The bloodied faces of young DA protesters splashed across the country’s television screens and newspaper front pages this week got us talking.
Who are these young people of all races and creeds belonging to an old white liberal party who are prepared to take to the streets for their cause and are following an in-your-face political strategy which seems aimed at rattling and ruffling the feathers of opponents?
Are they university graduates, do they come from the suburbs or rural areas, are they the rich elite or are they from the poorer and depressed informal settlements around our cities?
The dominant voice of the young in this country has historically been the ANC Youth League. The DA’s youth wing was seldom heard nor seen.
“Not any more,” says DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli. “The generation gap that exists in our society is encouraging young people to band together. They don’t want to pander to their parents’ political nostalgia from the past. They are far more critical and sophisticated in their thinking and I believe we have to thank the youth for the changes we are seeing in the DA. We are more impatient and more aggressively leading the social debate,” she said.
And as Tiaan Kotze – the white youngster who was pictured in the media being carried to safety by two black protesters – recovers from his head wounds, Ntuli says the debate now is less about colour and more about issues.
“We are in the global classroom now. Most under the age of 35 have cellphones, many have access to the internet. The youth are blogging, they’re bringing down governments, they’re bringing about change. It’s not about race, it’s about issues. They are terribly worried about education and employment. These are big factors.
“When you go into the universities you find many of the students don’t know if there is a place for them in South Africa.
“They don’t know if they will find work. As the DA Youth we are coming up with practical solutions and ideas to help and that’s what they’re responding to,” she said.
And as more black youngsters join the DA the more the culture of the organisation is changing, she says. “Embedded in our minds – it’s culturally ingrained – is to protest.
“And you are certainly going to see more of it.”
On where the DA’s young recruits were coming from, Ntuli replied that half were absorbed from other political parties who “weren’t necessarily into what their parents were into”, while the other half were new to politics. “In KwaZulu-Natal we are absorbing a huge number from the IFP.”
She said at least 3 million new voters would be added to the roll in the 2014 elections.
And as Tuesday’s violent DA versus Cosatu protest trends on Twitter, the old guard, apart from former DA leader Tony Leon, are giving the youngsters the thumbs-up.
Jen Hands, a retired Durban Anglican priest who has supported the DA for years, said while she was appalled at the violence and the intolerance of Cosatu she liked the fact that the DA was now “being seen to take action”.
Penny Isemonger, 75, said as unpleasant as it was to go so “provocatively” public with the youth subsidy campaign, it would seem that was what younger people would respond positively to.
“I supported it,” she said.
Leon, however, told of when he was hit in the face by a Cosatu leader during a protest and how the party under his watch was well represented by “great black activists”.
“This is nothing new. But if it is only now permeating the public consciousness then it’s great,” he said.
But political analyst Steven Friedman says not so fast.
“The DA is taking a standard right-wing approach, blaming the trade unions for all our problems. It’s trying to project itself right of centre, it’s a fleamarket party. Before this leadership the DA was the party of racial minorities – you’re never going to change that.
“Of course, it’s entitled to try. Let’s not get carried away with the protest. Unemployment is running into millions. I don’t think the vast majority of people are going to rally behind this banner – painting the trade unions as our problem.”
And did the protest show the changing face and strategies of the DA? Friedman thought not.
“I think Cosatu made a mistake and handled the protest badly. It was not a smart strategy. But I’m not sure it helps the DA either. Is that the image they want to project?”
Business leader Bobby Godsell said while protests were a democratic right they could also represent a failure to talk. “Unemployment should not be used for political point-scoring. I would rather see the DA and Cosatu sit down and have a serious debate.”
Umlazi resident Mondli Mkhize, 31, says he is watching the DA closely. “I don’t belong to any political party. I read articles and I have learnt about what is happening in the Western Cape. Local municipalities have to send in audited reports every year. The ANC has failed to meet these audits, there are always discrepancies. In the Western Cape since the DA took over, all the money is accounted for.
“That’s responsible government. I’m a taxpayer, this money is coming out of my pocket. The DA is more efficient and competent.”
Mkhize, however, said he would waste his vote if he used it now.
“I do vote, but I am becoming discouraged. How much longer will it take for the ANC to get it right?
“The DA? I would like to see them coming into my neighbourhood and hearing them telling us their views and collecting our view. That way I will know they care.”