Time for a two-horse race?

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa seems remarkably unruffled by the political tempests swirling through South Africa and particularly the Eastern Cape, where his party has its strongest support.

Holomisa elicited frenzied cheering at the Congress of the People’s recent national convention, underscoring his continued popularity with disaffected black voters.

The UDM is still a small party, but research by professor Lawrence Schlemmer indicates that national support for it grew from 0,5% to 1% between March 2007 and May 2008.

That Cope could eat into the UDM’s support base in the Eastern Cape, Thabo Mbeki territory, does not seem to worry him. In an interview he hinted that his party might ultimately merge with Cope, saying South Africans “are ready for a two-party system like [that in] the United States”.

The UDM received about 356 000 votes in 2004, making it the country’s fourth-largest opposition party.

Holomisa insists support is growing not only in the Eastern Cape but also in the Northern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng and that he is willing to form coalitions with other parties in these regions.

Although the UDM offers what Holomisa calls “patriotic opposition”, it has loudly challenged floor-crossing legislation and the disbanding of the Scorpions, and has consistently spoken out on the arms deal, the “cancer” that he believes has corroded the ANC.

“Whether the work we’ve done, which has led the ANC to fight among themselves, will be translated into votes rewarding us I don’t know,” he said.

“If you talk [about the] quality of the points the opposition raises, no one can fault us. If De Lille, Zille or I take the stage, people listen.”

The challenge for the opposition is to determine what kind of “animal” must emerge “to match the ANC toe to toe”.

“That is where people feel the opposition is weak. Everyone asks: ‘Why can’t you form an alliance?’, meaning they’re ready for a two-party system,” he said.

But he believes the ANC will still draw strong support from black South Africans in next year’s election, regardless of government’s failures.

Black South Africans, he says, value the ANC for reasons other than service provision and grants, and so keep returning the party to power, even if “the ministers are not performing and service delivery is not there”.

Holomisa said another convention of opposition parties should be called immediately after the election to plot a way forward.

“You’re not going to beat the ANC in future if you don’t come up with a broad church movement on the other side of the bridge.”

Holomisa said that a post-election opposition convention would show that most parties have the same goals.

“At the end of the day you will find that 99% are the same. You’re forced, once you’re dealing with the people’s needs, to agree that all these policies of the different parties are the same and we differ only in methodology.”



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