‘White’ party lures disaffected black South African voters

Democratic Alliance is confident it can win provinces from the ANC


The rain that drenches Johannesburg does not discourage the large group of Democratic Alliance supporters from taking to the city’s streets to deliver a pre-election message to the ruling African National Congress party.

Led by the DA’s premier candidate for Gauteng province, Mmusi Maimane, up to 2,000 supporters march to the offices of the provincial premier, the ANC’s Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, to tell her to start packing her bags.

At every turn the ANC likes to deride the DA as a predominately white party only interested in looking after that minority group’s interests, but the overwhelming majority of those at this rally are either black or of mixed race.

Fuelled by anger and disappointment with the ANC, they have travelled from across the province to lend their weight to the campaigning efforts of the “Blue Machine”, as the the DA describes itself.

As they march through downtown Johannesburg they carry signs saying “together for jobs”, and sing songs about alleged corruption within the upper echelons of the ANC leadership.

Shirley Adams, a lady in her 50s from Soweto whose difficult life is etched on her face in the form of deep wrinkles and a toothless grimace, says she and her friends have come to the rally because they are desperate for political change.

“Back in 1994 I was an ANC supporter but for the past 10 years I have voted for the DA. The ANC does nothing for us — it just wants our vote so its people can stay in power. The DA comes into our area and tries to help, we only see people from the ANC at election times.

“We want jobs and we want services, it is 20 years now since apartheid was defeated and we want a better life. The ANC has not delivered that for us,” she says.

With less than two weeks to go to South Africa’s fifth democratic general election the DA believes that if it can mobilise voters disaffected with the ANC it can wrestle control of Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland, from the former liberation movement.

“We can win the Western Cape [province] again, and we can keep the ANC below 50 per cent in Gauteng,” DA leader Helen Zille said yesterday.

“It is by no means certain… but it is possible if every person who stands together for change and together for jobs turns out to vote for the DA on May 7th,” she added.

The DA has positioned itself as the only real alternative to the ANC, whose public standing under South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma has been eroded in recent years by numerous scandals around corruption and cronyism.

While the ANC has undoubtedly improved the lives of South Africans over the past 20 years, the enormitous task of providing services for 51 million citizens, rather than just an elite few, as was the case under apartheid, at times appears to overwhelm the movement.

To retain the Western Cape and reduce the ANC’s current absolute majority in Gauteng at the May 7th poll would be a major coup for the DA, as it would maintain a trajectory that has seen it grow at every poll since 1994.

In that first democratic election its predecessor won 1.73 percent of the vote, but by 2009 its share of the national ballot had grown to 16.66 percent, and it won control of the Western Cape.

In the 2011 municipal elections the DA won 24 percent of the vote, and it hopes it can build on that result at these elections.

If it can take control of Gauteng and perform well in terms of improving service delivery, job creation, and tackling corruption, it could genuinely challenge the ANC at national elections over the next ten years, provided it shows improvements in other provinces.

But to take the ANC to below 50 per cent support in Gauteng, the Democratic Alliance will have to show a marked improvement on its 2009 provincial result there, when it managed to secure a little over 900,000 votes or just under 22 per cent of the tally.

Mmusi Maimane told The Irish Times that people were turning to the party because it had a better track record in delivering services and jobs for citizens in the Western Cape since 2009 than the ANC had in the other eight provinces.

“Our polls are saying the ANC support is already coming in below 50 per cent,” he said, “and our objective is to double our support base from the last poll.

“We also have momentum, which is something I don’t think the ANC has going into these elections.”

Maimane is a 33-year-old from Soweto and in the past he was an ANC supporter, but he says the party of Nelson Mandela that led the fight against apartheid no longer exists, and there is no getting it back.

“I think the very essence of change is vital in this province, because regardless of what people like to think, the ANC cannot be reformed.

“It can’t just suddenly change its own trajectory and we have got to find a way to do that in relation to the province’s fortunes, and quickly.”

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