The country’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has agreed to form a coalition with the Independent Democrats (ID). The parties will unite ahead of local elections next year, by which time the ID’s officials and structure will be subsumed into the structures of the DA. In so doing the coalition will hope to provide a credible challenge as the official opposition to the significant power of the ruling ANC party, by 2014 when the next national election takes place.
Last year’s election saw the ANC win a massive share of almost two thirds of the vote. Just a fraction more of the vote, and a 66% majority, would have allowed them to carry out wide-ranging constitutional reforms. Although the DA won a mere 17% of the vote, and the ID around 1%, the parties believe they can present a challenge to what they see as the ANC’s hegemony. [protected]
However, analysts remain doubtful, claiming the parties have too small a following to pose a serious threat to the ANC. An equally critical point relates to the demographic makeup of the parties’ supporters. The DA’s votes come mainly from the white and mixed race community, and the ID’s voter profile is similar. The DA is, according to political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi, also still seen as a party representing white interests, and is ‘intuitively distrusted’ by a number of black voters.
One crucial factor which may help to redress these imbalances hangs on the future of another political party – the Congress for the People (COPE). It was formed as an opposition party by dissident ANC members before last year’s election, due to their dissatisfaction with corruption within the party, and catalysed by what they saw as the unjust sacking of former president Thabo Mbeki. The formation of the party caused a stir in the South African political arena, and many saw the possibility of a serious challenge to the ANC being mounted by them. However, a poor performance in the election, coupled with financial difficulties and disagreements within the party, meant that then and now COPE did not materialise into the political force they would have hoped for. In light of the discussion over mergers, however, their name has been brought up again.
Philip Dexter, speaking on behalf of COPE, did not rule out possible cooperation with the new DA political entity when questioned by media. Patricia de Lille, leader of the ID, also mentioned the possibility of negotiations with COPE, as well as another small party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM). A party with kudos among the majority black population, particularly among those unimpressed by the ANC, joining the fray would perhaps provide a tangible chance of successful opposition for non-ANC voters across the country’s ethnic spectrum. Whether or not this larger coalition will take shape remains speculation.
Another factor which should not be neglected in analysis is the personalities of the coalition leaders. Helen Zille has proved to be a fearless and uncompromising politician. Her political leadership in the Western Cape provincial area, and her earlier tenure as mayor of Cape Town, saw both her leadership style and abilities demonstrated. She has managed to hang on to the Western Cape seat despite serious challenge form the ANC. To her credit, she was also recognised in ‘08 as ‘World mayor of the year’ by international think tank ‘City Mayors’ for her efforts during her Cape Town tenure.
Leader of the Independent Democrats, Patricia de Lille, is an icon in South African politics. An experienced political veteran, she has been a vocal figure for a number of political groups and has played her part in the struggle against apartheid. As a member of what has come to be known in South Africa as the ‘mixed race’ ethnic group, de Lille both suffered disadvantage under apartheid, managing to play her part in the country’s nascent democracy. A champion of, and popular among, the poor, de Lille is able to combine a personal understanding of disadvantage with the political clout to speak on behalf of the disadvantaged. She has also made a name for herself as a fighter of corruption, blowing the whistle on a controversial arms deal involving senior figures in the South African government.
While the voting figures, and the words of temperance by analysts, paint a realistic picture of the political situation in South Africa the present merger is likely to prove an interesting addition to the political landscape. In mounting a challenge to the ANC, which may be bolstered by further coalitions, they may just bring freshness to South African politics and allow for more of the country’s many voices to be heard. [/protected