On 18th May I grudgingly voted for the DA. My vote in their favour was to foster their continued control of the City of Cape Town and the greater good of the country. On a personal level, however, I have had bad experiences with the party and had very little reason to vote for them.
Personal sentiments aside, since 2006 the DA has transformed the former ANC-controlled City of Cape Town, a cesspit of corruption, into a model of clean governance. For more than a year after the DA took over, it spent some time eradicating the rot, putting systems in place to ensure clean governance and good public management. Today, the City is a vastly different place. Workers are out early in the morning cleaning the streets; disaster management is on the ball; traffic control has improved; roads are being built and fixed, and some form of law and order prevails. Gone is the mismanagement of the past; gone are the patronage, irregular tender allocations, and cadre payroll. Unlike any other party, as an opposition, the DA teaches its members the true meaning of constitutional democracy, how to campaign within wards and communities and how to grow a responsible citizenry.
Today they are growing a cadre of youth leaders schooled in the basics of democracy, human rights, and what it means to be a loyal parliamentary opposition unlike the ANC that produces dregs like Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Sicelo Sicekas, Jacki Selebi and the like.
The DA’s rich political traditions were inherited from Helen Suzman and Tony Leon whose voices were writ large across the political landscape as the only true voices of opposition. Continuing in this tradition, the DA as a government, has done exceptionally well in this election. Its significant electoral growth (one in four votes) and its increase in African voters to 600 000 are not to be scoffed at. Its capture of Kliptown (where the Freedom Charter was launched), the Midvaal, and the City of Cape Town by an amazing majority, are indeed major feats. Swing votes in areas like the Nelson Mandela Bay (a former ANC stronghold) are significant and send a message to Zuma that the electorate will no longer tolerate the growing ANC kleptocracy and the racial polarisation they induce.
However, flicking through the election results by province, while the DA votes have increased in each of the 8 other provinces, it is still not penetrating those provinces enough. People seem to vote for the DA partly because it is the better party, but mainly because the ANC is so bad and a real threat to our democracy with its Stalinist culture of cadre deployment. As the incumbent government, it will always have an edge over opposition parties, able to buy votes through patronage, cronyism, and bribery. While the ANC gloats over its election results, we must remember that the ANC got 62% out of a poll of 57.6% - that means around 7 million votes. Worse, of the 23.65 million registered voters, around 12 million did not vote or spoilt their votes. That means the DA has 16 million potential voters it could hope to woo into its camp in future.
The question is how do they hope to make inroads into this enormous potential of supporters? Voters are not just attracted to clean audits, the lack of corruption, and good governance. Not just voting fodder, people will vote overwhelmingly for the DA if the party becomes more exciting, take risks, enter the lives of communities more sincerely, and try to govern differently. A sizable portion of its voters is coloured and according to a recent study, although the poverty headcount ratios of all other race groups declined between the 1990s and 2000s, only amongst coloureds did poverty increase during that period. Here the DA needs to earn its support and should like the multiple award-winning e’Thekwini municipality become more innovative in their design of sanitation and waste management systems; they should mainstream customer debt relief programmes in order to recoup revenue instead of writing off debt; and they should introduce multi-point pollution control systems to reduce that brown band of smog that assails one’s senses as you drive across De Waal Drive.
In my view, the Province and City of Cape Town’s governance is sterile and the time has come for them to take risks in tackling big projects like turning Crossroads into a model of housing excellence, transforming landfills into conservancies, reducing crime amongst coloured youth, create jobs for young people, and turn District Six into a model of land restitution. These are just a few examples. I can mention many more!