/ 24 November 2023

Democratic Alliance scores own goal over Gaza

John Steenhuisen Mpho Phalatse 429933
DA leader John Steenhuisen. Photo: Getty Images

What was an election that promised to be centred on the performance — or lack thereof — of the state under the ailing ANC may be influenced by escalating geopolitical fissures. An already tense world has ratcheted up since 7 October when Israel launched its war in Gaza in response to a Hamas-led attack that saw some 1  200 Israeli lives lost. The brutal response has so far led to the death of more than 15 000 Palestinians. 

No matter how far countries are away from the epicentre of the war, in a world dominated by extremist positions of most policy matters, the conflict has registered as more than a blip on most domestic politics.

The Israeli war has global ramifications — as has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year — and there is a particular sensitivity for most South Africans with longer memories than supporters of Gayton Mckenzie’s Patriotic Alliance. Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is an abnormal state, which has fed on its decades-long insecurity. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken the lead in calling for international sanction of Israel for its war in Gaza that has gone against all international conventions. Backed by his party, Ramaphosa has found broad support locally and internationally as pressure has built on Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has only now given in to a four-day ceasefire that won’t provide enough time for humanitarian aid.

It proved a coup for Ramaphosa, whose work on the international stage has ensured that we stand against aggression by both Israel and Russia in pushing for peace talks. But whether this bodes well for the ANC in next year’s elections is uncertain because of an incapacitated state caused by the decaying governing party. The polls point to a party facing the music of its failure to deal with corruption, a struggling economy and political “careerism”, some­thing of which its most famous son, Nelson Mandela, had long warned.

For opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA), the conflict in Israel poses a more significant problem. It has long sold itself as the home of all minority groups in the country, namely white, Indian and coloured. Its defence of Israel could prove divisive, as we’ve seen with the ouster of Ghaleb Cachalia from his position because of his criticism of Israel. Should the war drag on and the body count continue to climb, the party’s defence of Israel could prove its Achilles heel at the elections. 

The DA voted against parliament’s motion for South Africa to end diplomatic ties with Israel and close the embassy until there is a ceasefire. 

We are weeks away from 2024, a year that should be a story of an ANC facing the prospect of losing its majority. But we can’t discount geopolitical tensions that are pushing even the most non-aligned governments and parties to choose a side. For smaller parties, it could prove difficult waters to navigate.