The DA: A Frankenstein monster about to fall apart?

Simon Grindrod asks what the opposition stands for, other than not being the ANC

In October 2002, then Party Chairperson and now PM, Theresa May took the stage at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth and issued a stern warning. She told the party faithful that it was time for the party to face up to the 'uncomfortable truth' about the way it was being perceived by the public as the 'nasty party'.

"Yah boo, Punch and Judy, call it what you will, the public is sick of it. Some Tories have indulged themselves in petty feuding or personal sniping instead of getting behind a leader who is doing an enormous amount to change the party..."  She called for an end to the self-destructive tendencies of her party by demanding; "no more glib moralising. No more hypocritical finger wagging."

I believe the DA is currently falling prey to perceptions that they are becoming a 'nasty party'. Self-righteous, smug and almost condescending in their belief that only they know what is best for all South Africans. Any thin veneer of 'unity in diversity' has now vanished as factions polarise around the cult of personality. There is huge bar brawl going down in the DA saloon and the sounds of smashing glass, shouting and furniture being thrown around are unmistakable.  The town Sheriff and the town Mayor are having an almighty drunken fist fight and nobody can break it up.

To be absolutely clear, the ANC today represent nothing more than corruption, greed and inefficiency. They are now morally bankrupt, having abandoned any pretence of adhering to their founding principles. Not much debate about that anymore. It is no longer a case of if they will collapse, but when.

It therefore follows that the official opposition, the party who aspire to be our next government, should justifiably be receiving a great deal more scrutiny. If we are not to replace one utterly dysfunctional party with another, let us cut through the gloss and see exactly who our shadow government are.

TweetGate has revealed inherent fault lines in the DA far deeper than we were led to believe. However, the fact that these have now been exposed is maybe a blessing in two ways. Firstly, the party now has to accept and fix them and, secondly, the electorate now have a more open and honest picture of the raw actualities of the DA.

The party has never appeared to have a coherent, long term strategy for broadening wider appeal. The decision to put Joe Seremane up as a presidential candidate against Kgalema Motlanthe in 2008 appeared cosmetic. Sandra Botha had a short stint as parliamentary leader but faced the problem of two centres of power before jetting off to Prague. Lindiwe Mazibuko was treated abysmally by some of the party faithful after resigning to attend Harvard. Mazibuko suggested she was constrained in expressing her ideas by the party leader of the time. It is thus ironic that the current party leader is being criticised for doing exactly the same. Despite an initial warm welcome, Mmusi Maimane has soon learned that his position was conditional on accepting that the former leader was exempt from any obligation to remain within normal party messaging protocols.

An identity defined simply by not being the ANC is no identity at all. It is not good enough to seek votes on the basis that the ANC is worse. It is like an abused wife being grateful that her husband doesn't beat the kids too. We know we don't want the ANC, show us why we would want you. You cannot be all things to all people and expect to get away with it. Sooner or later the electorate will find that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. It is also rather lazy to simply appropriate the 'good parts' of the history of other political parties, parties you claim to oppose. President Mandela, for example, had nothing to do with the DA so why is he on party brochures? Rather than borrow history from other movements, create credibility of your own.

The DA currently seem to work on the premise that they can serve up any old nonsense because opposition voters have nowhere else to go. They are wrong. Being anti-ANC is not sufficient motivation to unconditionally support the DA. It is arrogance of the highest order. No opposition voter is beholden to any party, and being the biggest is not a permanent state. Enron was very big, so was Arthur Anderson. In the blink of an eye they were gone and forgotten.

Like Frankenstein's monster, the DA strategists sewed various parts of policy and principle together, powered up its brain and were shocked when the mutant creature ran out of control. Not even its creator can control it and may actually end up being its next victim.

I have always wanted to cast my vote for a party I believed in - as opposed to voting against another party. A vote is too precious to give grudgingly. It is akin to tipping a waiter knowing the service was bad and the food was cold.

Too many defects are starting to appear in the shiny new toys that were sold to us by the DA. The myth of a Non-Racial party was smashed when supporters of various leaders started to mobilise against each other. The myth of an Obamaesque dynamic young champion started to wobble when he discovered he couldn't count on much help from big sections of his party. The myth of principled politics disappeared when dodgy coalitions were recently cobbled together in metros. The myth of liberal values vanished when previously sacred policies like BEE and AA were supported. The myth of a unified and effective party machine crashed when it was unable to manage simple communications and messaging.

Publicity stunts, police stations and courtrooms are no substitute for consistent and solid policy.  Such stunts may distract the electorate for a while but, sooner or later, a house built on sand will sink into the mud of South African political history.

I end with a quote from then DA Leader Helen Zille in a statement dated 7th November 2013 in reaction to Lindiwe Mazibuko going 'off-message' and voting for affirmative action legislation in the National Assembly. Her statement was titled ' A plane crash that should have been avoided'. She quotes a passage from Outliers, a book analysing plane crashes;

"Plane crashes rarely happen in real life the same way they happen in the movies. Some engine part does not explode in a fiery bang. The rudder doesn't just suddenly snap off under the force of take-off. The captain doesn't gasp as he's thrown against his seat....

Plane crashes are much more likely to be the result of an accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions...44% of the time, the two pilots have never flown together before, so they're not comfortable with each other. The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication. One pilot knows something important and somehow doesn't tell the other pilot. One pilot does something wrong, and the other pilot doesn't catch the error....and somehow the pilots fail to coordinate and miss one of them."

It is a pity for the hopes of wider SA opposition politics that the official opposition are not learning from their past mistakes.