Could the opposition be a better ANC than the ANC?
That is what political analyst Gareth van Onselen thinks the Democratic Alliance (DA) is misguidedly trying, and failing, to achieve, with little to distinguish it from the ruling party.
Briefing media yesterday ahead of its election manifesto launch today, the official opposition was, however, at pains to debunk criticism that the party had lost its liberal roots and was slowly morphing into a blue ANC.
“The DA’s challenge for this manifesto is to have the ability to put clear blue water between itself and the ANC,” said Van Onselen.
“Its ability to do that has been compromised to the extent to which it has adopted a whole range of prominent ANC policies.
“For example, the race-based approach to black economic empowerment (BEE), free education, and the national minimum wage. It has even gone as far as to mirror the Economic Freedom Fighters’ call for spending on social grants to be doubled.”
For Van Onselen, these policies were not only unoriginal, they were also lacking a funding and implementation plan, making them very likely to just be empty promises.
The party’s communications head, Siviwe Gwarube, added that while the party was still rooted in liberalism, the DA was constantly growing and evolving with its “depth of leadership”.
“It’s also important to note that we are not just clinging to ideology for ideology’s sake. But we are saying while we are guided by our liberal values, how do we provide solutions for South Africans?”
Mabine Seabe, spokesperson for DA leader Mmusi Maimane, said he found it “peculiar” that the party was being accused of lacking in policy direction, since it was “a party in government”.
“For people to say we lack policy direction is mischievous. We here sit today with a policy document of 90 pages that has gone through extensive research and lots of work, to ensure that we have a policy document that speaks to the people of South Africa,” argued Seabe.
Not on the speaking programme for today’s event is Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, whose proximity to party activities has dwindled over the last two years since her infamous tweets lauding colonialism.
Asked about her role in today’s launch, DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi curtly replied: “The manifesto launch is an open invitation to all members of the party. There has been no special effort to invite certain members.”
Van Onselen suggested the party was underutilising Zille’s role in the party’s brand.
“For the DA, the biggest differentiator between itself and the ANC is the ability to deliver services in an effective and accountable manner and Helen Zille is the embodiment of that attribute. She should be front and centre for the DA.”