DA’s Foot & Mouth Disease

Behind the DA’s gaffes

John & Emma “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Maya Angelo, A song Flung Up To Heaven.

In Brief

  • uSpiked’s editor, Mark Thomas scrutinises the Democratic Alliance's (DA) approach as South Africa's main opposition party, focusing on its recent overtures to the United States for support in the upcoming general elections. He delves into the implications of soliciting external assistance, analyzing the DA’s strategic choices and potential contradictions as articulated in a letter to US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. The document highlights concerns about South Africa's democratic integrity, inviting commentary on the paradox of opposing foreign interference while seeking it.
  • The appraisal also provides a historical overview of the DA’s electoral performance and discusses various missteps by its leaders that may have compromised its appeal to the electorate. Key incidents include controversial statements and questionable alliances which have stirred public debate and potentially alienated voters.
  • Further, the appraisal examines the DA’s coalition tactics and the impact of emerging political parties which are reshaping the electoral landscape, potentially challenging the DA’s position as the official opposition. The appraisal concludes with reflections on the broader implications of the DA’s current strategies, questioning their effectiveness in securing the necessary majority to influence national governance.
  • Overall, the appraisal presents a critical analysis of the Democratic Alliance’s current political manoeuvres, internal challenges, and their broader implications for its future in South African politics.

As South Africa celebrated its 30th anniversary in April, the Democratic Alliance, the country’s official opposition party, seemed too eager to enlist support from the United States for the upcoming May 29 General Elections. Is the Democratic Alliance trying to gain political leverage at home and abroad to support its presidential candidate?

This conclusion comes from the letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, signed by Emma Loise Powell, the DA’s shadow minister for International Relations and Cooperation. Powell's letter implies that South Africa's democratic integrity and global reputation are at risk due to internal and external factors. Seemingly, the response of the DA to political tensions is to invite external interference.

No free lunch

uSpiked asked Powell what the DA planned to offer Washington in exchange for support, given the political horse-trading in Washington. According to Powell, the party did not seek resources for itself but for other civil society groups. But she could not easily explain why Washington is best suited to intervene.

America certainly should be seeking to learn from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on how to conduct credible elections. Powell acknowledged that the IEC has managed elections without any questionable issues since its inception. The DA, nonetheless, stands by the letter to Blinken. 

Ballots are counted manually in the presence of agents of political parties. There is no system for cyber attacks. The DA appears to believe claims by former US President Donald Trump that America has a system capable of altering vote counts; and the DA seems to be seeking a share of that system.

Is foreign interference bad only when it benefits the opponents? Despite having claimed that the issues raised in the letter had been raised with her counterpart in the government, DIRCO's spokesperson Clayton Monyala told this journalist that the Department had no prior notice of the DA's concerns and only learnt of it when it got leaked to the media.

On the letter, UCT's Head of the Political Science Department, Professor Zwelethu Jolobe, says the DA's letter is confusing. 

 "She (Powell) is concerned about the possibility of some maligned international actors getting involved to assist the ANC while at the same time openly calling on a foreign power to help her party do the same thing she is concerned about.”

The Democratic Alliance is concerned about potential electoral misconduct before voting even starts. Powell worries that the ANC might not secure 50%+1 of the national votes but overlooks the possibility of her party losing its official opposition status. Could the DA be mainly worried about its shrinking political influence?

The DA became the Official Opposition Party with 38 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly after the 1999 general elections; representing just 9.56% of the electorate. Over the past six general elections, the party voter share peaked at 22.20% in the 2014 elections, possibly due to the failed merger with Agang South Africa. In 2019, support dropped to 20.77% due to the resurgence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party.

The DA knows that to win the presidency with a 50%+1 majority requires garnering some real black voters. The Party’s past and current leadership has stumbled while leveraging the legacies of past leaders like Helen Suzman and Van Zyl Slabbert, resulting in some self-inflicted errors; from Joe Seremane as the presidential candidate in 2008 and Musi Maimane as party leader to Hellen Zille's controversial Singapore tweets and the Education Refugees cries and Dianne Kohler Barnard's “… We don’t have a border! The rest of Africa strolls in and out as they like. They use our hospitals, settle here, eat our food and then we wonder why our budgets aren’t coping…” remarks while contributing to a parliamentary debate on 2009 xenophobic violence. Despite the DA's vocal stance on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), it has also seemingly zealously pursued Black Political Empowerment (BPE) for itself.

The real issue is internal and less about interference in the electoral system. The DA must address these internal issues to avoid further alienating the black voters they hope to attract to get anywhere close to the Union Building.

The DA’s position has been made worse by the entrance of newer parties like RISE Mzansi, founded by former journalist and editor Songezo Zibi. While in the recent past elections, the DA had to compete with EFF for electoral votes. But before the entry of Zibi could settle down, former DA leader Maimane threw his hat back into the fray with his BOSA. And there goes the ‘Clever Blacks’ as Jacob Zuma once called them. Then suddenly there pop the MK Party, that must have sent shivers down the DA higher ups. What would happen if EFF were to get into a coalition with MK? This reality is pushing the DA to seek partnership with the ANC with the 48-year old John Henry Steenhuisen being appointed the Deputy President. Could this explain the relentless attacks on Paul Mashatile!

The DA finds itself between a rock and hard place. Its track records on former collaborations and coalitions is not impressive enough for the newer parties to tail with. The outcome of the cooperation with Patricia de Lile’s Independent Democrat is still fresh in voters' minds. Aunty Pat as she is known around the Cape soon found that the title of Executive Mayor of Cape Town was simply a title without authority. The DA’s understanding of coalition is to simply swallow the coalition partners and spit them when no longer needed.

Hon. Powell, aged 37, showed a combination of naivety and ignorance by signing the letter to the US Secretary of State. The choice of involving Washington was not impulsive; the National Party and its apartheid government had a programme code-named ‘Operasie skape’, which developed atom bombs with Washington and Tel Aviv assistance; according to some in the know. In the late 1980s, as pressure mounted on Washington to reconsider its stance on apartheid, it could not envision the imminent black-led government armed with nukes, hence the voluntary dismantling of the programme in 1989. Powell was two years old, considering the mensa-like vigour involved in selecting National Assembly candidates as per the video below, she must have been quite on top of the country's history. Speculation abounds on whether the DA's motive is simply to seek the resuscitation of old apartheid allies from across the Atlantic. The aid from Washington in the 1980s went further than the Operasie skape’. Washington’s support sustained the National Party in more ways than the Nukes programme.

Given the stances of Pretoria on issues involving Washington, such as the Ukraine and Gaza wars, why did Hon. Powell overlook the possibility that Washington may be now have flooded the country with intelligence operatives? And what type of intelligence might they have gathered on the DA’s status?  This could explain the leaked letter, possibly from the US embassy or Powell's office.

uSpiked got hold of the Press Attaché David Feldman on his way out to Washington for reassignment upon conclusion of his tour of duty. He echoed Ambassador Bridgety II earlier statement that Washington has full confidence in the IEC. On the specifics of the letter, he referred us to the Democratic Alliance. For any additional information, he asked uSpiked to email the embassy directly which we did. By the time of production, the Embassy had not responded to our email. Among the issues we wanted the Embasssy to respond to is the number of election observers Washington has invited to monitor the US Elections scheduled for November this year.

As we were concluding this production, the DA shot itself in the foot again with what has been called the #Flaggate. No matter what kind of shock the DA intended to drive home, playing around with any of the national symbols is just plain stupid.