The DA prides itself on being South Africa’s official opposition party, hell-bent on exposing corruption and presenting a transformed, unified front.
However, this week showed signs of an organisation in disarray after one of its councillors was charged with fraud and corruption; the party lost four more wards in by-elections; and one of its most prominent members of Parliament (MPs), Phumzile van Damme, jumped ship.
“My resignation as an MP is not because the DA is a so-called ‘racist party’, but because of a clique of individuals – and in order not to make the good women and men still in the DA suffer, I will not delve further into this,” said Van Damme in her resignation letter.
Several senior DA members have either left the party or been removed in the recent past, including former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and former party leader Mmusi Maimane.
However, speaking to City Press, DA leader John Steenhuisen defended the party and denied there being divisions.
“There are no cliques that I am aware of. We have elected leadership who are responsible and carry a mandate – in my case an 80% one – to implement what we were elected to do. There is no division in the party. The DA is united and focused on the registration campaign and the local government elections,” Steenhuisen said.
On Van Damme’s exit, he said: “She has indicated that she has resigned from Parliament only. We thank her for her service and wish her well in all her future endeavours.”
It has long been Steenhuisen’s claim that the DA need only to shake off the ideological ambiguity that characterised the leadership of his predecessor, Maimane, and its course will be steadied once more.
In the Super Wednesday by-elections held in November last year, the party surrendered nine wards and gained just two. It has fared somewhat better in the by-elections held since then, but still experienced a significant drop in voter share.
This slump has been particularly pronounced among coloured and Indian voters.
Many within the DA have argued that the reason the party has done dismally at the polls is the negative publicity it has been receiving. However, Steenhuisen is hopeful that this will not affect the outcome of the local government elections.
The DA leader told City Press that it is not only his party that is doing badly at the polls: “The DA continues to show that it’s stabilising and moving towards a trajectory of growth. The party showed pleasing results across a number of communities. In some of the wards we exceeded our share of the vote from 2016 and in the majority we increased our share of the vote from 2019.
“It shows good signs of stability and growth for the DA and declining fortunes for the ANC, which dropped support from 22% to 16% in this round. This shows that we can bring it below 50% in the metropolitan areas, which is a good thing.”
To add to the party’s woes, DA Cape Town councillor Nora Grose was charged with fraud and money laundering for allegedly using R170 000 in Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme funds meant for food parcels in Atlantis, Western Cape.
The DA has stated that in coming forward to be formally charged, the councillor did not plead to any charges.
At the same time, Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said the city’s legal services department had been working with authorities for some time and no malpractice was found. Plato said the allegations were investigated by the City of Cape Town’s office of the Speaker.
Steenhuisen said: “We can’t comment on the embarrassment to the party if the case has not been completed. We released a statement on the position of the party regarding councillor Grose. She was charged, therefore we will wait until the case is complete.”
He insisted that he was undaunted by the current developments.
“I do not believe the publicity is affecting the party because our voters know that the DA’s policies are the best and are the only policies that will take South Africa forward. We are focused on the elections and anything else will come later. The voters will see that we are the party to vote for.
“The ANC has a lot of policy problems that it is failing to implement, even among themselves. The voters will see that we can make things happen.
“We are not all talk. We have built up our momentum and we’re now to take on the ANC in municipalities across the country, as well as defend our own municipalities. At the polls, we are not taking any drama with us, but one mandate, which is to win. We are not accepting any postponement because we believe we can win.”
A handful of DA Gauteng members gathered at the party’s Nkululeko House in Bruma, Johannesburg, to join the Time for Change virtual rally.
Provincial leaders addressed their respective constituents before the main address by Steenhuisen.