What’s behind DA’s rise in KZN

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IOL Sizwe Mchunu, INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS DA KwaZulu-Natal leader Sizwe Mchunu

Many commentators were taken aback by the rise of the DA in KZN, which will now be sending 10 members to the provincial legislature, says Bheki Mbanjwa.

Durban - Perhaps the most interesting story to come out of the general elections has been the rise of the eight-month-old Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has scooped a place as the country’s third biggest party.

But in KwaZulu-Natal it is the ascension of the DA to the number two spot, to become the official opposition in the province, which has been most remarkable. Many commentators were taken aback by the rise of the DA in KZN, which will now be sending 10 members to the provincial legislature, up from the seven it had in the previous term.

It was unthinkable that the DA, a party that in 2009 recorded only a growth of 0.80 percent, could unseat the once powerful IFP as the official opposition. The IFP had, after all, controlled the levers of power in KZN until 2004, and still has control of at least four municipalities, while it is the official opposition in many others.

The growth of the DA has been consistent, but slow. For example, in 2009 it got 318 559 votes (up from 228 857 in 2004) but last week it managed to get more than 170 000 new voters to push its total to 489 430.

DA provincial leader, Sizwe Mchunu, said this was what the party had aimed for.

“We aimed for 12 percent (of the provincial vote), and we surpassed that, and we aimed to become the official opposition, and we got that.”

Mchunu attributed this to the DA’s message, which he said was clear, consistent and resonated with the electorate.

But there were other issues at play that contributed to the DA’s growth.

The decline of the IFP and the Minority Front (MF) also played a huge part in ensuring the growth of the DA.

The decline in the MF started with the death of its founder and lifetime leader, Amichand Rajbansi, in December 2011.

Last week’s election became the first election the MF contested without the guidance of the man who was fondly known to his supporters as the Bengal Tiger, a man who prided himself on being a political survivor.

“In fact, the MF died that day when Rajbansi died. He was the MF and the MF was him,” said Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science lecturer at the University of KZN.

Current MF leader Shameen Thakur, Rajbansi’s widow, tried to evoke the spirit of her late husband.

Hundreds of MF posters with Rajbansi’s face implored voters to “do it for the Raj”.

In the end this was not enough, as only 38 960 people voted for the MF in the province. This was only enough to secure one seat for the party, which had also tried to venture into Gauteng, where it received a paltry 3 000 votes.

The DA had for some time been trying to penetrate the MF strongholds of Chatsworth and Phoenix.

The death of Rajbansi opened a window to the DA as it sparked a fierce contest for position within the party, with senior leaders like Roy Bhoola challenging Thakur-Rajbansi for the leadership.

Councillors aligned to Bhoola complained of a purge by Thakur Rajbansi, some of whom have since jumped ship to the DA.

Last year, Ismail Cassimjee, who had defected to the DA, won ward 70 in Chatsworth as a DA member.

Two by-elections will be held in Phoenix this year, also following the defection of two ward councillors and a PR councillor. This will be a further test of strength for the MF this year.

It is therefore no surprise that the bulk of the DA support came from the Indian areas.

“The minorities have never felt comfortable with the ANC, so the natural alternative would be the DA now that the MF is not effective,” Ndlovu said.

The DA had also aimed to grow in areas where it did not enjoy support, such as the rural areas, townships and the squatter camps.

The partnership entered into with the shack-dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, was one of the strategies through which it aimed to achieve this.

Most of the DA votes came from urban areas, while it continued to perform poorly in rural areas. In eThekwini the DA had a good showing, registering a 308 078 share of the vote (22 percent).

In uMngeni (Howick), where the plush Midlands suburb of Hilton is situated, the DA also had a good showing, scoring a 30 percent (12 169) share of the votes cast in that municipality.

In Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg), the DA scored 16.82 percent of the vote (42 726), while in Hibiscus Coast (Port Shepstone) municipality it received 18.04 percent (18 929 votes).

In the rural areas the DA did not perform well, but managed to register its presence.

While the trend is that in urban centres the DA has been registering percentages above its provincial average of 12 percent, in rural areas the opposite is applicable.

In President Jacob Zuma’s hometown, Nkandla, where 38 000 people cast their votes, mainly in favour of the ANC, the DA only garnered 168 votes (0.44 percent).

The multimillion rand upgrades to Zuma’s Nkandla home were central to the DA’s campaign.

The party had sought to highlight that the upgrades were not justifiable, especially in Nkandla, where many people live in poverty. But this message seems not to have done the trick for it there.

The rural areas which have been dominated by the IFP were not a happy hunting ground for the DA, either.

However, the weakening of the IFP did assist the DA in taking the number two spot in the province.

The IFP will return to the legislature with its caucus reduced to 9 MPLs from 18 in the previous term.

The decline in the IFP could be mainly attributed to the split it suffered in 2011, its leaders said last week.

The formation of the NFP led to the IFP bleeding votes (from 780 000 in 2009 down to 416 496 this year).

This provided the DA with a perfect opportunity to eclipse the IFP. The strategy for the DA now would be to sustain this growth and venture into rural, non-traditional support areas.

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