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.
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
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
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
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. -