ANTHONY BUTLER: The DA and Action SA: unnatural born partners
First published in Business Day.
10 SEPTEMBER 2020
The rebirth of the DA was not a natural event. It was a caesarean section, in which the scalpels were wielded by the “independent review panel” that diagnosed the DA’s 2019 election debacle.
The panellists — party strategist Ryan Coetzee, former leader Tony Leon and funder Michiel Le Roux — complained in October 2019 of “a failure of effective leadership” on the part of Mmusi Maimane, “a lack of clarity about the party’s vision and direction”, and a “failure to produce a credible policy platform”.
Pain relief at last weekend’s aptly named “virtual policy conference” was provided by party policy chief Gwen Ngwenya. Her documents provided a powerful intellectual anaesthetic for party activists unsure about just what they were bringing into the world.
In truth, there is little new in the very long list of “core values” that will ostensibly underlie DA policy positions. Replacing the black economic empowerment (BEE) scorecard with a “sustainable development goal index” that will track companies’ environmental, social and governance behaviour is, moreover, the stuff of nightmares.ADVERTISING
But now the party at least has an abstract vision to guide — or perhaps rationalise — its policy choices. The abandonment of race as a proxy for disadvantage may yet serve the DA well in the turbulent times ahead.
SA’s unprecedented economic crisis spells trouble for all political parties. The ANC has scripted a new season of its Can the ANC Reform Itself? soap opera, with Cyril Ramaphosa retaining his starring role.
For its part, the EFF has developed a rudimentary strategy to capitalise on citizens’ economic misery. Their policy prescriptions are, however, increasingly laughable. This week’s gem, amid strong competition, was to “allocate sufficient resources to Denel to expand massive industrial capacity to produce health equipment, including ventilators”.
The EFF and ANC will no doubt do a deal once circumstances mean such a pact is in the interests of both parties’ leaders. The “new and principled” DA will probably avoid further pacts with the EFF because past entanglements have corroded the party’s brand. But Herman Mashaba’s recently launched — and dreadfully named — Action SA fits neatly into the DA’s plans.
The values and policy positions of Action SA and the DA are strikingly similar — hardly surprising, since both have been drafted by DA-groomed policy wonks and organisers.
The reborn DA, with the language of race now suppressed, will find it easier to mobilise white and coloured voters and to harvest their votes.
As the review panel noted, Maimane’s ANC-lite approach failed to garner significant black support. But Mashaba is well placed to rally liberal — or just disaffected — black voters who cannot stomach the “nonracial” DA.
“The reason I left the DA,” the entrepreneur observed this week, “was that they can’t see and recognise us as black people. We will have redress policies and black people are going to be the beneficiaries. But it must be the kind of redress that promotes entrepreneurship in black people and not the one pushed by the ANC that creates cronyism.”
Mashaba has repeatedly stated that he will not do a deal with the ANC. He is already falling out with the EFF, moreover, bewailing the red-tops’ intimidation of workers and damage to property at Clicks stores this week. “These actions by ridiculous and radical minorities,” he observed, “hurt the majority of reasonable, law-abiding and good people of our country.”
The EFF remains an external faction of the ANC, its leaders waiting to trade seats for power and money. In the DA and Action SA, meanwhile, we may be seeing the emergence of another pair of natural coalition partners, each using a distinct racial or nonracial strategy to maximise its voter support.
• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.