Rumbi Gorgens

Elections Analysis: The Democratic Alliance

Rumbi Gorgens
Rumbi Gorgens

By Rumbi Gorgens

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is arguably South Africa’s most successful opposition party. In the 2009 election, they secured 16.6% of the national vote (nearly three million votes, up from the 1.9 million they gained in 2004), and won in the Western Cape. In 2010, Patricia De Lille’s Independent Democrats joined the Alliance, cementing their position within the Western Cape and slightly growing their membership. The party’s success continued in the 2011 local elections and they secured 24% of the vote.

The DA has had, for all intents and purposes, a good four years, electorally-speaking. In 2014, they’re hoping to do even better: they’re aiming to secure 30% of the national vote (which would be a threatening half of what the ruling party, the African National Congress usually secures), retain the Western Cape and gain Gauteng.

Significantly, they have been (until this year) the only female-led party.

In spite of this, and of their impressive performance as the official opposition, the DA has an image problem: many South Africans continue to be unconvinced that they can speak on their behalf. A survey conducted earlier this year found that 52% of young black respondents believed that the DA would bring back Apartheid if elected. Clearing the discursive air is going to be a battle the DA will have to fight if they want all South Africans to consider their policies and their track record, and to evaluate them as a viable alternative to the ruling party.

Know your DA: fixing the image for 2014

The DA is aware of their image problem. Helen Zille’s 2007 victory over Athol Trollip in the internal leadership race reflects a growing understanding that in order to be electorally competitive, the party would need to grow beyond its traditional base. They kicked off this election season early in April with the ‘Know your DA’ campaign. In a series of billboards, press ads, leaflets, and via various platforms (mobi portal, Mxit channel, and a 10-minute documentary DVD), the campaign aimed to ‘educate’ people about the history of the party. Seemingly in direct response to the aforementioned survey, the campaign stated:

From the birth of the Progressive Party in 1959 to the constitutional negotiations at CODESA, the DA never stopped fighting against apartheid. For 30 years we opposed every apartheid law tabled before parliament. Yet, we have allowed others to write our history according to their own agendas. It is time we set the record straight.[1]

Highlighting their connections – mainly through Helen Suzman and Helen Zille – to the Progressive Party and its role in the struggle against Apartheid, the campaign “tells the untold story”, largely focusing on the diversity of the DA and their possible appeal to people who are not white. This early, non-substantive part of the campaign is essentially a discursive exercise, and it is not clear that it was especially successful. However, it is important in that it is, to my mind, the DA’s attempt at moulding an identity that goes beyond merely an oppositional one. Instead of claiming they are not the ANC or (as they infamously in their 2009 election posters) luring potential voters by promising that they will “Stop Zuma!”, they are clearly tying themselves to a history that the ANC monopolises. It is important that this is how they began the election season. Rather than backing into the reactive space opposition parties usually occupy, they sought to claim some discursive space of their own.

Their ‘Federal’ Constitution and DAWN

The DA sets out their principles and their internal rules in their constitution.[2]  The Constitution lays out the DA’s vision of an “Open Opportunity Society for All”. The Open Opportunity Society is based on the recognition of the freedom, dignity and equality of each individual.  The individual is the centre of the Open Opportunity Society, and this is clear in the way in which the Constitution makes no explicit mention of the many groups within South African society who deserve specific consideration.

Women are not excepted: the Constitution names the Democratic Alliance Women’s Network (DAWN) as a supporting body.  DAWN subscribes to the principles of the DA, and aims specifically to[3]:

  • promote the empowerment and development of women and help build their self-confidence to stimulate and activate initiatives
  • promote amongst women a consciousness of accountability, patriotism and unity
  • promote women’s participation in every sector of public life
  • promote a healthy culture of the recognition of women’s rights as human rights
  • oppose violence against women wherever possible

Other than the mention of this body, the DA’s constitution makes no other mention of women as special interest group. This stubborn focus on the individual places women’s interests outside of the gamut of the governing principles of the Party. Instead, these interests are relegated to and are the responsibility of DAWN, a supporting body.


vote daThe DA has strong, vocal female leadership. In 2011, they campaigned on this, featuring Helen Zille, parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Patricia De Lille on their campaign posters.

But evidence indicates that this is not the result of a focused strategy, or a party-wide trend of significant female representation. Three out of the eight members of their senior national leadership team are women; 27% of their 71 members of Parliament are women. In the Western Cape, Helen Zille drew criticism when she selected an all male cabinet. In response to criticism, she said the following:

…The DA does not appoint women in top positions to fulfil quotas but because they are the most qualified for the job.[4]

It might not be true, as has been claimed by other parties, that the DA is the “worst offender” when it comes to ensuring significant female representation, but it is certainly true that whilst the party’s most visible leaders are women, they are not in the majority in their party’s leadership. The DA’s responses to questions about representation reveal their Open Opportunity Society vision – one that places the individual at the center, and does not necessarily consider gender and its implications and possible limits on an individual’s opportunities.


