In these local government elections, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is set to take Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, in Port Elizabeth, and Tshwane, and make strong gains in Johannesburg. This is not my view but that of the spokepersons of the party.
Were the elections to be won, or lost, on the basis of campaign material such as television and radio advertisements and posters, I would be in agreement with the conclusions of DA strategists. But political reality and the projections of political parties are not always symmetrical in the period leading up to an election.
Sometimes, the statements of party leaders and the findings of internal party research are incongruent as a function of electoral strategy. This incongruence is at times part of a strategy of perception management and manipulation. Political parties do this, when they are not flirting with delusion, in order to influence the choices of voters and the tactics of opponents. The aim is to make voters uncertain about previous electoral choices if such choices do not coincide with the wishes of the party in question.
In other words, African National Congress (ANC) voters who want to remain within the support base of the ruling party must be persuaded that they are on the losing side. Further, the DA may be hoping that the ANC will, in response to this strategy, waste its resources in defence of safe areas instead of gunning for reversals of DA fortunes in areas such as Midvaal, in Gauteng.
The vigour with which the ANC has targeted Midvaal suggests that it is not fooled, and the statements of ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe about the battle for Cape Town seem to be an attempt to lull the DA into a slumber of complacency. Motlanthe has argued that the chances of the ANC winning Cape Town are slim.
While he is right, I hesitate to predict an outright majority for the DA and find it interesting that there has been very little talk of coalition formation in Cape Town. There seems to be a belief that the DA will win an absolute majority. If this turns out to be true on May 18, it will be because:
- The DA has maintained the momentum of the 2009 elections.
- The DA has succeeded in foregrounding its delivery record as the ruling party of the Western Cape and Cape Town at the expense of ANC messages.
- The DA has succeeded in splitting the political interests of the coloured working class from the political interests of the black working class and has, therefore, succeeded in undermining the attempt by the ANC to project the DA as the enemy of the coloured working class since, according to the ANC, the DA has been delivering more to the affluent areas of Cape Town.
While the ANC in the race for Cape Town has been embedding race deep inside arguments about class, the DA in parts of Gauteng and the Eastern Cape has been trying to project itself as a party that is part of the heritage of the struggle against apartheid.
In fact, the DA held one of its rallies at the Solomon Mahlangu Square, in Mamelodi, Pretoria. Solomon Mahlangu is one of the most revered combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC military wing, who was hanged by the apartheid regime. This symbolism adds to the DA’s repertoire of the toyi-toyi and members who dance to the beat of remixed struggle songs.
At the same rally, DA leader, Helen Zille, invoked struggle icons such as OR Tambo whom she equated to icons of South African liberalism such as Helen Suzman. And at a rally in Nelson Mandela Bay, she in effect argued that a vote for the DA is a vote for Nelson Mandela.
Love her or hate her, we cannot deny the fact that what she is doing is a departure from the DA’s tactics of past elections. She, too, is trying not to foreground race in her election messages in favour of what appears to be a more inclusive message. She is building on her reputation as the journalist who broke the story of the murder of Steve Biko by apartheid police. She, and therefore the DA by extension, forms part of this country’s struggle heritage. And because of this, she is challenging the position of the ANC in that heritage in the hope of extending the liberation dividend to her party.
I suspect that this will be one of the dominant themes in the three years leading up to the formation of a new opposition party before the 2014 general election. Of course, this is aimed at weakening the relationship between race and voting paterns, an objective reality that, so far, has been a major obstacle for the DA.