/ 25 April 2016

DA promises to ‘move SA forward again’ but when was it great?

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.

If the Democratic Alliance is still holding out for an 8% economic growth rate and six million real jobs, it’s not saying so in its latest manifesto.

That’s what its general election promises and marches were built on two years ago. Now, the party has a new leadership under Mmusi Maimane and a glossy 60-page document promising “Change that moves South Africa forward again” in municipalities where the DA will govern after the August 3 elections.

The title is reminiscent of an election slogan used by conservative politicians in times of economic hardship in the United States. “Let’s make America great again” first featured in 1979 when the US was going through tough times characterised by high unemployment and inflation – which pretty much reflects what is happening in a South Africa, given the rising food and fuel prices and a somewhat uncertain future.

Ronald Reagan used the slogan (successfully) for his campaign in the 1980s and Republican Donald Trump is attempting the same – so much so that he’s even applied to trademark “Make America great again”, but that hasn’t stopped other Republican candidates such as Ted Cruz and Scott Walker from using too.

With this elections campaign theme the DA is harking back to better times. Nostalgia is great for playing on the instincts of voters in times of hardship and discontent, but what time in history did the DA have in mind? Surely not South Africa before 1994, when an unsustainable regime bankrupted the country financially and morally.

Perhaps we are talking about a time after 1994, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela or, more likely, Thabo Mbeki, who presided over an average economic growth rate of 4.1%. Even then, however, when South Africa was presumably moving forward, the DA (or rather its forebear, the Democratic Party) was present and it criticised the governing party for its policies.

As a friend, who is sympathetic towards the DA, wryly remarked afterwards: “Their (the DA’s) entire rationale is to have a better ANC, not a better South Africa because of the DA.”

This is also reflected in the words of Ghaleb Cachalia, one of the DA’s latest former struggle acquisitions and now mayoral candidate for Ekurhuleni, who said: “I didn’t leave the ANC, the ANC left me.”

It kind of makes you wonder what he’d do if the ANC decided to kiss and make up again.

But let’s give the DA the benefit of the doubt, as winning votes is ultimately more about appealing to the sentiments and the hearts of voters than to logic.

This is evident in the spectacle of song and dance that accompanied the manifesto launches of the two biggest political parties so far – the DA’s rally on Saturday at the Rand Stadium, and the ANC’s a week before at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.

Also, a group of young men attending the DA rally on Saturday said “we love DA” even though they didn’t quite know Helen Zille had been replaced by Maimane.

As political speeches go, the charismatic Maimane did a great job of delivering his, with enthusiasm and conviction, via autocue. The speech itself packed in a collection of phrases and slogans, which lacked the coherence and rhythm that could have made his oratory great.

Maimane gave examples of failing municipalities under ANC rule, and of successful local governments under DA rule, promising more of the latter where his party should win.

The next three months of campaigning, and the elections results thereafter, will ultimately prove whether voters believed the DA’s hints to past splendor can take us into a similarly bright future