Economic Policy

The DA projects that they will be able to achieve an 8% growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by addressing the following key problems: low demand for labour, skills dearth, compromised infrastructure, barriers to entrepreneurship, economic exclusion of the poor, unimaginative social security systems, insufficient competition, insufficient engagement with the rest of the continent ineffective industrial policy, unbalanced budget, high cost of crime and ineffective broad economic empowerment (BEE) and employment equity (EE). The DA does not offer a point-by-point, step-by-step guide of how they will solve these blockages. Their antidote focuses more on the spirit in which they will solve economic problems. The DA envisions an economy in which

The government and the private sector work together in partnership to grow an economy ripe with opportunities for all South Africans, most especially for the millions of unemployed South Africans who have been denied access to jobs and life changing opportunities.[5]

The DA’s policy ultimately aims to stimulate job creation by loosening the restrictions on the private sector that it sees as limiting. They say

A DA government would facilitate, not direct economic activity and would see that our fiscal and monetary policy acts not so as to control economic activity but to attract labour creating investment through price stability, a competitive tax regime and appropriate government expenditure.[6]

In practice, this seems to mean less government spending and intervention (including pulling out of parastatals like Eskom and Telkom) and an increased focus on training and education.[7]

Mention is made, within the economic policy, of broad-based economic empowerment, and the importance of a comprehensive system of this, but none is given. The DA has been vocal in their criticism of the ANC’s economic empowerment and employment equity policies, and it is surprising to note the absence of a detailed alternative.

As with most of the DA’s policies, no explicit mention is made of specific groups. They discuss the effects of the current economic growth rate on poor communities, and have a radical proposal to address this: “capitalise the poor”.

According to De Soto, the problem is not that the poor have no assets per se. In many developing countries even the poorest members of society live in housing provided by the state, farm land that is held in trust or make commercial use of traditional knowledge systems. These ‘assets’, which De Soto estimates to be worth over $10 trillion globally, are however ‘frozen’ because they cannot be sold, traded against, or used as collateral for loans. They are therefore, in his words, a form of ‘dead capital’. The DA believes that creative policy proposals are needed to ‘capitalise the poor’. This could be achieved by, for example, transferring state-owned and customary land to poor households and by distributing shares in state-owned enterprises through broad-based empowerment schemes.[8]

The bottom-line is that this market-centred approach to economic growth fails to take into account the various social, historical, relational aspects of economic activity. Market-based solutions operate on the assumption that a capitalist market is a fair playing field and that there are no structural constraints to the individual’s ability to express their creativity or their agency, and that Capital (which in this country is still overwhelmingly white and male) will always be more effective at maximising opportunities for accumulation wherever they exist.

It is worth mentioning that the DA was, last week, embroiled in what looks like an internal battle that emerged over the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. The Bill, which passed last week, will, amongst other things, make it compulsory for employers to submit equity plans. Whilst the DA has publicly condemned what they call the ‘Verwoerdian’ regulations, their parliamentary leadership voted for the Bill in an initial vote. This was later withdrawn, hasty press releases put out, but the implications are clear. What is being called the ‘Black Caucus’ of the party are allegedly planning to make a significant push for a shift in the party’s approach to economic empowerment. Whether or not this will lead to a substantive change in that part of economic policy remains to be seen.

Social Development

Rather than locating these complex social and relational aspects of economic activity in their economic policy, the DA places them firmly in their social development policy. This is where they discuss poverty and its effects proper. Putting aside for a moment the strange assumption that social development exists only as a way to redress the negative effects of poverty, let’s take a look at the DA’s policies.

In this of all policies, they finally allow themselves to think of people as part of social groups. They look at the effects of poverty on children, young people, unemployed adults and pensioners. Their solutions to these problems focus on the following:

The DA will make a range of interventions available to individuals at every phase of their lives to allow them to overcome the specific problems that affect them and take advantage of an Open Opportunity Society for All. These policies will be aimed at facilitating, not directing, their activities, and at expanding choices rather than determining them.[9]

None of the plans outlined in this policy document differ from the status quo, and the main strategy seems to be to consolidate existing policies and practices (by hiring more social workers, for example).

The policy is notably silent on some of the key issues that have dominated social development discussions recently. Whilst it mentions increasing state funding to non-governmental organisations, there is no clear exploration of the relationship between NGOs and the state. Many of these NGOs provide services to women and children that would otherwise not be provided. This is thus a significant issue that the DA would need to address were it to convince us that it has women’s interests at heart.

