South Africa opposition party seeks to claim Mandela mantle

Wednesday May 01 2019

South Africa main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) party members chant during their march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on March 29, 2018. The party claims that it now represents Nelson Mandela's legacy rather than the ruling ANC party that Mandela led to power in 1994. PHOTO | PHILL MAGAKOE | AFP


In the busy centre of Johannesburg on one short stretch of pavement, men search through a dumpster, women sell wigs—and South Africa's main opposition party unveils its latest election slogan.

"Honour Mandela's vision to build one South Africa for all. Vote DA," it reads.

It is a message hammering home the Democratic Alliance's bold claim that it now represents Nelson Mandela's legacy rather than the ruling ANC party that Mandela led to power in 1994.

Ahead of the May 8 general election, the DA is hoping to highlight the failure of the ANC to deliver Mandela's dream of a prosperous and equal South Africa in the 25 years since the end of white-minority rule.

As the slogan was unveiled, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane tackled the issue of Mandela's life-long loyalty to the ANC.

"I stand for the dream of Nelson Mandela, that we will build a South Africa for all, that we will build an economy that is inclusive," he told the crowd.


"The DA is the only party that when you look at our list you can identify that there is a diversity of South Africans from all walks of life."

"Yes, I know that Madiba (Mandela's clan name) was an ANC man, but the organisation he headed up no longer exists," he added in a separate statement.

"(The ANC) has turned its back on just about every ideal the great man once stood for."

In 2015, Maimane became the first black leader of the DA—a liberal party that has struggled to shed its image as a party for middle-class whites.

Good governance

It climbed to 24 percent of the vote in the 2016 local elections and prides itself on good governance at municipal level where it controls Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Aged just 38, Maimane is relaxed and smiling on the campaign trail, wearing a DA t-shirt in the party's bright blue colours and carefully ensuring he is surrounded by black party activists.

His speech is a hit, to an extent.

"They realised that Helen Zille (the white woman who previously led the DA) was the wrong person. Instead they put in a black guy," said Elias Mojahi, a 32-year-old restaurant owner, who says he may vote DA next week.

"The (ANC) government is doing nothing for us, it only works for itself," added Mpho Rakele, another Johannesburg resident listening to the speech.
He denounced corruption under the ANC and said he hoped "the DA will bring change".

But the party faces many obstacles, especially as Zille has repeatedly stoked controversy by arguing on Twitter that there were some positive aspects to colonialism.

"I can not vote DA because they are going back to the 70s and 80s," said Kgomotso Mosepidi, 47, an unemployed man in Johannesburg.

Since the first multi-racial elections in 1994, the DA has steadily increased its share of the national vote, winning 22 percent in 2014.

"We will vote for the DA again. We have not seen any change here yet, but we will give them another chance," said April Groats, a 56-year-old unemployed woman in Eldorado Park township in Johannesburg.

Public anger

The party's national ambitions should be high as the South African economy struggles and the tarnished ANC reels from public anger over massive unemployment, corruption and poor housing and public services.

But after the scandal-plagued presidency of Jacob Zuma from 2009 to 2018, the ANC's new leader Cyril Ramaphosa is seen as a more moderate, popular figure who could thwart chances of a DA breakthrough.

Polls generally suggest the DA will do well to win 25 per cent of the vote.

"People don't have trust in them," said political analyst Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand, explaining the party had failed to exploit ANC weaknesses.

"Maimane has a lot going for him, but he is just not strong enough in the right place to capture this moment when things are going seemingly so right for an opposition party."

The DA must hope that its campaign attracts more black voters away from the ANC to further supplement its support base among whites, who make up about eight percent of the population, and South Africa's mixed "coloured" communities.

Back in central Johannesburg, Teboho Kabi, 32, breaks off from searching through garbage to watch the DA unveil its Mandela billboard.

"It means nothing to me. Mandela had his vision. But what about their own vision?" he said. "They are using Mandela to serve their own interests.
"Elections here don't give us any hope like before."