It is an indictment on opposition parties, the DA in particular, that while there are people who are disappointed with the ANC and its progress in certain areas they do not see the opposition as offering an alternative beyond criticism, writes Mbhazima Shilowa
The DA is preparing to hold a special conference in May this year following the resignation of Mmusi Maimane, its federal leader and its erstwhile federal chair, Atholl Trollip as part of a fallout after its dismal performance during the last elections.
While conferences are expected to discuss and adopt policies, they often get bogged down by elections especially where there is contestation.
The DA conference will be no exception.
What makes its situation more complex is the seemingly policy flux on a number of important issues facing the country.
Which is why it is also planning to host a policy conference ahead of its national conference.
While it is occasioned by the differing voices on issues of redress especially their view on black economic empowerment and affirmative action, it has to look at its overall policy offering to South Africans beyond sound bites and vague notions of pure liberalism or some such vague notions.
Some South Africans who are fed up with the ANC and could consider the DA are repelled by its conflicting views on redress and are not seduced by vague notions of economic inclusion while steering off from explicit affirmative action and BEE policies.
Whereas a few years back it appeared the DA was on the rise, and had a number of pundits accepting that they can reduce the ANC’s majority in a number of provinces and nationally, it now seems like an improbable dream at least in the immediate future.
The shenanigans that led to the loss of the Nelson Mandela and Johannesburg metros with Tshwane hanging by a thread may, unless reversed, add to its woes in the coming local government elections.
The slogan "the future is in coalition government" now rings hollow as they have not been able to manage the coalitions in the three metros and had in fact suffered an earlier loss of the Mogale city municipality in Gauteng.
Coalitions by their nature are among parties that may sometimes not share the same outlook.
Their success and failures depend on putting down specific goals of the coalition instead of seeking to agree on all policy issues.
It would appear that in this instance the glue was being anti-ANC, something they will have to work at going forward if they are to make any new headway.
Its selling point of "where we govern we govern well" has also taken a knock with some of the revelations in the media about irregularities, fraud and corruption in certain tenders in Johannesburg and Tshwane.
While their leaders at that level have not (yet) been directly implicated it is unlikely that it could have happened without a wink and a nod from them or them turning a blind eye in order to secure votes for budgets in council from their "coalition partners".
A number of leaders have raised their hands to become the federal leader of the DA, among them, interim leader John Steenhuizen, KZN MPL Mbali Ntuli and Gauteng provincial leader John Moody.
They have yet to state what their policy offerings or platforms are beyond a commitment to rebuilding the DA, attracting new voters and consolidating existing ones, ensuring collective leadership and speaking in one voice.
They seem content appealing to their members.
While it is true that this is an internal election and therefore one needs to win support of the party faithful, it is not enough.
The Labour Party in the UK is a case in point.
Jeremy Corbyn was a hit with the grassroots but the people that mattered most, the voters did not find him appealing even as they agreed with many of the party’s policies.
Same with the ANC election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the president of the ANC.
Leaving aside what is said about the use of money at the conference, he surely got the nod because the delegates also had an eye on the general elections.
He seemed better placed to ensure an ANC victory and to reverse the slide in places such as the province of Gauteng.
It is therefore critical that whoever the DA elects as leader has appeal beyond the DA.
While it is tempting to pander to a few that went with the Freedom Plus in the last elections, anyone who wants to lead the country has to appeal to a chunk of South Africans, the majority of whom are black.
These are poor people with no real shelter to call home, unemployed or underemployed with no water and sanitation.
They live in areas with poor or no road infrastructure, poor schools and health facilities and sometimes living on social grants.
With projected growth being between 0.5% and 1% how will they grow the economy to create jobs, absorb school leavers including graduates and retain existing ones.
It is easy when, in opposition, to speak of growing small and medium business and giving them incentives. How to do that in an economy that is contracting is the key question.
The slash and burn: privatise state-owned enterprises, reduce the size of the public sector and retrench workers in SOEs has a nice ring to it, but at what cost to the economy and to society if you are going to add to the 10 million who are currently unemployed.
How do you provide quality education and health and provide security if the reduction of the public service includes retrenchments of teachers, nurses, doctors and the police?
Quality social services require well-trained and a better remunerated public service. In fact to achieve better education results one needs more teachers and reduced class sizes; same with health.
While there may be lazy nurses and doctors in many public health facilities the staff is overworked and looking after too many patients thus compromising the life of patients.
And then the elephant in the room: redress.
Apartheid was visited against blacks and women while privileging whites.
What is the leader’s position on redressing the last (beyond slogans) of inclusionary policies.
It is blacks who live in informal settlements and shacks, it is the same race group who has no access to land and economic activity.
I hope that whoever wins will not fudge the issues of affirmative action in the workplace and broad based black economic policies to ensure blacks participate in ownership and management of the economy.
This is not to say there should be no review of affirmative action and BBBEE.
We know that in certain instances it has been abused to promote cronies and to loot in the name of black participation.
There has been a lot said in the Zondo Commission about rigging of tenders to benefit politicians, their families and friends or companies that offer kickbacks.
It is possible to denounce its application and still offer an alternative on how to implement it, devoid of crookedness.
And finally the land question.
While the option seem to be existing law or amendment to ensure expropriation without compensation in certain circumstances, the policies should be wider than that.
How does one unlock land redistribution to those in need, restitution to those who were removed from their land under apartheid and supporting small scale farming.
So as they prepare for the policy conference and go into the hustings for internal leadership they also need to think about the voter.
It is an indictment on opposition parties, the DA in particular, that while there are people who are disappointed with the ANC and its progress in certain areas they do not see the opposition as offering an alternative beyond criticism.
In any country, a government that is not able to help grow the economy and create jobs and offer quality health and education would find itself in opposition benches.
The DA can grasp the nettle and refocus on challenging the ANC with alternative policies that appeal to the voters and create a new majority or retreat into the laager and only cling to the Western Cape, thus becoming a regional party.
The ball is in their court.
- Mbhazima Shilowa is a former Premier of the Gauteng Province, trade unionist and Cope leader.