DA’s strategy undermines diversity commitment
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OPINION: The reality is that anyone who dismisses race in South African politics is naïve, writes Professor Bheki Mngomezulu.
With candidates having been registered for the forthcoming Local Government Election (LGE) on November 1, 2021, the battle for the country’s seven metros has ensued in earnest.
While all the metros are important in their own right, I will focus on the City of Cape Town.
The city warrants close scrutiny because it is located in the only province that is under the DA. Since the squabbles between the ANC’s Mcebisi Skwatsha and Ebrahim Rasool handed the province to the DA on a silver platter, it has been difficult for the ANC to usurp power from the DA.
The appointment of a Premier is linked to national/provincial elections. However, in the case of the Western Cape in general, and Cape Town in particular, the DA has dominated.
The current DA incumbent is Dan Plato, a 60-year old politician. Instead of retaining him as the Mayoral candidate, the DA opted for the 34-year old Geordin Hill-Lewis. The question becomes: was this a good move?
One can use different variables to address this question. One of them is age. The DA’s move seems justifiable since Hill-Lewis is young and energetic compared to Plato. However, it is indisputable that Hill-Lewis lacks government experience and popularity among the electorate.
It did not come as a surprise when Hill-Lewis stated: “We will get to know each other well as we build our city, our home Cape Town, together.” He tacitly conceded his unpopularity. Anyway, this is a gamble that the DA deemed it fit to make.
The second variable is race. In 2018, the DA took a firm decision to render race irrelevant when electing/appointing leaders. On paper, this was a fair decision.
However, the reality is that anyone who dismisses race in South African politics is naïve. Even the 2018 DA conference produced predominantly white leaders. This was the epitome of the Western Cape provincial government, which is predominantly white under the DA.
Currently, DA leader, John Steenhuisen, is white. The Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, is white. Should Hill-Lewis win, the Mayor in the City of Cape Town will also be white. Given the population of the Western Cape, which is predominantly black and coloured, what message is the DA sending to the public?
Does this mean that there are no credible candidates from the black and coloured members of the DA in Cape Town? These are intriguing questions. However, they do not for the DA because in its eyes race does not matter.
The third variable is gender. National statistics show that the number of women outweighs that of men. The Western Cape in general and the City of Cape Town, in particular, are no exception.
If that is the case, how come is it that the DA leadership is predominantly male? Since the outgoing Mayor (Dan Plato) is a male, why did the DA not look for a female candidate in its ranks in order to diversify the party’s outlook without undermining expertise?
But, there are glaring similarities between the DA and the ANC. Nationally, the ANC scores own goals but still emerges victorious in both national/provincial and LGE. In the same vein, in the Western Cape in general, and the City of Cape Town in particular, the DA constantly makes mistakes during election time but still retains both the province and the city.
The reason for this state of affairs is that opposition political parties in both the ANC and the DA’s cases fail to capitalise on the mistakes of their political adversaries.
As the DA made the political blunders enumerated above, other parties have made things easier for this party. Patricia De Lille’s Good Party nominated Brett Herron to stand against Hill-Lewis. It is true that Herron has experience in government given that he is a member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and also served as former DA Councillor. But, at 54, Herron is 20 years older than his competitor. Those who consider age might opt for Hill-Lewis instead of electing Herron. This would benefit the DA, not Good Party.
The fact that other smaller parties, such as the Cape Coloured Congress and the Patriotic Alliance, also announced their own Mayoral candidates means that the votes that would have given a united front more weight are split, thereby unwittingly and inadvertently enhancing changes for the DA to win the City of Cape Town. This is similar to what happens in the case of the ANC nationally. FF+’s Mayoral candidate, Lennit Max, cannot be trusted. He has been linked to the ANC, DA and ID.
As the DA showed reluctance to nominate a Mayoral candidate for eThekwini, the ANC did the same in Cape Town. A coalition could derail the DA’s plans, but I remain pessimistic.
* Professor Bheki Mngomezulu is a professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.