Coalitions: The three main enemies of the DA right now - Politicsweb

28 November 2021 - After its limited success in the recent municipal elections, the Democratic Alliance (DA) faces three main enemies. They are the communications media, the African National Congress (ANC) and other rival political parties, and the ANC all over again.

John Kane-Berman 
After its limited success in the recent municipal elections, the Democratic Alliance (DA) faces three main enemies. They are the communications media, the African National Congress (ANC) and other rival political parties, and the ANC all over again.

Enemy number one is the bulk of the media, notably the political commentariat. With few exceptions, they loathe the DA. Media hostility towards the DA is such that every mistake the party makes, every failure it chalks up, where it holds mayorships but not majorities in South Africa’s newly elected local authorities will be pounced upon with glee, while its successes will be downplayed. This will apply particularly in Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni, the three metropolitan councils where its candidates were elected as mayors last week.

Some members of the commentariat will be especially irritated that the DA did not take their advice to hop into bed with the ANC.

In an interview with Alec Hogg on Biznews last week, the DA’s federal chairman, Helen Zille, said that her party “could go into every single council meeting as a minority party that happens to be in government and that may or may not be in government by the end of that meeting”. This was not the best way to go into a bold programme of service delivery and manifesto implementation, so efforts would be made to consolidate coalitions based on formal agreements with joint plans of actions to take the cities forward.

Being expected to deliver, but without a majority of votes, would, she added, be “very, very hard”. The DA, in other words, will have responsibility but not power. Rival parties are likely to do their best to make things even harder. That accounts for enemy number two.

Enemy number three is the ANC. It has long regarded itself as the sole authentic representative of black Africans. This is why it waged war against rival black parties in the decade or more before it came to power. Once in government, the ANC lost little time in implementing the ideology of the national democratic revolution, to which it has long been committed, thanks to the influence of the South African Communist Party.  

One of the main components of this revolutionary ideology is the use of cadre deployment to capture as many centres of power as possible. Another is the implementation of affirmative action to give preference in procurement, employment, and promotion to black Africans. Between them these policies have helped to undermine the efficiency of local government and promote corruption.

Ms Zille’s Biznews interview carried warnings. People should not think the DA could just appoint its own people and implement its manifesto. “We also inherit municipalities and administrations full of ANC [cadres] and full of people with vested interests in maintaining tenders, contracts, and the power over appointments to take those critical decisions.”

You could show top politicians the door, but behind them is “an entire network of people who are in on it”. There “are many, many layers of vested interests below it that are desperately trying to prevent any further erosion of their network”. Corrupt cadres will of course go to court to prevent any attempt to get rid of them.

The pervasiveness of entrenched corruption is but one of the problems that will confront the DA or anyone else trying to clean up local government. Another is what Ms Zille described as “this massively hostile bureaucracy on whom you depend for every implementation strategy you want to apply”.

The intention and effect of the Soviet-style cadre deployment policy has been to establish a civil service at all levels of government whose only loyalty is to the ANC and its ideological objectives. This means that any parties seeking to implement different policies will run up against the “massively hostile bureaucracy” of which Ms Zille spoke.

This is where Cyril Ramaphosa comes in. Now entering the fifth year of his presidency of the ANC, he faces a set of fresh challenges following the municipal elections. Does he have the strength of character to tell his party that it must respect the results of mayoral elections and eschew the obvious opportunities to destabilise local authorities which it no longer controls without allowing them a chance to repair the massive financial and physical damage his party has inflicted?

Is he enough of a leader to say this? If he does say it, will his party take any notice? Or is he himself so committed to revolutionary ideology that he will encourage, or condone, destabilisation? Will he just go AWOL, as he did during the July uprising?

Mr Ramaphosa has never made any secret of his support for the practice of cadre deployment. He also played a major part in imposing that policy. Will he now tell the bureaucrats in local government that they are obliged to implement not his party’s revolutionary ideology but the policies agreed upon by the new local councils? And that they should not use their bureaucratic power to obstruct, undermine, and sabotage the new councils?

New coalitions may be fragile, united mainly by the desire to keep the ANC out, but they are entitled to a fighting chance. Is President Ramaphosa enough of a democrat to tell the nation that they deserve that fighting chance?

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.