How to lock in the opposition scrum

Dr Corné Mulder

Die Burger: Wednesday 19 February 2014

Unlike what the DA pretends there isn’t just one way to get opposition parties to cooperate, Corné Mulder writes.

It is a myth that opposition unity in a single political party is the best way to beat the ANC.

Does it mean that opposition parties should not cooperate?

The question is rather what type of cooperation is the best to reach this objective.

In the run-up to the 2014 election we already have seen different cooperation models; the DA-model as opposed to the Collective for Democracy’s model.

What is the lesson to be learnt from the DA and Agang failed marriage?

The lesson is that when opposition parties merge, not all supporters automatically follow their leaders.

The majority of Agang supporters had indicated that they wanted to vote against the ANC, but not for the DA. It is precisely for this reason that they had chosen Agang.

The merger therefore does not weaken the ANC, but reduces the choices of opposition voters. Their voters can now abstain from voting, to the advantage of the ANC.

The reason for why all over the world political parties merge is to prevent opposition votes being divided. In a ward system, this happens.

In our proportional electoral system it is impossible to divide votes, because every vote counts. With a quarter of a percentage of voter support, someone in South Africa can be elected to Parliament.

The ANC is not a single political party, but a broad church in which opposing views are artificially bound together. Communists and capitalists; traditional leaders and detribalised urbanites find themselves in the same party.

The only glue keeping them together is the apartheid-past and the largesse that government is handing out. It is glue that will not last indefinitely.

That is why a strong, non-racial and broad-based political alternative has to be created timeously. The question is: How?

The DA’s model is to merge with other parties while the DA retains its identity. In other words: A plus B is not a new C, but remains A. Party B disappears from the scene. DA plus Agang does therefore not become Dagang, just like the ID plus DA did not become the IDDA.

The DA’s swallowing up of parties causes many votes against the ANC to be lost from ID and Agang members who do not agree with it. Mostly, this method only succeeds in accommodating leaders without their followers in large numbers supporting the merger. The failure of the DA and Agang’s merger proves this.

A little bit of homework or a short conversation by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele with any of the existing opposition parties in Parliament would have brought to light the true goal of the DA’s offer of the presidential candidacy. The DA’s strategy to establish a non-racial, broad-based political alternative, in practice means that it is the DA which has to become that alternative.

In the past term of Parliament, serious and lengthy talks about opposition cooperation in the multi-party opposition forum took place.

The DA proposed its model to all the other opposition parties. The submission was presented on behalf of the DA by Dr. Wilmot James as the DA’s national chairperson. As was the case with the ID, political parties would also obtain membership of the DA. When we got to the 2014 election, those parties would cease to exist and only the DA would be on the ballot list. In this way, the ID was swallowed up and there will not be an ID on the 2014 ballot list.

During the discussions of this model, it was unanimously rejected by all the opposition parties present – Cope, the IFP, the FF Plus, the UDM, the ACDP, the UCDP, the PAC and Azapo. This is not cooperation, but a swallowing, was the reaction.

The recent DA-Agang fiasco would take place according to the exact same model. A technical committee would look into how the DA and Agang would merge, as well as how Ramphele as Agang Leader would be accommodated on the DA list for the election. The presidential candidacy was offered to Ramphele to make it more attractive. It would however be a ploy which Ramphele apparently did not see. In no other election since 1994 did the DP or DA announce a presidential candidate before an election. The leader of the party ran the campaign and was number one on the DA’s list.

After the election, all parliamentary members gather in Parliament to elect a president. During this event in 2009, the DA nominated Joe Seremane. With the ANC’s 65% as opposed to the DA’s 16%, Seremane naturally lost against Zuma.

If Ramphele was to fall for this, she would have approximately 30 minutes of fame during an election in Parliament. After President Zuma was re-elected, she would have become an ordinary DA-MP. Agang would no longer exist and would also not participate in the 2014 elections. This is the DA model.

The question is how Ramphele saw this cooperation.

She did not have the experience which all the other opposition parties had already gained from the DA’s modus operandi. It was definitely not spelled out to her in detail either. The technical committee would work out the detail after the merger.

Ramphele’s extreme obstinacy and perhaps misplaced good self-esteem set the scene for a catastrophe. She was truly under the impression that she is such a formidable leader and woman that the DA would put its weight behind her and Agang – to such an extent that the DA would appoint her its candidate for the presidency of South Africa.

In her mind she would remain the leader of Agang. Agang and the DA would participate separately but cooperatively in the election. In addition, the DA supports her as the presidential candidate.

This option was not in the mind of the DA for one minute.

The FF Plus and Cope’s model for cooperation is much better.

Every party retains its values and identity and in this manner gains the maximum number of votes from its supporters at the ballot box to then, after the election, cooperate with other parties in a coalition against the ANC.

Without the FF Plus, the ACDP and other party’s cooperation in this way, Helen Zille would never have become the mayor of Cape Town in 2006.

This is also the way in which the Collective for Democracy between Cope, the FF Plus, the IFP and the ACDP and the UCDP was established.

Other opposition parties are still welcome to join the collective and sign the 20 points of agreements.

It is extremely important that the maximum number of opposition voters go and vote in the forthcoming election. We cannot afford that failed cooperation attempts lead to more opposition voters staying away from the ballot box.

In the previous general election more enfranchised South Africans stayed away from the ballot box than those who had voted for the ANC.

In 2009, 43% of all enfranchised South Africans did not vote. The result was that the ANC won the election while only 37% of enfranchised South Africans had voted for it.

If only half of the non-voters had voted against the ANC, the ANC would have lost.