April 14, 2023
Douglas Gibson | 10 April 2023
Douglas Gibson says parties should rally around a common goal, not keep sniping at DA
The recent DA Federal was a considerable success. It was regarded as that by millions of TV viewers who saw with their own eyes the DA as it is today: excellently organised, running on time, thoroughly democratic, enthusiastic, and looking toward the future.
As important as that was the look of the DA; it looks like South Africa, with more black, Coloured, and Indian delegates than white delegates. The reason is simple, DA supporters today are about a quarter white, and three-quarters are not white. This gives the lie to opponents who never stop saying that the DA is a white party. It is no longer that. (Although there is nothing wrong with being white. Or black. Or Coloured. Or Indian. Anyone who doubts that should take a look at the Constitution of South Africa).
John Steenhuisen, re-elected as leader by a landslide, gave a very strong lead to the party, to all compatible opposition parties, and to the government. His most stirring call was backed by his absolute commitment to opposing what he described as “night,” an ANC/EFF coalition in 2024. He said first prize would be for the DA to win enough support to be able to form a DA-led coalition. He made an offer to the leaders of other opposition parties to establish with him what he called a moonshot effort to bring the ANC below 50% and at all costs to avoid the prospect of a coalition between the ANC and the EFF.
In an opinion piece, I stated that the response of other opposition party leaders would be fascinating and that certainly, the DA hoped to signal an era of much greater co-operation between these parties and end the unproductive slagging off that has been an unhappy feature of some coalitions (by no means all) at local government level. Any coalition would demand that the parties commit themselves to an agreed plan of action and that their basic policies and outlook are at least compatible.
One really hoped that all other parties would respond positively, generously, and enthusiastically. Not a bit of it. Michael Beaumont, the chairperson of ActionSA, rushed into issuing a rather mean-mouthed statement claiming that Steenhuisen was not the originator of the idea and that ActionSA and other opposition parties were already working on it.
The leader of ActionSA, Herman Mashaba, again took Beaumont’s lead, and then warned Steenhuisen that all the parties had to be treated on an equal basis. He also objected to the DA leading the effort. Readers may be aware that Mashaba does not have a single member of Parliament, or of the provincial legislatures, and that the most recent polls indicate a vote of about 4% for his party. In addition, the ActionSA office bearers, from top to bottom, are appointed, not elected.
The DA has 97 MPs in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces and 89 members of the provincial legislatures. The latest polls indicate a support level of about 25% of all voters in South Africa. As far as I am aware, the leaders of some opposition parties, including the IFP, FF+, and Bosa, have a slightly more modest view of themselves and their parties than does Mr Mashaba.
The leader of the ACDP, with 4 seats in Parliament out of 400 (and .84% of the vote) and 3 seats out of 430 in the provincial legislatures, also claimed equality and attacked Steenhuisen for presuming to lead.
Songezo Zibi, founder of the Rivonia Circle, a conversation group, and of Mzansi Rise, which is not yet a political party, but might become one, issued a media release stating the obvious: incompatibles must not be forced into a coalition. Without a shared outlook or principles, it only produces opportunism.
There has been enormous media coverage of the Moonshot initiative which Steenhuisen says will require significant effort and much work aimed laser-like at removing the ANC from power and an historic opportunity to replace it with a new government. This initiative has the potential to set alight the enthusiasm of South Africans and give them hope.
One can only pray for balance and generosity of spirit from the leaders of various parties and from Steenhuisen. Some of the local government coalitions have been characterised by disloyalty to each other and to the agreed way forward, with some leaders jockeying for advantage for their own party and seeming almost to enjoy attacking their coalition partner parties in public.
We need as a country to learn how to live with coalition governments at every level and party leaders must jack themselves up to meet the enormous challenge this poses to each of them and those they lead. It is in the national interest to do so.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public Speaker, Writer
Published • 8s
Steenhuisen’s Moonshot initiative has attracted great intereest. The response from some opposition parties has been surprisingly negative.