ANALYSIS: Maimane's strong closing targets 'complicit' Ramaphosa

2019-05-05 07:03
Mmusi Maimane at the final DA rally in Soweto on Saturday.  ~ Twitter/@Our_DA

DA leader Mmusi Maimane on Saturday delivered a strong closing to the DA's election campaign with a rousing speech in Dobsonville, Soweto, armed with a clear message that centred on three things: President Cyril Ramaphosa's complicity in years of capture, the challenge of change and the party's promise to voters.

The country's biggest opposition party, which secured more than 4 million votes for a share of 22.23% of all votes cast in 2014, could probably not have asked for a better final week than it had.

Ramaphosa, the ANC and the broader alliance's performance on the Workers' Day holiday on Wednesday was weak, with speeches at rallies not getting the traction that it used to and failing to target the DA as a "white party", as has been the case in the past.

On Thursday evening, the DA went further than it ever has, projecting the words "Growing corruption together" on the ANC's sacred headquarters, Luthuli House in Johannesburg. It was a bold campaign gimmick, something which was unthinkable in previous campaigns.

It elicited an angry, but limp, response from the ANC, calling the tomfoolery akin to something on the Jerry Springer Show.

And during all of this, the DA's internal tracking poll (which historically has been the most accurate of any political operation in the country) has shown that the party is growing stronger and the ANC weaker, even during the so-called "squeeze", the last days of campaigning when the big parties throttle the smaller ones for votes.


And on Saturday, Maimane, not far from his parental home, spoke in front of an estimated 30 000 mostly black supporters, delivering a speech of the same quality as his "broken man" statement in front of then president Jacob Zuma during the height of state capture in 2015.

The ANC has had a torrid time of it, explaining capture and corruption, impunity and lawlessness and Zuma and Nkandla. And even though the governing party's travails have provided rich pickings for the opposition, the DA got off to a slow start, having had to traverse the Patricia de Lille disaster, the end of its government in Nelson Mandela Bay and strategy drift.

But as the campaign wore on the DA's message became clear and it became all about corruption.

In his speech, Maimane laid into Ramaphosa and attempted to locate him in the middle of the years of capture and debauchery. He said that Ramaphosa wants South Africans to believe that he is a saviour, but that it cannot be true because he was deputy president when the Guptas took hold of the state.

Maimane dragged Ramaphosa into all the messiest scandals of the last government's term: the Guptas, Life Esidemeni, Marikana, Eskom, Prasa, Bosasa. "Cyril Ramaphosa is no saviour. He is part of the ANC that caused so much despair and suffering these past 25 years. And now they want another five years to loot," Maimane said.

And then he proceeded to sell the DA, a party that has been very vulnerable to accusations that it remains a white, liberal party that only serves the interests of the privileged (this line of attack hasn't really been used during the campaign, not by the ANC or the EFF).

Maimane understands the fears of black voters in switching sides to the DA, and he acknowledged as much.

He recognised the role of the ANC in the liberation struggle – to the great irritation of some senior DA figures – but said the party's days are numbered and that the DA has shown it deserves a chance. He told undecided voters that change requires boldness and courage, and he listed a series of promises as part of a "contract" with voters. If the party does not deliver, "kick us out", he said.

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The DA's likability handicap was also tackled. The party does not have the historical bond with voters, like the ANC has, nor does it have the emotional connection the EFF has with its hardcore supporters. At every election the party almost starts from scratch in defending its history and record before projecting a vision for the future.

The DA might not be that sexy or warm-blooded, but it can govern, seemed to be the message. "This is not a popularity contest. It's not a pageant. This about competence. I'm not asking you to marry me, I'm merely asking you to employ a government with a proven track record," the DA leader said.

But politics in this country is about emotion as much as it is about pragmatism. Maimane will hope he has struck the right balance. On Wednesday the voters will tell him.

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