a one party state!

    Rule 2: once Luthuli House is declared a terrorists target by any cadre, we are exempt from any rational thinking, rule, law, counter terrorism actions & even the constitution. We can do as we wish until Jesus comes to our rescue.

    Rule 3: only march for substantive national issues like centenary, birthday and funeral celebrations.
    Thank you for such enlightenment!

  13. Oupoot Oupoot 13 February 2014

    The challenge for the DA: how to communicate their policies, opposition to the ANC & transformation of the party in a language & medium that Black, mostly township voters can understand & relate to? Petitions, newspapers, traditional media, online social media.. all tried with little success in reaching townships voters. These are mediums of the educated & middle class suburbs. Marches is a “language” SA Blacks/township voters understand – also explains why dissatisfaction with ANC & govt often take this form. Its a medium that the ANC & alliance partners had a near monopoly on & why they were not concerned in the past that DA (& Agang) will tap into the Black voter (populist) market. Now that DA & EFF is taking to the streets & speaking in the political “language” of Blacks/township voters, ANC & alliance partners are “running scared” & talking aggressively, etc. I would hope that in time this means of political communication will disappear, but it is the reality for now. As long as the DA can keep their marchers from using violence, they will have my respect, if not necessarily my vote.

  14. Susan Susan 13 February 2014

    A real democracy is one in which everyone should be able to register their disapproval, and not only some members of a population or political group. The DA did not burn down a building, or rubbish national property. It is completely within their rights to object however they see fit, within the letter of the law.

  15. Zeph Zeph 13 February 2014

    Why not say this instead and save ink: But people must understand that the rules apply to everyone but the ANC.
    I am not in favour of the march as I think it irresponsible. Irresponsible because the ANC are bullies and would not tolerate it. But this does not remove the fact that they are entitled to march without having to fear their safety.
    It is that simple.

  16. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 13 February 2014

    Voltaire is often quoted as having said “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I don’t particularly think that the DA’s little walkabout was of any use, but I will defend to the death their constitutional right to march where they darn well please. They got all the necessary paperwork done and negotiated the limit of their march. Their reasons for marching are completely and utterly irrelevant to me. Going back to the days where the governing party feels they have a right to murder, intimidate or ban anyone who protests is not something I want to live with again.

  17. Rory Short Rory Short 13 February 2014

    In a constitutional democratic state every citizen is free to march and gather in protest in connection with things that they do not like/approve of, provided that they act within the law. In a de facto one Party state the Party thinks that it can set the rules. This was a wake-up call for everybody who supports a constitutional democracy rather than a one party crony capitalist state.

  18. Conrad Conrad 13 February 2014

    Why not write something entitled “Irresponsible ANC comments on DA march?”
    When the ANC marched on the DA in Cape Town, there were no incidents, no counter marchers, no trucking in of DA supporters to ‘protect’ what they consider to be their own. The comments made by an ANC leader about the ‘rules of the street’ being in force when the DA decides to go to the street as much as approves of the gangsterism that took place.

  19. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 13 February 2014

    @Momma, Gareth doesn’t understand democracy, and the DA was able to show how the ANC supports democracy as long as they are in control.

  20. Dave Lowe Dave Lowe 13 February 2014

    If the ANC-led mob (Incl Jhb Council/Metro Police) had accepted the DA’s right to march peacefully and had not tried to stop it on the original date, the march would have taken place more than a week ago.

    To insinuate that the date was chosen to embarrass our illustrious President (JZ783) just as he is about to deliver his State of the Nation speech, shows the writers lack of understanding/political tolerance and exposes his political leaning. JZ783 already has more than enough things embarrassing him without having to get any help from opposition sources.

  21. Sipho Mazibuko Sipho Mazibuko 13 February 2014

    Once again we have the “white” DA who last week used the “rent a black” tactic, which blew up in their faces. Now, the very same “white” DA is using ‘rented blacks’ to march upon Luthuli House, putting them at risk against their own people. how naive my people must be that in this day and age, whites are still using us to fight their battles, and we let me.. shame, shame…

  22. Jeffrey Jones Jeffrey Jones 14 February 2014

    “…since they took over governance of that stubborn, colonial vestige of a South African province.”
    You mean the only province that hasn’t been reduced to a shambles by the ANC. If “colonialism” means no corruption and waste of public money, then I’m all for it.

