The Democratic Alliance is in a serious ideological crisis that could cost it votes in the 2019 election as black and even some white voters have been felt feeling alienated by its confused ideological direction, according to a political analyst.
The DA has been bedevilled by infighting, including a threat to split the party, and federal leader Mmusi Maimane is now being taken to task for questioning “white privilege”, said Zamikhaya Maseti.
Also, federal council chair James Selfe has been threatened with removal for his alleged shoddy handling of the Patricia de Lille issue.
Besides the De Lille saga haunting the party, the party has emerged badly shaken after Helen Zille’s widely perceived out-of-turn statement about colonialism.
Maseti said the problem could not be attached to any particular DA individual, but was part of a party quickly losing its moral compass.
The party was caught between two worlds, that of its rich and white constituency, who wanted to keep it as a neoliberal party pursuing the free-market economy, and the new black middle-class constituency who, although they had joined the party, felt it ignored their needs as victims of apartheid.
This included the need to address the land issue.
Maseti said the party was facing several challenges, such as the Zuma exit factor and the rise of Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The DA is facing a serious ideological crisis; its ideological and philosophical mantra is shaken. We are going to see a huge decline in its votes in 2019,” Maseti said.
The situation had been further aggravated by the “Zuma factor”, he said, which had provided ammunition for the DA to attract votes by using the corruption issue as a rallying point to garner new support.
“The problem in the DA is bigger than individuals like Maimane, James Selfe or John Steenhuisen. It’s not an individual’s issue; [the party’s] pillar of ideology is shaken, it is struggling to reconcile between its core white constituency and the new black membership,” Maseti said.
The DA had blundered on land reform and alienated blacks with its negative stance on land expropriation and economic empowerment.
“They cannot articulate policies that appeal to blacks. Now that Zuma is no more, they have no mobilising strategy,” said Maseti. He recalled the political approaches of different DA leaders in the past and their contributions in shaping the party.
He said under Tony Leon, the party used swart gevaar tactics with his “fight back” strategy.
This had alienated blacks. During Leon’s leadership, the verkramptes within the party had tried to regain lost ground and, to a large extent, had won.
Leon’s successor, Helen Zille, he said, tried to reverse this trend by luring the black middle class, including young leaders such as Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane, as well as struggle stalwart Patricia de Lille, into the party.
But these leaders were not pulling in the direction the party hardliners would have liked.
The likes of Maimane, young and black and having grown up on the streets of Soweto, still did not fit into the hardcore white liberal environment.
The analyst said Maimane’s approach to the De Lille issue was more technical and cautious, not as assertive and forceful as that of federal council chief Selfe and his lieutenant, Natasha Mazzone.
He said Zille’s strategy of luring the black middle class had backfired, because the party failed to anticipate the impact of having blacks in its ranks by not considering that blacks would have different socioeconomic requirements.
“Blacks came with their own legacy. [They] have started to challenge white privilege because they are victims of apartheid policies,” Maseti said.
They want black economic empowerment and, to some of them, the idea of land expropriation was not a bad one. But the DA now seemed opposed to black economic empowerment and affirmative action, Maseti said.
On the other hand, whites felt Maimane was directing the party away from the core white constituency that had kept it going for years. Maimane’s move to question white privilege in relation to black poverty has become the tipping point, he added.
“These issues have shaken DA white neoliberalism. [But] now that they have Maimane at the top, there is nothing they can do.
“Maimane can see that his constituency is black and he can’t alienate himself from them. That is why he now speaks in terms of white privilege that must be addressed,” Maseti said.
The analyst predicted that the DA’s electoral base would dissipate and return to its old electoral minority figures, should the blacks in the party leave.
“If blacks leave the DA, it will go back to where it was – less than 20% of the votes,” said Maseti.
He predicted that the DA and all other main opposition parties would suffer dearly because of Ramaphosa’s efforts to reform the ANC to be more attractive to the black electorate.