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All is not rosy about DA’s ‘moonshot’ to Union Buildings

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Picture: Ampitheatre of the Union Buildings in Pretoria Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA).

By Professor Sethulego Matebesi

THERE was an abundance of precious dreams shared by various speakers at the recent federal congress of the DA.

And dreaming of having a great abundance of a wide variety of things is an excellent omen.

The DA conference, where nearly 2000 delegates handed incumbent John Steenhuisen a second term as leader of the party threw dreams around that were undoubtedly aimed at impressing the speakers’ political bases and restoring hope and confidence about the future of South Africa.

But, besides the dreams, what also stood out about the conference was how well the it was organised in respect of, for example, a technical and time management perspective.

The dominant narrative from the DA’s conference was the theme of Steenhuisen’s victory speech – a moonshot pact with other opposition parties.

As I listened to Steenhuisen during his victory speech, my mind reflected on how he was echoing the sentiments of Helen Zille earlier that day on how the party would not enter into any formal agreements with the EFF.

These statements have far-reaching implications for opposition politics in South Africa. In what follows, I address two aspects of Steenhuisen’s moonshot pact dream that will determine the DA’s purported occupation of the Union Buildings after the 2024 elections: the tension between the DA and the EFF, and the DA’s supremacist attitude towards smaller parties.

Neither the DA nor the EFF has ever had an easy relationship, as events at municipal councils and the DA’s conference have illustrated only too well.

In what one commentator has described as “two sides of the same mirror”, on the one hand, social liberalism, classical liberalism, and conservative liberalism are just a few of the liberal ideologies that the DA exhibits.

Conversely, the EFF is a left-wing to far-left pan-Africanist and Marxist-Leninist party.

What seemed to many South Africans as merely an advancement of party ideologies since the birth of the EFF turned the parties into sworn political opponents, one that still reverberates today.

Largely thanks to the DA’s scathing attacks on the EFF, one can ask about the motive behind such a move while the parties have a common goal to unseat the ANC. One possible answer is that despite the growing international trend where sworn political opponents join hands to defeat a particular common opponent, within the realm of political alliances, voter intention is shaped by the alliances parties forge with others.

Simply put, should the DA go into a pre-election moonshot pact with like-minded parties and the EFF, what message will they be sending to their supporters and funders?

The tension between the DA and the EFF will escalate over the few months.

This is a double-edged sword for opposition politics. The DA knows very well that to enhance brand trust, it must be selective about potential coalition partners.

In short, however, political fall- outs between the country’s second and third-largest parties will favour the ANC, which will likely only need the support of two to three parties to lead.

Leading up to 2014 national elections, the DA boldly declared that a vote for a small party is a wasted vote and that the country needs a strong opposition party to be in a better position.

Rather than taming opposition parties in the wake of the storm created in 2014, the DA is busy pushing an agenda that lends credence to the assertion that the party has exploited the weaknesses of others for its own benefit.

The DA’s narrative about being the leader of opposition parties to unseat the ANC may be linked to its hegemony as the official opposition party since the beginning of the democratic dispensation.

Zille somehow explained this fact when she indicated how small the margins of electoral support have become between the ANC and the DA.

Yet the facts do not back her up.

The public is left to figure out how the DA, which received 20.8% of the votes during then 2019 national elections is meant to convince smaller parties to achieve the magical majority that will enable the party to lead the country from the Union Buildings.

Nor does the party explain how it will navigate the slippery slope of arrogance it was created by making the formation of a united opposition about Steenhuisen and DA, in the words of ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba.

This brings us back to Steenhuisen’s implicit argument: the call to defeat the ANC and EFF.

Such a clarion call for opposition parties and civil society organisations may foster the dialogue, understanding and tolerance necessary for such diverse groupings to converge. Still, only time will tell if Steenhuisen’s moonshot pact has only been a bizarre fantasy.

Professor Sethulego Matebesi is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State.