DA split will doom party to permanent opposition

The DA is reportedly facing a possible split due to concern by some within the party that Mmusi Maimane is trying to turn the DA into a civilised EFF, instead of maintaining its roots as a Liberal party with a capital letter “L”.

Those who are unhappy with Maimane’s grand experimentation with the DA are said to be considering forming a new party which will be set to oppose everything in the country. They want a DA that will embark on ruthless opposition to everything! Helen Zille is touted to be a possible leader of the new party that will be formed.

Before everyone starts denying the reports about this move, allow me to indulge in how senseless this idea is. In the current South African landscape, there is no space for the type of liberalism that is being propagated by Zille’s fans, or Maimane’s detractors for that matter. To put it differently, such liberalism will guarantee you a permanent role as an opposition party and is not a recipe for winning the elections in South Africa.

One really wonders what the electoral prospects are for a political party that is a conglomeration of colonialism and apartheid denialists whose main submission is to try to put apartheid into context.

Competition in this category is cut-throat. There is already a well-established grouping that excels when it comes to denying the impacts of apartheid on inequality in South Africa. The group has already successfully staged a national dialogue on whether apartheid really happened. Why would anyone in their right mind try to form a new outfit with the intention to compete in this field?

I believe that the existential crisis the DA is confronted with is genuine. Ramaphosa’s first 100 days in office contributed to the DA’s inability to gather a sense of perspective and find a way to regroup in time to contest the 2019 elections as a united party.

I also believe that Maimane might not be the perfect person to take the DA forward and help the party gather its mojo. Yet, I think that Maimane is the best man for the job now; someone who should be allowed to set the stage for the possible transition of the DA.

Instead of resorting to comfort zones and trying to be more conservative than the Freedom Front Plus, the DA should take the opportunity and reformulate its brand of liberalism to ensure it stays relevant to the challenges South Africa faces. Becoming an ultra-right-wing party is not a solution to the DA’s problems. This may only bring a short-term sense of reprieve to those DA members who feel overwhelmed by the South Africa they live in, just like comfort eating is a solution to stress.

Further, the DA should begin to focus on its own identity and not allow itself to be overwhelmed by the relative success of the Ramaphosa presidency. In order to respond to the land issue and Ramaphosa’s popularity as a champion of everything – including the impossible – the DA should focus on how to position itself for the 2019 elections. The party should try not to lose votes in 2019.

Those who want to jump ship from the DA should understand that they are sentencing themselves to a permanent role as a small opposition party with no prospects of governing anything beyond a small farming town.

Indeed, members of the DA should engage each other on the type of liberalism they wish to stand for. This conversation requires level-headed people, and not attention-seeking individuals with mammoth egos.

– Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.

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