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2000 - 2005 SABC

Democratic Alliance


The build-up that led to the implosion of the DA

Around eighteen months ago, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was formed by what was effectively the merging of the New National Party (NNP) and the Democratic Party (DP). The deal was seemingly simple.

The DP apparently believed it could swallow the NNP and unite minority groups behind a single opposition party. The NNPs stronghold in the Western Cape, offered the DP a chance to get into the provincial administration and the Cape Town city council -- and prove it could run a government. The large NNP Coloured support-base also gave the DP an opportunity to darken its mainly White membership.

For the NNP, the alliance offered a chance to maintain its national profile and save it from becoming a provincial Coloured party - almost surely its fate given how White Afrikaners had deserted it for the DP during the 1999 general election.

Local government elections

The two fought the 2000 local government elections under the banner of the DA and their representatives took their seats on town councils as alliance councillors. The DA performed relatively well and increased their share of the national vote by five percent - from 17 percent in the last general election to 22 percent in the local government poll.

However, soon after the local government elections, there was a series of incidents that showed that neither of the two parties were happy with the trade-offs.

The NNP was unhappy with being treated as the junior partner in the Alliance, and Coloured NNP members, especially, made it clear that they felt bullied by Tony Leon and the DP leadership. There were racial overtones to the division. There was also unhappiness in NNP ranks with Leons knee-jerk opposition to government, which was seen in many communities as being anti-Black.

Seemingly riding high on a wave of confidence after the local government elections, Leon and his strategists apparently felt they were in a strong enough position to tell NNP members to fall in line, or else. They should be good liberal democrats - or be thrown out into the political wilderness, that was life without the DA.

Leon removes Marais

Things came to a head early in October 2001, when Leon effectively removed the NNPs Peter Marais from the position of Mayor of Cape Town.

The NNP saw the controversial Marais as a vote-catcher in the Coloured community - from where they are drawing most of their support.

Leon saw Marais as a political embarrassment who was stumbling from one controversy to the next and costing him support among the DPs traditional constituencies - and financial backers. Although there are suspicions that he wanted to remove Marais from the start, the last straw was allegations that the former mayor rigged a poll on whether to rename main streets in Cape Town after former South African presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

Despite NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyks efforts to protect Marais, Leon rail-roaded the removal of the former mayor from his post through the DA. In the process, Leon and Van Schalkwyk got involved in a public slanging match that resulted in a complete breakdown of trust in the relationship between the two.

NNP faces destruction

Once Marais was removed, Leon and his strategists made it clear that Van Schalkwyk would be brought to heel for siding with the former mayor. It seemed they were determined to destroy the NNP and its leadership.

Faced with the destruction of their political base, Van Schalkwyk and senior NNP leaders pulled-out of the DA and moved to return to some kind of coalition government with the ruling ANC. The ANC has agreed to go into a coalition with the NNP at all levels of government.

This resulted in a split in the NNP, between those who wanted to stay in the DA, and those who wanted to go into a coalition with the ANC.

After much indecision and side swapping, Morkel decided to stick with the DA. He was then faced with a palace coup, in which the majority of NNP council members in the Western Cape, decided to stick with the NNP. He resigned. This opened the way for an ANC and NNP coalition to take control of the province.

The Cape Town city council, where the DA has a majority, is also set to fall to the new ANC and NNP alliance. By the end of the month, government will pass legislation allowing councillors to switch to a party of their choice. Under present legislation, councillors who are elected on a party ticket, lose their seats if they leave the party. If only 24 NNP councillors switch to the ANC, the new coalition will be able to take control of the city.

Despite all the apparent high-drama, it is difficult to see all the shenanigans as a serious re-alignment of South African politics. The DA was a roughly 20 percent opposition party - and is now even smaller. At its height, it posed no obstacle to the ANC in the National Assembly or any major province or city outside of the Western Cape.

While the DA may be able to cling to its title of official opposition in the National Assembly, it has no hand on the levers of power in any province or major city.

The NNP brings even less than seven percent of the electorate to the ANC, who along with the IFP could most probably comfortably claim 75 percent support of the electorate.

For serious opposition politics, it is necessary to watch the tri-partite alliance of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu. -


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