Why is it only the ANC that wants to win the election?


Why is it only the ANC that wants to win the election?

PIET CROUCAMP thinks South Africa deserves better opposition parties than the DA of John Steenhuisen.


THE national identity of several political parties is determined by the personality traits of the leader. Cyril Ramaphosa's indecisive naivety defines the ANC, to begin with. He has no logical successor in the corridors of Luthuli House, despite Paul Mashatile's personal ambitions. If Ramaphosa walks away from his party tomorrow, the ANC has no chance of getting 40% at the polls.

Julius Malema is in certain respects a complete manifestation of the EFF. The red berets probably have a bigger footprint in our politics than Malema on his own, but without him the EFF is a 3% party. There is a credibility to his anger and destructiveness that inspires fear, and that no other member of his party can imitate.

Kenneth Meshoe of the ACDP worships his own words. His Bible is merely an afterthought. Mangosuthu Buthelezi gave birth to a militarised Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and had to watch as Jacob Zuma used the state coffers to give his ethnic cronies oxygen.

Herman Mashaba's political ideas leave little room for dissent within ActionSA, and as far as Rise Mzansi is concerned, more than 90% of South Africans only know the leader of the party, Songezo Zibi.

The FF Plus's Pieter Groenewald may be the exception. With Corné Mulder's streetwise intellect and political pragmatism, Groenewald's rural personality can sometimes appear unsophisticated. Mulder may not have ambitions to become the leader of the FF Plus, but his “dealmaker" political style is the future of the party; Groenewald represents the past. Mulder can bring together a coalition of partners across different identities; Groenewald appeals to the bittereinders rather than the better-enders.

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This brings me to John Steenhuisen. My relationship with the DA leadership is not exactly fraternal and Steenhuisen's management of the party is often the source of friction between me and members of the DA's shadow cabinet. My biases don't make it any easier. I remember Steenhuisen and the DA's then chief whip, Natasha Mazzone, indulging in exuberant high-fives in the National Assembly after the legislature voted to investigate the inept Busisiwe Mkhwebane in her role as public protector.

This was one of the most important decisions in the history of our democracy. For the ANC to agree with opposition parties about the damage Mkhwebane was doing to a Chapter 9 institution was historic in every sense of the word. However, Steenhuisen and Mazzone's exuberant display of joy made it into a cheap victory and struck me as childish and without an understanding of the historical value of that moment.

I don't know how the DA could have decided on Steenhuisen as Mmusi Maimane's successor in its leadership election on November 1, 2020. Maimane did not cut the mustard as the party leader but there has always been a strong leadership corps in liberal politics; Steenhuisen does not fall into this category. At that stage, few analysts and political opponents viewed him seriously as a politician. He was an active chief whip in the National Assembly, but compared to Lindiwe Mazibuko, for example, he was an intellectual lightweight.

As for his predecessors, Helen Zille was a serious protagonist with whom only the bright sparks of the ANC such as Trevor Manuel, Joel Netshitenzhe and Pallo Jordan would dare to cross swords. Before her era of anti-woke fumbling, Zille was a political dealmaker without equal. Under her leadership, the DA experienced almost exponential growth in the elections of 2009, 2011 and 2014. In the 2009 election, with Zille as candidate for premier, the DA won the Western Cape with an absolute majority of 51.45%. Zille was able to convince a small but important part of the black electorate that liberal politics did not represent apartheid.

Tony Leon's self-confidence is boring but he is probably the politician with the greatest complexity of historical reference points, next to the late Van Zyl Slabbert. Zille and Leon were political leaders who could manage a political party towards the aim of winning an election. Both had a peripheral vision that could lead the DA through an ever-changing political landscape.

Steenhuisen can hold the fort with a support base mired in identity politics. But what we need is adaptability and a political vision that can convince the millions of South Africans who no longer see their salvation in the ANC of the value of ideological pragmatism. The DA has absolutely no drive to win the 2024 election.

Leon, in an overview of the DA's chances in this year's election, gave the following “settle for what you have" advice to Steenhuisen: “You maximise your outcome on election day in the hope that the opposition, the ANC, is so dispirited and demoralised that they won't be able to maximise the vote." How much more fatalistic can a mindset be? There is no vision to win the election. The DA accepts that 75% of voters will have no motivation to vote for it and will prefer to stay at home.

Earlier this week I met Leon Schreiber, the DA's shadow minister for public service and administration, at KykNet's studio in Randburg. As so often in the past, and in the context of the introduction of the DA's election manifesto, the focus of our conversation shifted to Steenhuisen. Schreiber might remind you of your uncle in the furniture business but he moves mountains in South African politics. His relentless battle with Stellenbosch University's Wim de Villiers was opportunistic, but outside the Western Cape he is the only DA politician for whom the ANC has some awe. He's no Alan Winde or Geordin Hill-Lewis, but he gets things done.

Schreiber says the DA expects to get 25% of the votes cast in May, and if the north wind that brings the rain blows strongly, this could rise to 28%. Maybe he's right but I'd be amazed if his 28% dream came true. What's even more astonishing is the casual acceptance of merely hoping to get the DA's existing support base to the polls, instead of wanting to become a home for millions of black voters.

His legal team had let him down when the high court in Pretoria rejected the DA's cadre deployment case with costs, but Schreiber deserves a lot of credit for the drive with which he pursued the case. And by the way, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is just as disappointed in the ruling as Schreiber.

Still, as one of Steenhuisen's immediate advisers, Schreiber is loyal to “the leader" until the end. He tried to convince me that after the damage done by Maimane's leadership, the DA finally has the necessary focus and internal consensus to win an election and that this is the result of Steenhuisen's strong leadership.

It is this internal consensus that attracts my attention. I was at the DA's leadership election in April last year when Steenhuisen was re-elected as leader over Mpho Phalatse by 83% of the congress attendees. Chanting and singing coloured and black party members carried him the last few metres to the stage. As I watched all of this, I wondered if the DA had kept in mind that whoever was elected as party leader on that day could also become the president of South Africa.

South Africa is a tough country to manage. As the leader of a minority party, a new president will have to instill enough confidence so that the warlords of KwaZulu-Natal, the mafioso families in the mining industry of Mpumalanga, the political gangsters of Gauteng and the other godfathers of organised crime do not bring down the pillars of South Africa on all of us rather than welcome the DA's leader into the Union Buildings. Then there is the chaos at state security, the corrupt police management and the unpredictable characters in the army's special forces that must be brought under control.

Sometimes it is important that party leaders make the tough decisions that set them apart from the rest of the leadership in their party. I cannot think of a single policy decision of the DA that South Africans associate with Steenhuisen. Under Steenhuisen's political management, the coalitions or cooperation agreements between the minority parties in local governments were absolute chaos. Coalition partners of the DA in Johannesburg tell me Steenhuisen rarely makes the important decisions himself. Instead of staying in the conversation, he writes a Dear Johnny after consulting Zille in Cape Town.

Rather than planning their support among black South Africans, Steenhuisen and his colleagues hope that a low turnout at the polls will benefit their proportion of the total vote. If the ANC has destroyed your life, the DA still offers you no alternative at the ballot box. If Zille had had this mindset in 2009, the Western Cape would still be under ANC rule.

The DA of Steenhuisen does nothing to win a national election and does not have a leader who can become the next president. How did liberal politics get to this point? As it is, only the ANC is striving to win the election; all the other parties are simply trying for a good second place. We deserve better.

♦ VWB ♦

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