Mmusi Maimane crime

One South Africa leader and businessman Mmusi Maimane was robbed at gunpoint at a Cape Town bar on Wednesday 3 August. Image: Wikus de Wet / AFP (File photo)

Unpacking the Democratic Alliance’s despair in post-election South Africa

Is the official opposition losing its grip?

Mmusi Maimane crime

One South Africa leader and businessman Mmusi Maimane was robbed at gunpoint at a Cape Town bar on Wednesday 3 August. Image: Wikus de Wet / AFP (File photo)

The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s main opposition and by far its most multiracial party, has fallen on hard times of late. Its by-election results read like a misery, its leader is in the news for all the wrong reasons and its policy writing process seems in limbo.

TheSouthAfrican spoke to about 25 DA MPs and DA public representatives at provincial and local level to gauge whether they think it is a slow burn, a dramatic collapse or a trend which can be reversed.

By-elections define a Democratic Alliance in decline

The by-election facts are striking. Since the May election, the DA has seen much of its white Afrikaans support in the north of the country dissipate. It has lost wards to the Freedom Front Plus in Stilfontein and Potchefstroom, and lost much support in Kempton Park, although not to the degree it did in North West.

Until those victories, the Freedom Front Plus had not held a single ward anywhere in the country since 2011.

In the Western Cape, the DA recently lost a ward in Clanwilliam to the ANC and barely held a ward in George against a concerted onslaught from Good, which is Patricia de Lille’s new party. The DA also lost two predominantly Indian wards (in Pietermaritzburg and Actonville, Benoni) and a predominantly black ward (in Marlboro) to the ANC since May. To be fair, it also took a ward off the ANC in Barrydale and held on to lots of wards inbetween, but often with the loss of up to a third of its voter base.

The DA faces three tough by-elections in the Mpumalanga coalfields and the industrial hub of Sasolburg over the next few weeks, and if the trends hold, they will either be beaten or would thank their lucky stars if they could hold on for a win.

Much as the DA still enjoys majority support in the white, Coloured and Indian community, their Afrikaans support in both the white and Coloured communities is slipping, and they have only themselves to blame. The DA’s handling of Patricia de Lille rid them of by far their most prominent and popular Afrikaans leader, and their refusal to defend Afrikaans figures who were wrongly scapegoated at school clashes in Vereeniging and Schweizer-Reneke cost them dearly.

Furthermore, the DA’s failure to communicate with its Afrikaans voters in their own language is counting against them (the party is currently rectifying this, if a little belatedly).

DA MPs have now been sent back to their communities to reconnect with their voters very urgently during the parliamentary recess. At the same time, much effort is being made to get the party’s policy process, which has been in disarray for years, back on track.

Mmusi Maimane comes under the microscope

A further challenge to the party is the position of its leader, Mmusi Maimane, who is currently in the news for occupying a house in Claremont, Cape Town, of which the ownership, and his role therein, is very unclear.

The issue was raised in the DA caucus at its last meeting before the current recess and Maimane explained his position, which appears to be that the house belongs to a company he has a partial stake in, and to which he pays nominal rent.

Many in the caucus found his explanation unsatisfying, which means that he will have to explain his position on the house to DA treasurer Dr Dion George, who is an expert on such matters. Some in the caucus fear he may be the beneficiary of several such sweet deals, which he has not declared in the parliamentary register of members’ interests. This could have severe consequences for his credibility.

DA public representatives the DA spoke to mostly felt prepared to give Maimane the benefit of the doubt provided he comes clean on all the facts. They felt the DA could improve its by-election fortunes in the runup to the 2021 municipal elections by choosing excellent candidates based on community-driven issues and clear future improvement goals defined for every ward.

While these plans mature, the DA and its supporters await a report and action plan authored by former chief strategist Ryan Coetzee, former DA leader Tony Leon and businessman Michiel le Roux after hundreds of inputs were received on the DA’s current headaches and future path.

The report is to be presented to and discussed by the DA federal council from 18 to 20 October, and the party’s supporters will hope it can pull a rabbit from the hat because at this stage its future prospects seem dire.