The founder of the DA, Tony Leon, believes that the ANC’s drop below 50% nationally in the local government elections is a good opportunity for his party to work on growing its support.
Leon said it was important for the DA to dispel the perception that it was a white party and find ways to attract all South Africans.
“The motive to form the DA was an attempt to build a large opposition for the ANC, and the idea then was that the ANC would come down, as it has done now.
“It might have been a hope, but it did not seem that likely and perhaps not in this time frame. The DA is involved in a long-term project, one that is reaching its conclusion sooner than we thought in terms of the ANC starting to erode as quickly as it has.”
Leon explained that the party experimented with different mechanisms to attract black voters, but said it had not been an easy task trying to build a multiracial party without stepping on some toes.
“This is a country where 80% of South Africans are black and the DA has tried various strategies besides having policy.” He said:It has tried different personalities and some of them did not crack that answer.
“I think the DA has had to deal with this narrative that it is a white party and that it will bring back apartheid. Whether the DA can deal with this on its own is unclear.”
Even with a black person at the helm in former DA leader Mmusi Maimane, Leon said the DA was still unable to attract a large percentage of the black vote.
“I am also mindful of the fact that ActionSA did well in Soweto, but this did not happen in the DA when [ActionSA leader Herman] Mashaba and Maimane were in the party.
Maybe that tells you something. The real thing for the DA, which is hard, is trying to be a party for all South Africans. It tries to do that by having public representatives from different communities.
It is much easier to do that than just focus your attention on one group. Standing for broad South Africans is difficult because you are always going to offend someone,” he said.
Leon did, however, mention that the departure of both Mashaba and Maimane had had an impact on the party.
“There was a lot of turbulence in 2019 after the former leader of the DA left and then the mayor of Johannesburg left. That had an impact on the party both internally and externally. If you look at the old politics of South Africa – when [businessperson and politician Frederik] van Zyl Slabbert walked out of the Progressive Federal Party, it had a devastating effect on the party.
I do not think in this case the impact was that big, although there was erosion of support and the rise of parties such as ActionSA. I do not think it was as momentous and, to some extent, the party is recovering its poise,” he said.
Speaking of the party’s local government election results, Leon did not overstate how well the DA had done. The party dropped considerably from the 2016 local elections, declining from 27% to 22%.
However, the DA continues to dominate in the Western Cape and has had good gains in KwaZulu-Natal, as it managed to get an outright majority in a municipality for the first time.
The party is now trying to seal coalition agreements to gain power in the metros, especially Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane. He said:I think the DA did okay and I think that is a fair assessment. The results and the opinion polls before elections could have been worse for them and things certainly could have been better.
He also spoke about how the party should be working its way towards the 2024 general elections.
“They are going to have to introspect on the steps they must take from here. They would have been pleased, I believe, to arrest the decline they experienced in 2019 and perhaps disappointed that they could not get back to where they were in 2016.
“The DA only controls so much of the political environment and so much is going to change in the country between now and 2024, and we do not know how the crisis of unemployment and electricity, and how the ANC handles this matter, [will affect it]. The best the DA can do is to keep its own house in order and look for imaginative solutions.
“The DA has got to say that it cannot just politically grandstand. They cannot just say they are using these election results as a launchpad for 2024, they have to think about the residents who voted for them and see what they can do for them.”
His advice to the party is to go into coalitions carefully to avoid making the same mistakes it did in 2016.
“There are a number of factors; the DA and any other party has got to have a consideration of what is going to happen, as this will affect them politically in 2024.
“In other words, if they go for short-term fixes, will it enhance their project for the next elections? The biggest game-changer is that the ANC has gone below 50%. The DA burnt its fingers very badly in the various coalitions in 2016. They lost Johannesburg and they were hanging on by a toenail in Tshwane.
“None of these was a successful coalition, so I think they need to learn from their experiences,” said Leon.