Merging with an apartheid-era party has been the DA’s undoing

The Democratic Alliance’s decision in 2000 to merge with the New National Party (NNP) is coming back to bite it in the rear end. And the heart. And the neck. And also the leg and the fleshy part of the upper arm.

The much talked-about poll by the Institute of Race Relations that came out last week had many intriguing points that have been discussed in the media. But one of its most interesting findings hasn’t received much attention at all.

It was the finding that almost a quarter of respondents said that they felt the party was unsympathetic to poor black people.

Allegations of racism have dogged the DA as doggedly as a small, angry, elderly and slightly smelly dog denied its Woolies mid-afternoon snack. Or as doggedly as corruption issues follow the ANC.

This problem has its unsavoury roots in the decision by the DA (or Democratic Party, as it was then) to merge with the New (was it really new?) National Party in 2000. This was the party of apartheid. Not a party that was sympathetic to apartheid, or a party that had supported apartheid. It was the party that had invented and enforced apartheid for decades.

It was the party behind the Group Areas Act, Sharpeville, forced removals and the Treason Trial, to name just a few of its ghastly and inglorious achievements.

The party of Helen Suzman et al, who had fought apartheid tooth and nail, had made a deal. It may not have been a deal with the devil, but it was definitely a deal with people who were acquainted with the devil and had been to braais at his house.

The merger may have been short-lived, but when it ended, virtually all of the NNP members stayed inside the DA and made it their political home. Their support worked well in the short term, enabling the DA to take control of the Western Cape, but it came at a high price. The ex-NNP cohort spoke in a tone of voice that consistently created tension around racial issues and generated an ongoing trail of high-profile racially tinged incidents.

Perhaps even more importantly, it created a political landscape where there was no real party to the right of the DA. This made sense in terms of keeping power in the Western Cape, but nationally it positioned the DA as the party of the right. The absence of a politically viable entity to its right — the Freedom Front Plus was perhaps too small and extreme to be relevant? — prevented the DA from being the truly centrist party it could have been. All its energy went into attacks against the ANC and never into confrontations with anyone on its right wing. Over the years, this damaged the DA brand badly in the minds of black voters.

Who knows what would have happened if Helen Zille had angrily thrown certain people out of the DA in the early 2000s and banished them to their smallholdings where they could concentrate on important tasks, like combing their moustaches and putting angrily worded bumper stickers on their bakkies? Would the DA now face a more favourable political environment in the upcoming elections?

It’s hard to say. But what we do know is that the DA now seems to face a ceiling of roughly 20% of the vote. And it’s no glass ceiling. It appears to be made of solid concrete, and perhaps be some form of bunker.

Interestingly, the same Institute of Race Relations poll showed that while race was a problem for the DA, “being soft on corruption” was one of the key things that voters associated with the ANC. Much as corruption may be the stain from which the ANC struggles to escape, it seems that the decision to merge with the NNP almost 20 years ago may turn out to be the DA’s original sin.

John Davenport is the chief creative officer at advertising and communications company Havas. These are his own views

John Davenport
John Davenport
San Antonio Express-News photojournalist and music lover.
Advertisting

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

What the law could clarify this year

Lawfare: Major developments are on the cards where law and politics meet, including the first amendment to South Africa’s Bill of Rights

The secret ‘Warmonger’ at the SSA

A listening device acquired by the agency is at the centre of an alleged R600-million fraud operation
Advertising

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.