Monday, November 10, 2008

Democratic Alliance 2: Resurrection


PoliticsWeb is carrying a statement by Helen Zille that the Democratic Alliance is to be 're-launched' at Constitution Hill this Saturday 15 November. According to Zille, the DA has conducted research into its levels of national support which has revealed an increase in potential voters for the party. She writes:

This appetite for change was illustrated this past weekend when we saw huge numbers of new voters registering to vote. The turnout was unprecedented. Our figures tell us that five times as many DA supporters registered to vote this weekend than in the first registration weekend before the 2004 election. People want change and they are prepared to go to the polls next year to be part of the change they want to see.

Zille also acknowledged that the following among black Africans had been less than forthcoming in the past, something the DA is hoping to change:
But our research also told us that the DA has significant potential among voters who share our values but who have not historically supported us. The reasons are complex and varied, but are essentially a function of South Africa 's history of racial division. We are determined to do whatever possible to overcome those barriers, transcend race and enable all South African who share our values to give us their support.

It would surely benefit the DA to extend its reach to previously disadvantaged communities. But how are they to achieve this without alienating their core constituency of middle class minorities who savoured the strident critiques of government that Tony Leon, the previous leader, so frequently articulated? Being an "uppity white" helped Leon garner the old Nat votes but limited his appeal to black voters.

It is therefore encouraging to see the opposition being frank about how demographics have constrained politics since 1994 and attempting to forge something new. Whether you support the DA or not, this is a welcome departure from the "Fight B(l)ack" days of the late nineties and good for racial unity in SA.

The timing of this event is also significant as it attempts to harness some of the energy generated by the SA National Convention of two weeks ago. The DA must be mindful of the challenge posed by the ANC-breakaway , the Congress of the People. The high levels of disaffection towards the ruling party was putting the DA in a good position, but the CoP is threatening to eat into those gains. Methinks that this relaunching is intended as a reminder that the DA is still around.

Don't expect a fundamental change of identity nor a realignment of policy but rather the initiation of the 2009 election campaign.


  1. Hi David,

    I can assure you that planning for the relaunch started many months ago. The market research was done in the first quarter, and everything has flowed from that.

    The thing our research showed is that there are values for which the DA stands that are common to far more people than currently vote for the DA. And the overwhelming majority of people who share those values with us - regardless of race - want to be a part of something non-racial. They don't want a party that is racially exclusive.

    At this stage, the only thing we know about the CoP is that it is a breakaway faction of the ANC. It is also the former ruling clique of the ANC. Their creation is good for the DA on two counts: The fact that the ANC is now much more vulnerable will energise DA supporters - it already has, as we saw with massive enthusiasm to register. In addition, it opens up the option of alternatives. The ANC attacks the legitimacy of any opposition in black communities - people aren't allowed to vote anything but ANC. The fact that the ANC is splitting undermines the ANC's ability to play this card because, now, there are two ANCs. That opens things up for other opposition parties to campaign too.

  2. Thanks for the comment Anthony.

    Firstly, do you know where one could get hold of this market research? Is it publicly available?

    I will take you on your word that the planning did start a while back, but my conjecture is that the events of the last several weeks have hastened the announcement of the 're-launch'.

    However, I am still unsure what the re-launch is intended to achieve. Are there going to be any surprises? What is this new message, other than the renewed emphasis on non-racialism and constitutionalism - something which the DA, to its credit, has been advocating for so time? To be honest, it is all somewhat vague and too short-notice for me. I need a reason to come on Saturday and I'm not really seeing one...

    Your argument about the CoP undermining the hegemony of the ANC is convincing, as it has broken the nationalist mythology that the governing party has been so good at cultivating.

    However, there will be some votes taken from other opposition parties as well. I don't think it will be as devastating as Gwede Mantashe is predicting, but it certainly presents an interesting challenge to the DA and others.

    I was considering voting for Zille, whom I like, but the CoP has thrown my thinking. The new movement still has a long way to go to secure my vote, as I have some reservations about the character of the leadership and their links to the Mbeki years, But nevertheless, I might just give the CoP a chance. They may be the only party capable of articulating a critique of the ANC that is still able to resonate with a broad base of working and poor people. At the very least this will lead to a more sensitive and cautious ANC, which would be a good thing.

    What can you tell me that will make me revise my position?


  3. Jonty Fisher at the Fishbowl has also commented on the re-launch. Find his article here: