The delicious political centre can save this country
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, was on a flight to Cape Town last Wednesday. So apparently, was Bryan Habana. Habana spent a lot of time smiling and telling people what he was doing now. Mmusi looked serious. He was on the phone. A friend sitting close to both of them said they heard the DA leader say this election was just impossible to predict.
How awful it must be for him.
I WhatsApped a friend who knows the DA. Why would Maimane be unsure about the elections? Did the party not used to have the finest polling machinery in the land? "He knows exactly what the DA is on," replied my friend, "down to decimal points."
Of course he does. How stupid of me. Perhaps things are just not going so well. Former DA leader Tony Leon is still emphatic about one thing in the DA - leaders who lose ground in elections are replaced.
So I hope Maimane gets marginally more votes on May 8 than Helen Zille did back in 2014. He is a decent, utterly clean chap and although RW Johnson is cruel to him in his fabulous new book, Fighting for the Dream, for not having any experience, the only way to get experience is to get it, and that's what's happening now.
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By this time in two weeks we'll also know down to the last decimal how South Africans voted. The Institute of Race Relations will publish a final, credible poll on Monday May 6. Assuming we remain the conservative bunch we have always been, there'll be a bit more for the EFF, possibly a bit less for the DA and a bit more or a bit less for the ANC - who the hell knows?
But for the DA the aftermath of the elections is huge because while it will take the Western Cape again it'd be lucky to take any other province outright and that means it would have to find a way into government in a province like, say, Gauteng, which is marginal now, by way of being the junior partner to the ANC if the latter's vote fell to around 45%, which does not seem impossible.
The DA has always insisted it would not be the junior partner in any coalition and that it would not, under any circumstances, form coalitions or make "arrangements" with the hated ANC (as it has, blatantly, with the EFF in Johannesburg and Pretoria since the local elections in 2016) unless the ANC splits and its "reformist" wing becomes available as a partner.
That's not going to happen any time soon, and I'm told Maimane has been backtracking on those positions, so let's assume it's true. It means that should the ANC fall short in a critical province like Gauteng, the DA would not walk away and leave the ANC dependent solely on the EFF for support. That would be utterly irresponsible.
What should happen is that where he does fall short of majorities (even nationally, heaven forfend) President Cyril Ramaphosa should take his party into minority governments and try to live off the day-to-day support of whichever opposition parties it finds it easier to do business with as it goes about the distasteful and pointless work of complying with ANC conference resolutions on land expropriation without compensation and nationalising the Reserve Bank.This is where people like myself (late middle age, white, liberal) would want to see the DA find common ground with the sensible parts of the ANC and not to constantly try to force votes of no confidence or create other chaos. As state president, Ramaphosa has the powers to make sweeping reforms to our institutions; and his instinct is to reform and the DA should find a way to keep him there to make those changes and reforms.He has just been given the judicial green light, after seeking it, to dispose of Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi from the National Prosecuting Authority. It is a really big deal. The commissions that make findings on people like Jiba are Ramaphosa's way of protecting himself politically, and they are working. On land, the DA has co-operated intensely on ground-breaking legislation to expropriate land without compensation legislation without compromising its principles.In two weeks' time the DA could find itself in some really strange and complex territory. The Freedom Front Plus has appropriated the Fight Back slogan of Leon's all those years ago, and there is evidence it still appeals to the same people, as conservative whites drift away from the DA. It shouldn't matter. The DA needs to transform its attitudes. Its future is in the confusing and delicious centre, where accidents can happen but, also, where there's creativity and opportunity. It's where we save the country.