Some weeks ago we put twelve questions* to the Democratic Alliance (DA). In a note last week, the party told us that they would not answer them. But the questions are important and in this column we set them out with some of our own insights.
Our questionnaire opened with the following preamble: From its humble origins, the DA has grown to become South Africa’s largest opposition party and the party of government in one of South Africa’s nine provinces. Its efforts at opposing counterproductive ANC policy, and exposing corruption, have generally been taken for granted and its role in fostering a culture of opposition is quite unappreciated. Yet the party has drawn much criticism from liberals for its seeming flip-flops on race, and has even been described as ANC-lite. With just weeks to go before the May polls, Frans Cronje set out to ask the party some tough questions.
Our first question was about the role of race in party and government policy; Right off the bat – has race become the basis of DA policy? The answer to this question remains the crux of understanding the future ideological direction of the DA. At times the party has flirted with racial nationalist ideas, such as race-based quotas and targets, before pulling back in the face of media pressure. The party recently stated that race is a proxy for disadvantage before retreating to say that race is not the only proxy for disadvantage. Senior leaders of the party have been silenced when they sought to challenge the drift towards race-based policy within the party. We have pressed the party at length on the need for a proxy when it is possible to establish actual social and economic disadvantage in its own right. For liberals, race has no place in policy, and empowerment initiatives must be based solely on the established socio-economic circumstances of their beneficiaries.
Our second question sought to test the DA’s governance and service-delivery track record in the Western Cape; You govern in the Western Cape but a cursory look at a range of social and economic indicators, particularly when existing social and economic inequalities are taken into account, suggests that outcomes in terms of education quality or service delivery are little better than those of the ANC. Does life actually get better where the DA governs? Our sense is that in terms of combating corruption and maladministration, the DA outperforms the ANC hands down. But the answer we expected from the DA is that without control of national policy questions, such as labour law and taxation policy, limited gains at best can be made in addressing problems of structural unemployment and economic growth.
Our third question was about why the DA is not growing faster; Given the state of South Africa, from corruption to unemployment to weak economic growth, why is the DA not showing spectacular growth? Polls suggest that you will continue to average in the mid-20 percentiles. It is extraordinary to think that after a decade of extreme corruption and shocking governance by the ruling party, in a country where less than half of young people have a job, and per-capita GDP has been falling, that the main opposition party is not giving the ruling party a better run for its money – particularly as South Africa is a fundamentally free and open society. You could not script a better context for the DA than that created over the past decade by the ANC. Our take is that the DA has not done enough to distinguish itself from the ANC in the realm of ideas. Its flip-flops and confusion on the question of race and policy have seen it fail to gain the confidence of former ANC and non-voters on the one hand, while testing the confidence of its established support base on the other.
Our fourth question was about ANC supporters; A related question is why does the ANC still command a political majority – is there something wrong with the voters? It would have been fascinating to obtain the DA’s view of ANC voters. Why have they remained loyal to the party? Is it blind loyalty, as the DA has at times suggested? Or is it rather, as we have suggested, that off the really low base of apartheid and in the absence of a compelling opposition offering, the ANC in government has lifted living standards sufficiently to retain its majority? We also expected the DA to answer that a significant number of potential voters do not vote, indicating that support for the ANC is lower than what will be suggested by the election result next month.
Our fifth question sought the DA’s take on the ANC itself; Where does the DA think things went wrong for the ANC – what happened to what so many people regarded as a political bastion of liberty in Africa? For us, the answer lies in the ANC’s ideology of a race-based National Democratic Revolution that is utterly at odds with what it takes to run a modern democratic and prosperous society. Briefly, after the transition of the 1990s, it flirted with the pragmatism seen in parts of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution or GEAR policy of the mid-1990s. But the ANC today remains essentially what it has been since the 1960s; a racial nationalist movement with limited regard for the rule of law.
Our sixth question sought to tease out the differences between DA and ANC policy; ANC policy has been appalling, but our former colleague and your sitting MP and former Head of Policy Gwen Ngwenya said that the DA does not take policy seriously. Was she wrong? Our sense is that on questions such as labour market policy and property rights, the DA has historically been good. But our sense is also that, in pandering to questions of race, the DA is setting in motion events that may see it begin to reflect some of the racial nationalist policy positions of the ANC. Its position in favour of property rights, for example, seems utterly at odds with its support for measures of state-directed race-based redress. The party cannot simultaneously hold both positions.
Our seventh question was on governance and standards in the DA; Are there any convicted or alleged criminals on the DA’s election lists? The ANC is alleged to have included several on its lists. We expect that there are none – making the point that for all its flirtation with ANC ideas, the DA remains a very different political animal from the ruling party.
Our eighth question was about the Gauteng vote; Will you win in Gauteng? Our polls suggest that the ANC may surrender its provincial majority. The DA would claim an ANC defeat in Gauteng as a significant political victory. But such a defeat would reflect as much the failure of the ANC to retain the political confidence of urban voters as the ability of the DA to wrestle that confidence away. An ANC defeat in Gauteng, which we regard as plausible, will deliver the province to a coalition government.
That possibility was the reason behind our ninth question; The EFF is a party of violent race-baiting fascists, but you got into coalitions with it in key cities. Was that the right thing to do and will you do it again? The EFF has said that it will not again enter into coalitions with the DA, and the EFF was also central to the collapse of the DA-led coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay. What was the DA’s thinking around coalitions with the EFF? Given the racist and murderous rantings of the EFF, this is a question to which prospective DA voters deserve a clear and unambiguous answer.
Our tenth question was about a coalition with the ANC; There is a theory floating in the ether that the solution to South Africa’s problems is an alliance between the ANC and the DA. Is this possible and would it be a good idea? The theory, about which there are fundamental problems, is that the better bits of the ANC can afford to jettison the corrupt and leftist factions even if that led to ANC support falling considerably – as those better bits could then seek out a coalition with the DA, assuring that collective a national majority and delivering to South Africa a centrist and much less corrupt government. Is the DA open to this and would it be a good idea?
Our eleventh question was; There are a number of smaller parties vying for a seat or two in Parliament. You’ve said that voting for them would be a waste of time. Is that true? Are they not, at least, important in holding you to account? This is a most important point. The ANC must be held to account and the ANC/EFF collective should ideally be held to a sub-66% majority. The DA has a critical role to play here. But does voting for a smaller party undermine that role? We cannot see how. If the DA takes strong principled positions then the pragmatic smaller players can be expected to vote with it in Parliament. However, if the DA strays, especially on the question of race, then those same smaller players can sound the alarm – and in an era of coalition politics would wield considerable influence over the DA. It would seem that voting for a small but principled opposition party is the best way to ensure that the DA keeps the ANC in line, and thus the DA’s argument that voting for a small party is a wasted vote is nonsense.
Our final question was on the track record of the DA in opposition; The leadership of the DA over many years deserve much credit for fostering the principle of opposition politics and, time and again, exposing corruption within the ANC and the government and warning publicly of counterproductive policy. Have you received too little credit for what you have done? Our take is that much credit is due to the DA for what it has done to hold the ANC to account over the past 20 years. Few observers understand the courage and fortitude that this took – especially prior to the Zuma era. Those early DA caucuses established the tradition of principled opposition politics that is now so important in ensuring that the ANC/EFF collective does not wreck our country.
*The ZACP and ANC also received questionnaires. Answers from the ZACP were published here. The ANC has yet to provide answers. Questionnaires will follow for the ACDP and FF+.
Frans Cronjé is the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations
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