  23. Margaret Logan Margaret Logan 14 February 2014

    So the DA are “continuously letting the democratic project down”, are they? And their attempt to march and deliver a document to Luthuli House was “irresponsible”? Are you trying to drag the voters’ minds into Topsy Turvy Land, Gareth Setati?

    Yesterday’s march demonstrated once again that the ANC only pays lip service to democratic principles. It is the manner in which leaders managed to whip up their rank and file into a disproportionately violent response to this imagined “threat” that should concern all South Africans, including the writer.

    I would question anyone who seriously believes that the ANC’s response to this perceived threat was legitimate – do you also condone the actions of those individuals who, in imagining themselves under threat, shoot to kill? Or only if they are ANC?

  24. Zeph Zeph 14 February 2014

    @Sipho Mazibuko – Really? Are blacks that cheap to rent? Shame on you…

  25. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 14 February 2014

    It isn’t so much that the writer doesn’t ‘understand’ democracy as that he confuses democracy with majoritarianism. The writer identifies with the ‘rights’ of the majority: as a result he cannot ‘understand’ any other rights.

  26. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 14 February 2014

    Sterling Ferguson,

    The irony is that, if they had let the DA have their march, the whole thing would have got no more than a few seconds of airtime and our country wouldn’t have been made to look like a scene from Syria! It was horrifying to see the ‘warlord’ mentality and Jackson giggling about it all.

  27. Gareth Setati Gareth Setati Post author | 14 February 2014


    In Cape Town, the ANC didn’t march to the DA, Im not sure what statement means also. The ANC marched to the provincial legislature. There is a distinction, lest we conflate state and party.

  28. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 14 February 2014


    Whilst I fully understand that you (personally) feel that they should not have marched where they wanted to, you have to admit that many, many marches are not done to the legislature. Sanral did not make the decision to implement e-tolls, the Chamber of Mining did not cause the Marikana problem, the local police station has zero control over national police policy, Goodman Gallery did not paint the Spear, etc etc. To dictate what and against whom you wish to register a complaint is a bit presumptuous.

    As much as I value and defend your right to speak out on this, I do think that an equal amount of latitude should be given to others. Unless we are advocating that the DA (or any other political party) should invest in tanks, rocket launchers and various other heavy artillery in order to be allowed free access to our constitutional right? We deserve better than this. South Africa cannot go from ‘whites only’ signs to ‘ANC only’ signs – that is a disastrously slippery slope

  29. MadullaNkosi MadullaNkosi 14 February 2014

    The first paragraph to this article gives the game away. It’s almost as if Jackson ‘Daniels’ penned it himself.

    When demonstrations are peaceful, then people don’t get offended. But, when the ANC and their motley brigand take to the streets the you can be assured of a few things.
    You will have violence.
    You will have destruction of property.
    You will have thievery and looting.
    Tyres, vehicles and property will be set alight.
    Thuggery and trashing will take place.
    Barbarism will be displayed.
    The ANC will deny that their members caused any of this havoc!!

    This mindset is all part of the makeup of the ANC and their cohorts.

    Compare the above the peaceful demonstrations of other political parties.
    It literally and figuratively is like comparing night to day!

  30. Gareth Setati Gareth Setati Post author | 17 February 2014

    Momma Cyndi.

    It seems most commenters here misconstrue the point I make about the lack of political foresight by the DA to even fathom launching such a march to be saying that the DA has no democratic right to march. This is obviously a straw-man fallacy that wishes to misrepresent the points I am raising For the record, I do not deny these rights for the DA, it would be patently undemocratic to do so. The crux of this thing is that the DA leadership was spearheading a risky march, to raise concerns with a policy matter for which the DA feels is at variance with their policy sets. I wish I didnt have to add that the policy differences are in my view semantic, and the DA has itself expressed, in one form or the other, support for EPWP jobs. There is a point where pragmatism informs principle. IT would have been pragmatic of the DA to asses the fact the march was going to be taken in bad taste, and some conflict was possible. It is of no use to bury one’s head in the sand and behave as though South Africa is the most developed democracy in the world and therefore spurious, baseless marches to the headquarters of another political party is just that, a simple constitutionally sanctioned political march. Such naivety.

  31. Kgositsile Mokgosi Kgositsile Mokgosi 17 February 2014

    Sipho Mazibuko above says, “Once again we have the “white” DA who last week used the “rent a black” tactic, which blew up in their faces. Now, the very same “white” DA is using ‘rented blacks’ to march upon Luthuli House, putting them at risk against their own people. how naive my people must be that in this day and age, whites are still using us to fight their battles, and we let me.. shame, shame…”

    Shame Sipho!

