Opposition alliance signals end of South Africa's National Party


South Africa's two major opposition parties, the Democratic and New National parties, agreed to merge at the weekend and reconstitute themselves as the Democratic Alliance, with the objective of ousting the African National Congress from office.

The agreement signalled the eventual disappearance of the National Party which, after winning the 1948 election, gained international notoriety as the party which introduced apartheid and then, more than four decades later, won acclaim for its decision to dismantle the apartheid system and negotiate a new deal with the ANC.

The National Party had hoped to be able to survive South Africa's transition from racial oligarchy to non-racial democracy in the 1990s and to that end renamed itself the New National Party (NNP). But apart from losing power to the ANC in 1994, the NNP steadily shed voters to the Democratic Party (DP) in a series of by-elections between 1994 and last year's general election, when it lost its status as the official opposition to the DP.

The formation of the Democratic Alliance represented a triumph for the Democratic Party leader, Mr Tony Leon, who has been campaigning hard to unite the main opposition parties under his leadership since the DP increased its share of the vote more than fivefold in the 1999 election, when it won nearly 10 per cent, against less than two per cent in 1994.

Representing close to 17 per cent of the votes cast in the 1999 election - against the 66 per cent won by the ANC - the Democratic Alliance would seek to "build a political movement that is home to South Africans from all communities and that will effectively challenge the ANC for political power", Mr Leon said.

Quoting the former National Party leader, D.F. Malan, who led the National Party to its triumph in 1948, the NNP leader, Mr Martinus van Schalkwyk, described the Alliance's formation as the culmination of a five-yearlong process of "bringing together people who belong together".

The ANC, however, dismissed the step as an attempt by whiteled parties to defend white privilege and undermine the "democratic transformation" of South Africa embarked upon by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.