Now the only poppie in the village

2010-07-31 00:00

PARTY congresses are mostly about rah-rah cheerleading to boost troop morale. The close knife-work between vying factions generally takes place behind closed doors before and after congress, with only a rare public glimpse of the backstabbing.

Unfortunately for blood-sport fans, the kind of mayhem that characterised the African National Congress’s Polokwane conference — in which the president was metaphorically beheaded in a very public coup — is the exception.

Well-organised parties deliver slick but rather dull events, much like the Democratic Alliance’s federal congress of last weekend. And to further dampen media interest, the delegates did not, as is the wont at ANC youth congresses, knife one another, nor bare a single bottom in anger.

The top jobs, including that of leader Helen Zille, went unopposed, ensuring the seamless ascension of Wilmot James to the national chair, while a motion calling for a deputy leader was seen off on the grounds that it is “a recipe for deepening conflict”. As the nearly invisible DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip has learnt, Zille does not readily share her sunlight with tall poppies.

More difficult to choreograph among the DA’s old-school delegates was the election of a black African to the executive.

All four black candidates for the three deputy-chair jobs failed. On the other hand, the DA Youth elected both a black chair and a black leader.

Most importantly, the DA has achieved a working relationship with Patricia de Lille and her Independent Democrats that will consolidate the coloured vote, to create in the Western Cape an opposition haven in an ANC-dominated national landscape.

This not-quite-marriage between the two Boadiceas occasioned some coy (and corny) exchanges about courtship, engagement and who would buy the ring.

But whoever ends up paying for the fingermongery, it is clear who will be in charge in the relationship — Patricia will be changing her surname to De Zille.

Zille’s apparent preference for a long, very long, engagement, has to do with De Lille’s history. De Lille started out in the Pan Africanist Congress but left to found the ID on a policy of avowedly implacable opposition to ANC corruption.

Then when the DA were relying on ID support to snatch Cape Town from the ANC, De Lille stunned them by cosying up to the city’s hopelessly corrupt and incompetent ANC. Zille became mayor by a single councillor vote.

Although politics makes for strange bedfellows, one can be sure that the DA hasn’t forgotten De Lille’s previous desertion at the altar. Zille will take pleasure from De Lille’s evident eagerness now to tie the knot, with an ID-imposed deadline of September 20.

As the Daily Dispatch put it, the DA congress was like “a Roman triumph”, with Zille hailed as “the great warrior queen”, surrounded with symbols of her victory, including the constituency leaders from Mitchell’s Plain where the DA have just won the last ward previously held by the ANC.

“Finally, exhibited in a chariot of her own at the end of the procession, was the other warrior queen, the defeated De Lille.”

Zille indeed sits bestride her world, but even empresses have an Achilles heel. Zille’s is the obsessive centralisation about her of power and control.

For now, however, there are no obviously rebellious minions in the Great White Queen’s empire.

The only looming threat is how long an ANC that perceives itself to be the only legitimate political entity on these shores will tolerate the DA determinedly nibbling away at a vote that the ANC proclaims as its sole preserve.

That Zuma tolerated the recent potty-mouthed, racist tirade of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa against that “disgusting madam and her ilk”, gives the clue.

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