/ 1 April 2023

A weak DA can only dream of a better future for SA

Da Protest Eskom
DA supporters march to Luthuli House to protest against the energy crisis South Africa is currently facing. (Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has announced the theme for its 2023 federal congress: “A strong DA to build a better future”. This theme is supposed to embody the party’s commitment to building a new majority for South Africa that will see the country out of the clutches of bad governance, corruption, rolling blackouts, the cost of living crisis and the high crime rate. Whether the DA has the persuasive and compelling leadership needed to achieve this goal is questionable.

As the leadership race heats up, John Steenhuisen and Mpho Phalatse are running for federal leader, but it is clear that Steenhuisen is the stronger candidate. Phalatse is to Steenhuisen what the DA is to the ANC — second best. Phalatse may be a strong contender, but she lacks the charisma and energy needed to inspire action and evoke a positive emotional response from South Africans. One of the biggest tests of a leader is how they use persuasion to encourage action from people outside their official sphere of influence, and Phalatse needs to catch up on this.

Her campaign has focused more on highlighting Steenhuisen’s leadership weaknesses than promoting her strengths. Steenhuisen, on the other hand, has campaigned on a message of continuity in the party’s growth, saying he is prepared to lead the DA into a post-ANC South Africa. But, in an interview with SABC News politics editor Mzwandile Mbeje, Steenhuisen emphasised the DA’s intentions to work with parties to reduce the ANC instead of taking over from the ANC.

Frankly, neither candidate inspires much confidence as a potential national leader. Although Steenhuisen is confident in his capacity to lead the party until the general elections in 2024, he displays less confidence in leading the party beyond this point. Conversely, Phalatse intends to continue Mmusi Maimane’s vision by proposing that the DA should be more present in rural and black South Africa. Once again, there is a lack of innovative and winning strategies. Although she has professed confidence in her former experiences, the repeated votes of no confidence undermine her candidature.

Although the DA should use charged words to create a sense of urgency and motivate people to take action, they should also use words that convey confidence, develop a sense of unity and highlight the stakes. It is difficult for the DA to achieve this when Phalatse calls Steenhuisen out on hypocrisy, and Steenhuisen accuses Phalatse’s campaign of dirty tactics. This infighting weakens the party’s overall message and creates a sense of disunity.

The DA may have used provocative language in the past, but it needs to do more to convince South Africans to support its societal role as opposed to exuding the same energy as the former deputy president, David Mabuza, who voluntarily stepped aside for a new deputy president and had no intention of ever rising to the top.

In this rare case, learning from the ANC would not be such a terrible idea, given that it has already declared itself to be the only party with the ability and capacity to rule South Africa until Jesus comes.

The DA needs to recognise that more than a strong DA is needed to build a better future for South Africa. Only with this kind of leadership can the DA build a new majority for South Africa that will see the country out of the clutches of maladministration. A weak DA can only dream of a better future, but it will take a strong DA with persuasive leadership to build that future. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.