Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Maimane's Ramaphosa problem: Can he convince South Africans to vote DA?

2019-03-01 05:00
Mmusi Maimane during the Democratic Alliance (DA) manifesto launch at the Rand Stadium on February 23, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The DA launched its manifesto ahead of the 2019 national elections set to take place on May 08, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

Mmusi Maimane during the Democratic Alliance (DA) manifesto launch at the Rand Stadium on February 23, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The DA launched its manifesto ahead of the 2019 national elections set to take place on May 08, 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

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South Africans don't need convincing about how bad the scandals have been under the ANC. The question is whether Mmusi Maimane is able to convince them that the DA is a better alternative, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and DA leader Mmusi Maimane are facing contrasting internal party dynamics and prospects in the forthcoming elections.

Anecdotal evidence, recently backed up by an internal poll, shows that Ramaphosa is more popular than the ANC. His image has been insulated from the ruinous nine years of Jacob Zuma's presidency despite the fact that he was deputy to Zuma in the party and in government for four years.  

It appears Ramaphosa's supporters understand that he was not entirely supportive of Zuma, but had accepted to be part of his slate as part of a "long game" of waiting for his turn. Indeed, without having been deputy president it would have been nearly impossible for him to rise to the top office.

READ: Ralph Mathekga - DA to be third wheel in upcoming elections

Ramaphosa's rise to power in the presidency of the ANC and subsequently of the country has given the DA a new challenge. Zuma's presidency was a guarantee for the DA's growth. The DA was winning every conceivable constitutional challenge against Zuma and in the process gaining public confidence among South Africans of all races.

Stripped of the support of the majority in the ANC's national executive committee and among the party's backbenchers in Parliament, Zuma had nothing to stand on. If anything, he was a liability to the ANC. The ANC was more popular than him.

When Zuma's scandals were highlighted, people defended their electoral support for the ANC on the basis that they were voting for the party, not the corrupt Zuma. Now that has flipped.

Zuma had no substance to offer and was increasingly surviving on populist promises to counter the Economic Freedom Fighters whom he regarded as real opponents. Ironically, Zuma now supports the EFF on land reform and Julius Malema has forgiven him for the ruin he caused the country. But that's a discussion for another day.

Had Zuma remained in power, Maimane would go to the elections on 8 May smiling. But Ramaphosa is different. He is the kind of leader even DA supporters would wish for the country.

The rise of Ramaphosa has resulted in what appears to be a reversal of fortunes for Maimane. Unlike Ramaphosa who is more popular than his party, anecdotal evidence suggests the DA is more popular than Maimane. The DA has not released the results of its internal polling and no leaks have been forthcoming either.

Ramaphosa has surplus support his party has to catch up with. Maimane seems to have negative support compared to his party. It might be an uphill battle, but Ramaphosa has a chance to lift his party to the level of his popularity. This could mean the ANC maintaining its support base.

This cannot be guaranteed. Ramaphosa nevertheless has a good problem. Not so for Maimane who needs to catch up with his party. Ramaphosa's surplus support means there are members and supporters of other parties who would like to vote for him, but not his party.

Unfortunately for Maimane, some of the Ramaphosa supporters are traditional DA backers. They argue that a strong Ramaphosa who leads the ANC to an overwhelming victory would be good for the country because he would have the capacity to institute much-needed governance and economic reforms. They trust him, but not the ANC.

Aware of this risk, former DA leader Helen Zille has suggested that the best way for official opposition supporters to back Ramaphosa is actually to vote for the DA. The theory is that Ramaphosa's governance reforms will be blocked by a stronger ANC. In the long run, Zille has argued, the ANC will split between the constitutionalists that includes the likes of Ramaphosa and the nationalist camp. The latter will join hands with the EFF and the former with the DA.

ALSO READ: Maimane dreams of a job in every home at the DA's manifesto launch

It's a complicated argument to make, one better suited for political analysts to digest than ordinary voters. Maimane's response to the Ramaphosa challenge has been to try to show that the president is as culpable as anyone else who was part of the Zuma cabinet.

His strategy, as was evident in the speech he read at the DA manifesto launch when he sought to aggregate all scandals to have hit the ANC – from arms deal to VBS looting, to Bosasa – to demonstrate the governing party has been more fixated on looking after its own interests than the people.

Many South Africans don't need convincing about how bad the scandals have been under the ANC. The question is whether Maimane is able to convince them that firstly, he and his party are a better alternative. Secondly, voters would more likely want to know if Maimane and the DA are in sync given the occasional internal ructions.

DA leaders fret that their internal squabbles are often more elevated that the ANC's. They should take as a given that the odds will always be stacked against the challenger.

For his part, Ramaphosa is continuously projecting himself as a symbol of the break from state capture and corruption. Since we don't have a presidential election, his challenge is whether he can drag his wounded party to the level of his own popularity.

- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  elections 2019
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