While it capitalized on anger over Zuma to win 27 percent of the vote in the 2016 municipal elections, up from 22 percent in a national ballot two years earlier, it's now up against a ruling party that's been revitalized under new leadership. The ...and more »
South Africa’s main opposition party is proving to be its own worst enemy as it bids to topple the ruling African National Congress from power in next year’s elections.
Instead of capitalizing on voter antagonism toward the ANC and President Jacob Zuma over a succession of scandals, the Democratic Alliance has stumbled, with its mayors’ performance drawing criticism in several of the biggest cities it runs, including Cape Town and Johannesburg. The party is also struggling to deal with a severe water crisis in Cape Town and improve services in municipalities where it wrested control from the ANC in 2016.
The city of Cape Town is tapping water from Table Mountain to fill the Molteno reservoir.
Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
“The DA has been shooting itself in the foot,” said Xolani Dube, a political analyst at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development in the port city of Durban. “Its internal problems are doing serious damage to its image and will undermine its attempts to portray itself as a viable alternative to the ANC.”
Personality clashes and disagreements over policy have already cost the DA control of one major town, Mogale City, northwest of Johannesburg, and its mayor in Cape Town risks being ousted by her own party in the coming weeks.
The timing for the DA’s woes is awful. While it capitalized on anger over Zuma to win 27 percent of the vote in the 2016 municipal elections, up from 22 percent in a national ballot two years earlier, it’s now up against a ruling party that’s been revitalized under new leadership.
The election of Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Zuma as its leader in December will probably reduce the odds of the ANC’s support dropping below the 50 percent mark in 2019. The party has won every vote outright since apartheid ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela led it to power.
Cape Town Crisis
In Cape Town, which the DA has controlled since 2006, Mayor Patricia de Lille faces an official probe after being accused by her fellow party members of poor administration and a high-handed management style -- allegations she denies. The standoff comes as the city battles to address chronic water shortages due to the worst drought on record, with taps set to run dry in April unless consumption is curbed or there is unseasonal heavy rain.
Read more about Cape Town’s water crisis
“The DA has been hit by a perfect storm of party infighting in Cape Town and a natural disaster,” said Daniel Silke, the director of Political Futures Consultancy and a former DA counselor in the city. “While the majority of residents don’t care about political ideology, they do care about water very much. If the DA do not get a grip on this crisis, they could face a ratepayers’ revolt.”
In Johannesburg, the economic hub, Mayor Herman Mashaba has alienated many of his fellow DA officials and party supporters with his hard-line approach toward dealing with illegal immigrants and a perceived autocratic governing style. He’s also been criticized on talk shows and social media for not doing enough to fill potholes and fix broken traffic lights, and for power and water outages that have hit the city in recent months.
Last June, the DA lost control of Mogale City after some councilors in the municipality’s ruling coalition broke ranks with their parties and sided with the ANC to topple the mayor. In the southern municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay, Mayor Athol Trollip has been at loggerheads with his coalition partners from the United Democratic Movement, and in November last year narrowly survived a no-confidence motion brought by the ANC.
Mmusi Maimane, who has led the DA since 2015, says the party has to show that it remains true to its commitment to tackle corruption and mismanagement.
“We have to act,” he said by phone from Cape Town. “Our supporters, many of whom may not like it at first, come around once we present them with the evidence.”
Read more about no-confidence motions in DA mayors last year
The party was founded in 2001 when the Democratic Party, Federal Alliance and New National Party, an offshoot of the National Party that ruled during apartheid, agreed to merge. In 2010, De Lille’s Independent Democrats agreed to disband and join the DA.
As its support has grown, the DA has been forced to assimilate a range of disparate groups that exposed it to similar factionalism that has plagued the ANC for years, according to Melanie Verwoerd, an independent political analyst and former ruling party lawmaker.
“As the party grows it will have to find a way of accommodating all the groups it absorbs,” she said. “What is happening in Cape Town and Johannesburg shows that it is not.”
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