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South Africa: Democratic Alliance turns away from black leadership

By Anna Maree
Posted on Tuesday, 25 May 2021 13:35

South Africa Opposition Leader
South Africa's largest opposition party has elected John Steenhuisen as their leader, a move some analysts warn may cost it support from Black voters. (AP Photo)

With resignations of key black leaders, and suffering at the polls, South Africa's largest opposition party the Democratic Alliance risks becoming a party of white identity rather than a party that can offer a policy alternative.

South Africa’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was the first in the country to kick off its local government elections campaign, with a virtual rally over the weekend – billed as one of the biggest in South Africa to date – in line with Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

“Only the DA has a national footprint big enough to be able to represent every person in every community, and to challenge the dominance of the ANC,” party leader John Steenhuisen told those who tuned in.

The rally, which clocked up, somewhat underwhelmingly, just over 9000 live views, came at the end of a difficult week which contradicted the optimism in Steenhuisen’s speech.

‘An experiment gone wrong’

With only five months to go to the local government elections, another black leader resigned from the party; it registered yet another bad by-election loss of votes in traditional strongholds; and one of its Cape Town councillors was linked to laundering of Covid-19 relief funds.

Steenhuisen took over at the end of 2019 after former leader, Mmusi Maimane, the first and only black leader of the party thus far, was pushed out because of a dismal election turnout.

John doesn’t see they’re doing what he did to Mmusi,” a party insider says. “They use him to get [them] into a position to gain a national profile, and then they will dispose of him.”

Steenhuisen’s mandate was to arrest the decline in voter support and the party’s dithering on controversial policy issues. Instead, the party is now being accused of reverting to its campaign strategies in the early noughties when, under the leadership of Tony Leon, it had a small but loyal white voter base, a clear policy direction, and adopted an adversarial and oppositionist stance in government.