Editorial: The DA’s puzzling cul-de-sac

DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former Western Cape premier Helen Zille may end up working together again. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former Western Cape premier Helen Zille may end up working together again. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

A few years ago, it was inconceivable that we would be treated to the spectacle of a bitter public power struggle within the country’s official opposition, the DA.

This kind of dog-eat-dog battle for power was the special preserve of the ANC.

Since its unbanning in 1990, there has been a plethora of stories about the fight for the soul of the ANC as socialists, capitalists, exiles and locals, and men and women tore one another to shreds.

The DA seemed a monolith of unity, with clearly articulated alternative policies to the ANC.

Recently the DA even dared claim that it was the only nonracial party in the country and had taken the mantle away from the ANC, which it described as a narrow, nationalist African party.

But as a smaller party, it was easier for the DA to remain a cohesive unit.

Now, as the party grows and governs in some parts of South Africa, it has to grapple with the reality of ambitions, factions and policy differences.

Read: Various seniour leaders approached me: Zille to contest DA chair

The DA will hold what is expected to be a tense federal council next week in which some will want to oust its leader Mmusi Maimane.

The possible return of former party leader Helen Zille as federal chairperson has also upped the stakes as she has declared her intention to “stabilise” the party.

If she does make a comeback, Zille will find it difficult to co-exist with Maimane.

If, however, Maimane prevails and stays and Zille and her followers fail to mount a credible challenge, it would probably feed into the growing disenchantment within the ranks.

The DA lost support in the general elections in May and has since been on an alarming losing streak in by-elections.

Most of its white support has shifted to the Freedom Front Plus while it is battling to make inroads into the black electorate.

The party is in a puzzling cul-de-sac. It would be a great loss if the official opposition was allowed to implode.

As the nine years of the Zuma presidency demonstrated, the country needs a robust press, an independent judiciary and a strong opposition.

As Maimane showed with his questions to the president about Bosasa, it is only when a strong and credible opposition keeps government on its toes that transparency is upheld.

Regardless of who emerges victorious, it is key that the party continues to be strong enough to play a critical role in holding government to account and enhancing our democracy.

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July 2020

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