Is a super-opposition party the answer to SA’s problems and will it be able to muster enough support from disillusioned voters and put an end to the ANC’s political dominance?
It seems the DA believes it’s time for opposition parties to set aside their differences and build a credible alternative offering to voters.
This week, DA leader Helen Zille again called for a “realignment of politics” in SA, urging smaller opposition parties to give up a small part of their political identities – saying it would be worth it if “we could build a brand new political vehicle to put South Africa on course and stay the distance”.
Addressing the Cape Town Press Club in Newlands on Thursday, Zille said she wanted to lead a movement that would recapture “the promise of 1994”, and make democracy a reality.
The risk of leaving our “comfort zones to achieve this pales in significance to the alternative”, she said.
“All of us – whatever our present and past political affiliations – need to decide where we stand now.
“The choice is between the populists, who will drive South Africa into the abyss of absolute poverty, or the constitutionalists, who must rise to the challenge of implementing a plan that gives everyone a chance of belonging, of working to improve their own lives, and contributing to society,” she said.
The DA hopes to unseat the ANC by 2019, not necessarily alone, but most likely part of a grand coalition of opposition parties.
“We cannot let demagogues win. We need to come together in a single party committed to building a non-racial and prosperous South Africa.
“We must join hands and walk this road together. If we remain divided we will be defeated. The dream of the rainbow nation will lie in ruins,” Zille said.
But smaller parties canvassed by Independent Newspapers were dismissive of Zille’s grand scheme.
The African Christian Democratic Party’s Kenneth Meshoe believed it was not the answer to the country’s problems. He did not think bigger was better.
“This is too ambitious, parties would not agree with this idea,” said Meshoe.
Meshoe would prefer ANC voters to turn their backs on the ruling party and vote for others.
“We need to convince ANC voters that their blind loyalty is not building a prosperous country; voters need to make the change.”
Meshoe said there would be some smaller parties that would not muster enough votes to get seats to make it back to Parliament in the 2014 national and provincial elections, but he was convinced the ACDP would survive and that it has a future in the political landscape.
The Freedom Front Plus said while it believed a grand coalition was possible, each party had to be allowed to contest elections independently.
The party’s Wouter Wessels said each party had its own values and ideology and the creation of one large party would be detrimental to opposition politics in the country.
“Opposition voters would lose faith and we would lose,” said Wessels.
Zille said the time had come to “leap from the burning platform” and take the plunge into the “unknown”.
This she believed “offered far greater hope than staying where we are”.
Wessels does not believe this is the answer and said it would not lead to automatic expansion of the voter base either.
UCT politics lecturer Zweli Jolobe said the idea of parties holding hands was not new, but that history had shown that mergers were fraught with conflict and personality differences.
Africa has shown that grand coalitions can work under the right conditions and circumstances, however.
In 2002 Kenyan voters, fed up with one-party dominance in their country, booted out the Kenya African National Union (Kanu).
A formation of different political parties, which included the Liberal Democratic Party and the National Alliance Party of Kenya, formed the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) which, on December 27 in 2002, won a landslide victory over Kanu.
But the coalition was short-lived. Despite its initial popularity, the Narc-led government has struggled and the party is still plagued by political infighting.
“The DA has been successful in gaining voters from other opposition parties – they are growing and expanding at the expense of other smaller parties,” said Jolobe.
He believed Cope would continue to lose voters in future elections, and that some of its supporters would go back to the ANC.
“Any attempt by the DA to try to co-opt Cope publicly would be a publicity stunt and would be more about a means to get Cope voters to vote for the DA,” he said.
Cope has been plagued by infighting and dogged by legal woes.
Its leader, Mosiuoa Lekota, said parties would decide the way forward when the “time was right”.
Cope’s acting secretary-general, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, said she believed the interdict that was recently secured by ousted co-founder Mbhazima Shilowa to stop the party from holding its December conference had been motivated by the increased co-operation of the smaller opposition parties in Parliament, where they have united against the ANC on some issues.
Cope has said it would like to see opposition parties “collaborating” and working together to move away from the ANC’s political dominance.
Zille remains optimistic, however, saying “if we could transcend the political formations that keep us trapped in the past, future generations would look back and thank us.
“The time has come to leap from the burning platform and take the plunge into the unknown.
“It offers far greater hope than staying where we are.”