South Africa: Opinion - Time for the Political Commentariat to Give the DA a Fair Shake

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South Africa's political commentators are almost universal in decrying the failures of the ANC-led national government, especially when it comes to Covid-19 corruption. But when will they acknowledge the successes of the DA-led Western Cape and City of Cape Town?

"There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy," said journalist Alfred Henry Lewis in a March 1906 issue of American Cosmopolitan magazine. South Africans are hungry and getting hungrier. We need to be realistic about what works, and then pursue it.

In a Daily Maverick opinion piece on 2 August 2020, Wits professors Mills Soko and Mzukisi Qobo lament the governing ANC's failures "to build a meritocratic, competent, professional and corruption-free public service".

They point to the large-scale theft of Covid-19 relief funds as the latest manifestation of the "widespread mismanagement, dysfunction and corruption that have hobbled state institutions in South Africa", warning: "This culture of wanton criminality and impunity will have dire consequences for future generations."

Soko and Zobo have correctly diagnosed South Africa's malady as rooted in the ANC's failures. But if those "dire consequences for future generations" are to be averted, it is equally important to prescribe effective treatment. This is where they, along with so many other political thought leaders, demonstrate a collective failure of imagination.

They could point to the DA-run Western Cape province as a shining example of "meritocratic, competent, professional and corruption-free public service" and suggest the DA be given an opportunity to implement this more widely.

Premier Alan Winde's government has executed a world-class Covid-19 response, building adequate prevention and treatment capacity in an open, honest manner. Not only would other provinces and municipalities benefit from such a government, but it would also send a strong message to the ANC that corruption and mismanagement are unacceptable to voters, and fatal to political parties.

They could point to the DA-run Cape Town, which has just been rated the only South African city with the capacity to successfully weather the Covid-19 storm. Ratings Afrika said Cape Town was the only metro in SA to show significant improvement in the past five years.

But instead, they promote the twin notions that the ANC is South Africa's only hope and that the party is capable of self-correction. This is misleading and damaging. To suggest that the ANC is SA's only hope is to risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where voters feel compelled to continue returning the ANC to power. Accountability is a keystone of democracy. Have they given up on the ideal of a democratic SA?

It is naïve to imagine the ANC will self-correct unless forced to do so by voters. Patronage has become the party's lifeblood. It cannot retain political support without it. Decades of cadre deployment have given rise to a predator state incapable of self-correction.

Covid-19 corruption appears to have taken many by surprise. It should serve as a reality check. It was entirely predictable for those not in denial, just as the reality of a meritocratic, competent, professional and corruption-free public service is on full display in DA-run Western Cape for those willing to look.

And yet we have Ismail Lagardien lamenting that the ANC has "left us to hopelessness". Why punt hopelessness rather than the obvious solution, when the Western Cape government stands as a shining beacon of hope, backed by a party committed to the Constitution, to liberal economic reform and to building a capable state?

What the DA has achieved, building on only 1.7% of the national vote in 1994, and still achieves in opposition and in government, is extraordinary. Internal contestation is an open battle of ideas, not a closed fight to the death over access to state resources. When we go wrong, we admit such, make the necessary changes, and keep going - and growing.

Imagine the wake-up call for the ANC were municipalities to fall en masse to the DA in 2021. Ramaphosa's election as ANC president in 2017 was down to the wire. What tipped the balance in his favour was the very real threat of the ANC dropping below 50% in the 2019 national election after a strong DA showing in the 2016 municipal elections.

Justice Malala recognises that an ANC victory in 2024 "will propel SA into becoming a country with no hope". Yet his suggested remedy is that "we need more Herman Mashabas, Mluleki Georges and Julius Malemas - but with more stamina and new ideas". Huh?

South Africa does not need new ideas. We need to embrace principles that have stood the test of time in building societal wellbeing: the rule of law, market economics, and the separation of party and state. We need to go back to basics and fix the fundamentals: open our energy and labour markets, fix our schools and hospitals, auction spectrum for cheaper data.

We certainly don't need more Malemas. His populist prescription for South Africa - revolutionary nationalisation of the economy and private property - have collapsed Zimbabwe and Venezuela, eviscerating their economies and immiserating their societies.

The EFF remains united because it is not a political party in the democratic sense of the word, but rather Malema's fiefdom, run by his gauleiters for their own material benefit: Access to resources and the security of office. Their VBS looting says everything one needs to know about how the poor would fare if there were more Malemas.

Herman Mashaba is about to learn the hard way how difficult it is to build a party with a regional foothold, let alone one able to offer an alternative national government. He sacrificed core principles to retain the mayoralty in Johannesburg and adopted racial nationalism to scapegoat his failure to lead his own caucus.

What the DA has achieved, building on only 1.7% of the national vote in 1994, and still achieves in opposition and in government, is extraordinary. Internal contestation is an open battle of ideas, not a closed fight to the death over access to state resources. When we go wrong, we admit such, make the necessary changes, and keep going - and growing.

Malala offers no evidence for his assertion that the DA is "haemorrhaging support". This is not borne out in our own polling which has our national support up significantly from our poor showing in 2019 when Ramaphoria was still the order of the day.

Though this is no thanks to opinion formers, who cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the outstanding performance of the DA during this pandemic. In opposition, we have led from the beginning, warning against hard lockdowns and offering practical alternative strategies for suppressing the pandemic. In government, we have shown the difference a capable government makes to people's lives.

Peter Bruce seems to have finally shed the last of his Ramaphoria, but is yet to acknowledge that the DA's performance before and during this pandemic stands in sharp contrast. Possibly, he is still absorbed by personality-based politics when what South Africa needs is principle-based politics.

In his tome of an article decrying Ramaphosa's ANC, Richard Poplak's what-is-to-be-done conclusion calls on "the kindness of individual South Africans, the charity of corporates, the scrutiny of the media and the activism of civil society" to save the country, because "any further talk about the Ramaphosa presidency and its promise needs to be binned with yesterday's PPE". Poplak is never lost for words, yet he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that "fearless, resolute and intelligent action" has been demonstrated in the Western Cape.

South Africa is in an extremely precarious situation. The last thing we need now is opposition to the main opposition. Our political commentators need to realise that they are part of the problem and that the DA is part of the solution.

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