In 2012, the  found themselves in the midst of a funding crisis. Kath Dey, Rape Crisis’s director said that whilst corporate funders were supportive of the organisation and others like them, they were reluctant to fund what they saw as services that are the purview of the state.[10] The crisis thus raised the question of the extent to which the provincial and national Social Development departments should support organisations that offer services that ought to be the responsibility of the state, but that the state does not have the infrastructure or capacity to offer. It also raised the question of whether or not such support can be characterised in the same way as other funding relationships the state has. The Western Cape Social Development provided funding at the time, but were quoted as stating that they need to weigh Rape Crisis’s funding applications against the 1 902 they receive in total.[11] However, if organisations such as Rape Crisis are stepping into the breach to offer services that can be characterised as statutory, is their relationship with the state that of a donor and recipient? This current tug-of-war between Social Development and civil society necessitates careful reflection on the role of civil society in service delivery and how state structures can draw on and leverage the work that is already being done in communities.

Whilst the policy looks at several key groups, it also notably excludes women. Given the levels of violence against women in South Africa, surely any social policy would need to contemplate in detail how this would be addressed. Solid foundations exist in the work of organisations such as Rape Crisis (who provide crisis counselling, court support for survivors and preventative community training programmes). However, to deliver services such as those offered at a national scale requires political will and clear operational strategies, none of which can be found in the DA’s current policies. Funding for shelters, court support, counselling and Thuthuzela Care Centres would be areas that I think would be important.

Crime and safety

Some of the other issues closely related to gender-based violence are dealt with in the DA’s policy on criminal justice. The backlog of unsolved cases would be dealt with by employing an extra 30 000 police personnel (though this contradicts the market-centred economic policy of the party). To address the backlog in our courts, legal practitioners from the private sector will be brought in, drawn to the broken system by the promise of tax incentives. Perpetrators will be rehabilitated, and put to work. Victims of crime will be financially compensated.

Frankly, the DA’s plan to fix the justice system seems wildly out of step with their economic policy. It is unclear where the money to employ further personnel, grant tax breaks to the private sector, and financially compensate victims of crime will come from. Their plan to rehabilitate prisoners also essentially boils down to a work programme, in which prisoners would be hired out. This plan is reminiscent of the Apartheid-era practice of hiring out prisoners, and it is unclear to what extent this will provide more options for rehabilitation than what is currently available. The one point of clarity in this dense but non-substantive policy is the DA’s plan to clean up the crime stats:

Successful crime control depends critically on being able to collate, analyse and distribute information. The DA would create a Crime Information Management System that would give the SAPS and the public access to crime statistics on the internet as crimes are reported. It would allow information to be analysed, trends identified, and detailed statistics produced. Weekly reports generated by this system would be used by the SAPS to develop specific responses to specific problems, and members of the public would be able to generate their own category-specific reports. To improve the reliability of our crime statistics, the DA would conduct a comprehensive annual victim impact study to indicate the extent to which crime reporting in particular categories matches actual incidents.[12]

The 2011/12 crime statistics are shrouded in controversy with the Institute for Security Studies pointing out significant discrepancies and errors. A crime reporting structure of this nature would be ideal, but it would require significant budget for development and training. In particular, reporting on domestic violence would assist the allocation of better budgeting for the relevant departments.

Other than the plan to clean up the crime stats, the policy makes several promises which would certainly increase the likelihood of justice for the survivors of gender-base violence and other crimes. However, other than their plan for stats, nothing else is operationally clear and realistic.


The DA’s policies and messages reveal a deep dissonance between their founding and continuing ideology (the Open Opportunity Society) that we are all individuals, and the electoral realities that the party will need to confront. South Africa is a country gripped by forces that affect entire groups, not just individuals. Refusing to acknowledge this reality stunts and limits many of the DA’s current policies and where it doesn’t, it creates strange internal contradictions.

In the last six years since Helen Zille has taken the reigns, the party has shown signs of growing up and growing out of their oppositional, reactionary rhetoric. However, many of their current policies still seem rooted in anti-ANC rhetoric and are not clear enough on operational details. Being anti-ANC seems to include a stubborn adherence to the idea of the individual as the centre. As women in South Africa, the DA does not see us as a group with distinct concerns and needs. To my mind, this negates our lived realities and does not bode well for our lives in the DA’s South Africa.

The Know your DA campaign signals a move in a specific direction. Whilst the campaign may have been tone-deaf and not quite successful, it signals a move out of the reactionary. The party still has a lot of growing, a lot of thinking and masses of writing to do, but if they are approaching these tasks from an identity that is not merely anti-ANC, then I would watch this space.


[1] Democratic Alliance. 2013. Know your DA. Available at

[3] Democratic Alliance Women’s Network. 2013. Available at

[4] News24. 2011. ANC slams Zille all male cabinet.  Available at

[5] Democratic Alliance.  2012. Achieving 8% Economic Growth: The DA’s Diagnosis of the Problem.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Democratic Alliance. 2008. Breaking the Cycle of Poverty.  Available at

[10] Davis, R.  2012. The great NGO funding crisis.  Available at

[11] Ibid.

[12] Democratic Alliance.  2008.  Conquering Fear II.  Available at


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