The DA's icy silence

Stanley Uys says the opposition is teetering on the brink, and our media hasn't noticed

A decade or so after apartheid was introduced in 1948, the American author Allen Drury wrote a book about South Africa called A Very Strange Society. If Drury were alive today (he died in 1998), he would not want to change the title.

Politicsweb has just published an article (by its liberally-minded editor, James Myburgh), "Has the DA just put a bullet through its brain?" The article was supported by chapter and verse. Yet no one heard the bullet. Icy silence.

No public reaction whatever - not from the DA, its leader Helen Zille, or its supporters; nor from the media; nor from the African National Congress. One from the small parliamentary party Freedom Front Plus.

What is the commotion about? Why the silence? It is the extraordinary decision taken by the DA to bend its liberal principles sufficiently to win over black voters. Only by edging closer to the ANC, it believes, can it recruit those black voters, and without them it will forever remain in opposition.

It knows (with its record of 70 years of progressivism-liberalism) that it cannot brazenly support race-based ANC policies, so it tells sceptics it will improve the more positive sides of those policies. In this way it can have its cake and eat it - signalling to black voters that it is sympathetic to the black cause, and yet not actually supporting ANC policies.

Several liberal analysts have pointed out that this is a schlenter. Major parts cannot be detached from the whole. The home base of those "improved" parts is the policy itself.

One does not need to be psychic to see why the DA (its leaders, MPs, members) are silent. Quite obviously, the word has come down from the top that if members respond they will bring only more unwelcome attention to the matter which they are trying hard to avoid. The tactic of ignore it and it will go away, is just not on.

It's an exceptionally tricky game Zille is playing. Her "Africanisation" of the DA (appointing blacks to top positions) made its office bearers particularly restive. But Zille rode it out. Now she is shifting the entire DA as close to the ANC as you can get without actually making a proposal of engagement. 

Ordinary DA members have joined the silence, and this, too, is understandable. Mostly, no doubt they are reluctant to challenge the leadership, or they are too confused to know just what is happening. Already, it is reported that 10 well-known party veterans will quit politics after next year's elections.

The ANC, equally, knows what the game is, and it waits and watches with heightening anticipation. The closer the DA and ANC move together, the more one of two things probably will happen.

Some rank and file members will tell themselves that the DA is now so close to their parent ANC body, that they might as well join it, seeing that it supports at least a few common policies (or bits of them): B-BBEE, the NDP (National Development Plan - perhaps the most important document the ANC has ever placed before parliament).

Or the ANC leadership and those of its members who are streetwise calculate that it is only a matter of time before someone proposes an alliance or coalition or at least a quiet dinner dance to see how far the romance is going.

Then at its leisure, and in the nicest possible way, the ANC will swallow the DA, in the way it swallowed fragments of the Nationalist Party. First, say, a demotion, then unpaid leave, and then, well - goodbye.

Initially, when the DA is swallowed, it will reassure itself that working with the ANC is a career-changing moment, and together they can build a new South Africa. All politicians, when cornered, are entitled to talk to the fairies. Some analysts think that what they are watching even now are the death throes of the DA.

Let's hope they are wrong. Zille has worked wonders with the DA. She has raised its numbers of MPs, and may even raise them higher, if enough of those black voters out there cross over to them to see sister Zille actually in the flesh.

Here is the dilemma at the heart of South African politics. Whites, Coloureds and some Indians vote for the DA, but blacks on the whole vote for the ANC, or if they are fed up with President Zuma they find some insignificant party, or just stay at home, or spoil their vote. Black voters are ring-fenced if not behind Zuma, then behind the ANC (to distinguish the two). Black writers themselves say it's in the heart, the blood, the emotions, the culture.

Zille has persuaded herself that the success she has had so far in recruiting black support is a token that the DA can break through that black ring-fence. With such a belief, any gamble is possible.

The problem with the icy silence over Zille's moves are that there would be no need for it if it was not so risky. The silence of DA members of course is partly that they are p***** off with Helen; but the rest are holding their breaths.

If anyone is to blame for contributing to this muddle in SA politics it is the media. They have almost totally ignored one of the biggest political stories in the country's recent past. The newspapers range across the board, including the so-called liberal ones. I suspect that if any one does shows an interest, it will be an Afrikaans newspaper.

It would be much healthier if everyone would read what analysts like Myburgh, Cronje, Gareth van Onselen, Prof Hermann Giliomee and others have been telling them for months. It's all there.

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