The advisors agree: the DA should leave the coalition. Will Zille listen?

The DA has been reduced to an appendix in the ANC administration, but the ExCo remain desperate to preserve it. The VF+ face a similar dilemma.

Robert Duigan


Robert Duigan


Jul 6, 2024

The advisors agree: the DA should leave the coalition. Will Zille listen?

This morning, former party leader and present senior advisor to the DA Tony Leon belatedly joined a chorus of other commentators close to the DA in suggesting that the DA should quit the government if (as is the case) their ministers cannot exercise power over their departments.

After a catastrophic negotiation process, the DA were reduced to an impotent rump in parliament, with no control over directors-general appointments and only six seats in Cyril’s 77-member strong cabinet.

With the few departments they were given being split up and weakened, and the directors-general appointments remaining a presidential prerogative, there is little chance that any of the changes they wish to see can be done at all.

Many have noticed this, and not just from the ranks of the pundits like myself, but from the DA’s advisory network, including closely associated lobby groups like the Free Market Foundation and the Institute of Race Relations. Our readers will know that I called the coalition plan a foolish idea over two years ago now, and Martin van Staden has been calling for a similar level of circumspection for nearly as long.

But lately even former policy wonks like Gwen Ngwenya and Gareth van Onselen, and administrative advisors like Richard Wilkinson voiced their skepticism, and the broad theme has been the same - you have put Ramaphosa in the presidency, the EFF are not going to get in, so there’s no risk in leaving.

The consensus is to adopt the position of Confidence and Supply, where the party supports the ANC minority government in parliament to keep the RET faction out of government, but does not partake in the corrupt mess that is the South African executive branch.

Yet for some reason the DA are desperate to retain their cabinet positions, despite the bitterness it is causing in their base, and as I have already said, among their advisors.

The DA’s desperation at the national level is easily contrasted with the talks in Gauteng Province, where coalition talks collapsed yesterday. There, the DA ironically cited “irreconcilable differences” with the ANC. By comparison, at the national level, they are refusing to entertain the possibility of retiring from the “GNU” despite having been handed a humiliating and neutered cabinet position.

This is akin to trying to bluff in poker while laying your cards on the table. Zille is used to playing hardball in local government coalitions and forcing her preferred (usually corrupt) candidates on her subordinates in the Cape, but these strongarm tactics don’t work when you have nothing to threaten the other side with.

And the ANC fear nothing from the DA’s departure from government, knowing full well that Helen will never walk away from a plan that’s been brewing in her mind since 2014.

But it isn’t only the DA who are stuck with the difficult choice of whether or not to tell their voters they did a deal with the devil for a handful of beads.

For smaller parties to the right of the ANC, like the Vryheidsfront Plus, remaining in the government after the DA have left will come back to haunt Pieter Groenewald, just as the similar token position taken by Pieter Mulder under Jacob Zuma did. He will be seen as a sell-out by his voters, and is already seeing serious grumbling in the ranks from ordinary party members, who are discussing his retirement. I covered this in a little more depth recently.

Dr Corne Mulder remains highly respected and favoured among rank and file, and may stand a strong chance of replacing Pieter Groenewald in the next leadership selection process if Groenewald cannot pick the right moment to leave. His support for Cape independence is rightly reasoned by many to have been the reason that the Western Cape was the only province where the party did not lose significant numbers of voters to the DA.

But that moment of decision must come before the DA’s does if the party wants to maintain their dignity.

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