    Living in a country whose borders were decided by white people, a country given a name by white people, a country whose black majority live and die by a document “Freedom Charter” that was written by a white person, a country whose constitution development was a result of a referendum conducted among white people, what do you mean by ‘RENT A BLACK’?

    When the Nationalist party decided to negotiate with the ANC only(Pretoria Minute) despite presence of other liberation movements was that not a ‘rent a black’ situation? especially considering that it was in direct conflict with the ‘Harare Declaration’, a framework for negotiations set up by African people?

    It is obvious that the massive resources for elections available to the ANC in 1994 was from whites as you can see with the number of multibillion companies that moved their primary listing to London. Contrast that with the continuing dire straits in which black people find themselves.
    “Rent a Black”!

  32. Kgositsile Mokgosi Kgositsile Mokgosi 17 February 2014

    The mindset of political party loyalty is the most dangerous archilles heel of our society.

  33. Uhuru Tiko Uhuru Tiko 17 February 2014

    A well writen piece.

    DA remain irrelevent to the upcoming National elections, Only because they have tried and synthesis “Democracy” with “Lack of creativity”. DA forget that thier policy statement is similar to that of the leading party with which they are failling to deliver in parts where they are dominating.

    South Africa now got two political parties: the ANC and the rest, DA and Agang dont fall under the ‘Rest” category as per my opinion.

  34. Mr. Direct Mr. Direct 17 February 2014

    @Gareth Setati

    Have you ever asked yourself why it was important for the ANC to “defend” a building from citizens of the same country, surrounded by a large metro police force?

    What do you think could have happened at Luthuli House – theft, destruction, murder?

    If the ANC wanted to make a sensible political argument, they could have marched double the amount of supporters up to the DA Head Office the week after, showing the sheer strength in numbers available to the organisation. The leadership could have proved their job creation policy is valid using facts, data input and projections.

    Hell, would it not have been excellent politics, that when the memorandum was being handed over, the ANC representative gives a speech outlining the benefits of voting for the ANC, straight to the DA supporters?

    A number of things could have happened, but, alas, nothing mature. Nothing that proved the ANC had something to offer in response other than thuggery. There is no space for violence in our democracy, nothing in our constitution allows it. Political debate should be talking, not brick throwing and petrol bombs.

    Surely, being an avid political commentator, you are also disappointed in the ANC’s choice of violence over debate, violence over common sense. If not, then I guess there really is little hope for the future of politics…

  35. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 17 February 2014


    I do understand what you are saying and I partially agree with the concept. Leaving out, completely, the reason for the walkabout – should this fear be a factor in a working democracy?

    During apartheid, it was almost expected that even the most passive of protests would be met with violence. That does not mean that the protesters were ‘responsible’ for being shot at. Now I do, of course, realise that there is a big difference between the reasons for the protest marches and the legitimacy of them – but is there any real difference in principle? If we allow fear and thuggery to dictate our actions, is it not simply giving in to something that is wrong?

    If any political party wanted to march to the ANC to hand over a flattering montage, of ANC country presidents, marking the 20th anniversary of democracy – would the ANC have reacted violently? If we say ‘yes’, then that is illogical as they would be losing out on a great pre-election boost. If we say ‘no’, then the inference is that ONLY the messages that the ANC wishes to hear may be presented to its office. THAT is why the message itself is irrelevant to me (to be 100% honest, I still don’t know exactly what they were marching about and I care even less).

    When people allow something to go too far down a slippery slope, it becomes part of the ‘culture’. Of all the institutions, the ANC should understand that the most. Let a few meetings be allowed to degenerate into rudeness and suddenly…

  36. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 17 February 2014

    cont …. it is the norm for members to boo the President at an international funeral or to shout insults at elders

  37. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 17 February 2014

    @Paul, very good comment.

  38. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 17 February 2014

    @Tiko, actually, the election is irrelevant in May, because the voters can’t elect any of the officials to office and hold them accountable.

  39. RubinB RubinB 17 February 2014

    “What has changed so significantly in the ANC’s policies that warrants such a spurious march? ”
    Answer: Absolutely nothing. The problem is that the ANC has driven many citizens to desperation by simply letting things go to hell.
    Perhaps the DA should rather have blocked off the N2 by burning tyres, or throwing Molotov cocktails at passing motorists.
    Or would that have been too un-original? Aren’t those tactics the reserve of the ANC?

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