DA’s divisive legacy: unpacking ‘Fight Back’ and SA’s electoral fault lines

One striking example of the DA’s divisive campaigning was the infamous "Fight Back" campaign, which critics argued carried racial undertones, mainly "Fight Black", says the writer. Picture: Screengrab from the DA’s television spot

One striking example of the DA’s divisive campaigning was the infamous "Fight Back" campaign, which critics argued carried racial undertones, mainly "Fight Black", says the writer. Picture: Screengrab from the DA’s television spot

Published May 10, 2024


By Bayethe Msimang

In a move that has ignited fury and controversy across South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA) finds itself under intense scrutiny for a provocative election video depicting the burning of the South African flag.

Swiftly disseminated across social media platforms, the footage has sparked a firestorm of condemnation from citizens who perceive it as a disrespectful assault on a cherished national emblem.

Tensions are already running high in the lead-up to the elections, and the DA's decision to release such an incendiary video has been met with widespread condemnation. The act exacerbates the political divide and raises serious questions about the party's judgment and respect for national values.

The backlash against the DA's video has been palpable, with social media platforms becoming virtual battlegrounds for expressing outrage. Scores of South Africans have flooded the party's posts with scathing criticism, while online memes draw sharp distinctions between President Cyril Ramaphosa's dignified comportment and the opposition leader's perceived provocations.

This incident is a stark reminder of the potent role that national symbols play in politics and the delicate balance required when engaging with them during electoral campaigns. The flag, a potent emblem of unity and national identity should be treated with reverence and respect, especially in a country with a history as complex and sensitive as South Africa's.

The DA's misstep also raises concerns about the potential consequences of such inflammatory actions. History is replete with examples of the desecration of national symbols leading to violence and social unrest. From flag burnings that incited riots in the United States to the burning of effigies that fuelled sectarian violence in other parts of the world, the misuse of national symbols has often catalysed conflict.

In a nation already grappling with deep-seated divisions and simmering tensions, the DA's decision to release a video depicting the burning of the South African flag is not just misguided but reckless. Instead of fostering meaningful dialogue and engagement, it risks further inflaming passions and deepening the chasms that divide society.

As South Africa navigates the complex terrain of electoral politics, political actors must exercise restraint and demonstrate a commitment to fostering unity and inclusivity. The DA's flag-burning video stands as a cautionary tale, a reminder of the perils of exploiting national symbols for political gain and the importance of upholding the dignity of those symbols in the public sphere.

President Ramaphosa issued a statement yesterday, appealing to all South Africans should deplore this abuse of our national flag for party political purposes.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has a contentious history of employing divisive tactics in its electoral campaigns, often tapping into sensitive social fault lines to garner support. One striking example of this was the infamous "Fight Back" campaign, which critics argued carried racial undertones, mainly "Fight Black".

This messaging, veiled in the guise of a call for resistance against perceived government failures, was widely interpreted as a not-so-subtle appeal to racial anxieties and prejudices. By framing the narrative in terms of a battle against an ambiguous adversary, the DA risked exacerbating racial tensions and deepening societal divisions.

Even then, President Cyril Ramaphosa, among others, did not mince words to condemn such tactics. He denounced the "Fight Back" campaign as irresponsible and divisive, highlighting the dangers of stoking racial animosities for political gain. Ramaphosa emphasized the need for unity and inclusivity in a nation still grappling with the legacies of apartheid and striving to build a more cohesive society.

The controversy surrounding the "Fight Back" campaign underscored broader concerns about the DA's approach to electoral politics and its willingness to exploit societal divisions for short-term political advantage. Critics argued that such tactics undermined efforts to foster social cohesion and betrayed a fundamental lack of respect for the diversity and complexity of South Africa's social fabric.

In the wake of the backlash, the DA faced mounting pressure to reckon with the implications of its messaging and to commit to a more responsible and inclusive approach to political campaigning. While the party may have sought to rally its base with appeals to fear and resentment, the "Fight Back" campaign ultimately served as a sobering reminder of the dangers of playing with fire in a country still scarred by its history of racial strife.

* Bayethe Msimang is an independent writer and analyst.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.