De Lille and Zille: a new dynamic

2010-08-18 00:00

ON the face of it, there is not much difference in the policies of the Independent Democrats (ID) and the Democratic Alliance (DA). Both parties have fought past elections on a strong anti-corruption ticket.

The ID’s national secretary-general, Haniff Hoosen, in an interview described his party as social democrats and the DA as liberal democrats. He said the common goal of both parties is good governance.

Democracies are healthy when they are multi-party states and when there is a strong opposition. The coming together of the ID and DA can be viewed in this light, that South Africa as a democracy needs such an opposition. Hence the interest in the partnership between the two parties and whether it will work.

Some people may argue that an ultimate merger between the two parties is hardly an advert for good democracy. It is going to result in one less political party in the country and less choice for voters. The pact will see the ID phasing out its activities as a separate organisation up to and until the national elections in 2014 and its members will then become part of the DA. However, for a long time there has been talk, championed by Zille, that coalitions with opposition political parties are required for a re-alignment of South African politics.

However, as De Lille has remarked, “our democracy is unfortunately littered with failed projects of this kind.”

So, what are the chances that this latest initiative will work?

Some will argue that De Lille had no choice, her party was in decline anyway. From securing seven parliamentary seats in the 2004 national election, the ID dropped to four seats in the 2009 election. The ID’s 2009 party manifesto could have come from the DA. According to a report in the Cape Times, the ID’s manifesto said that if elected, the party would increase the staffing of the South African Police Force to 200 000, enlist 5 000 case workers to work in crime-stricken communities, make South Africa a leader in renewable energy and finance a minimum social grant by taxing luxury goods, tobacco and alcohol.

It is a bit more difficult to identify how the DA benefits from the merger. There is the aspect of shaking off its image of being a predominantly white party. However, the ID, with a large coloured membership and a party that is strongest in the Cape, is not going to do much for the DA nationally. The coup for the DA could be getting somebody like De Lille, an activist who proved her mettle in exposing the country’s controversial arms deal.

It’s the personalities who make this deal interesting and worth watching. Both Zille and De Lille come from activist backgrounds and through their years of working together in politics have become good friends. A report in the Sunday Times describes them as meeting for breakfast regularly, visiting each other in their homes and sharing a lot in common. Zille said that they have become friends through their political association. “After dealing with a few crises, we realised that we approach many issues on the basis of shared principles and values. That helped. We phone each other often and have breakfast together regularly,” she told the newspaper.

The same article mentions that they were born in the same year and just over a month apart. Zille hails from Johannesburg from a Jewish family who fled the Nazi Holocaust in Germany. She became a journalist and was credited for exposing the state’s complicity in Steve Biko’s death in detention.

De Lille grew up in Beaufort West and developed her activism through the trade union movement. She represented the Pan African Congress in the country’s first democratic election in 1994.

This dynamic synergy rooted in a firm friendship should bring energy and fresh ideas to the party. South Africans are desperately looking for new ways forward. For now, the Zille and De Lille pact holds that promise.



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