If the Democratic Alliance Ran South Africa

By Glenn Ashton · 22 Apr 2014

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Picture: Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille courtesy Democratic Alliance/flickr.
Picture: Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille courtesy Democratic Alliance/flickr.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in power and Zille as President. What would South Africa be like?

There are lessons to be learned from Cape Town and the Western Cape, which have been under DA control since 2006 and 2009 respectively. The party extended its majority by absorbing minority partners including the Independent Democrats (ID), handing its erstwhile leader Patricia de Lille the mayoral chain.

There was a predictable outcry in 2009 when Zille appointed a white, male-dominated provincial cabinet; six out of eleven members are white men. Only seven of the DA’s present twenty-four provincial representatives are not white. Despite Zille’s insistence that appointments were made on merit, this imbalance rankled many, including Cosatu who eventually settled with the party after launching objections in the Equality Court.

The City of Cape Town, is similarly dominated by white males. The mayoral committee consists of six white men, one white and one coloured woman and two black men. This too bears no resemblance to regional demographics.

Would a DA run national government be much different? Unlikely:  thirty-four of the sixty-seven present MPs are pale males, fifteen are white women. 73% white is hardly representative of our national demographic.

The DA’s defence of this skewed representation is that all that matters is efficiency. While DA run municipalities may provide better service delivery, this is not unexpected. It attracted numerous old National Party members and thus maintained access to experienced administrative technocrats. In some cases skills were transferred from the old guard to the new. In others, bureaucrats were appointed without due sensitivity to representivity, as long as the job gets done.

How on earth does the DA hope to persuade black voters it is not an apartheid relic when a third of its sitting MP’s still have names harking back to the Verwoerdian era, for goodness’ sake? MEC Grant Pascoe is just the latest disillusioned high-profile defection to the ANC, amongst many, leaving the DA as racially transformed as the Proteas and the Springboks.

But what does the public feel about the much touted DA led governance? The experiences of residents of the Western Cape are most instructive. Perusing the letters columns of newspapers and listening to the chatter of those engaged with government reveals a profound and increasing unhappiness with how the DA interacts with the public.

This month a DA councillor was caught, on camera, apparently assaulting a member of public who had the temerity to express dissatisfaction with his handling of planning matters. Instead of disciplinary processes being instituted, councillors and party have arrogantly closed ranks around this senior member.

Sure, the water may run and lights may be on. Service delivery may exceed other regions but that cannot disguise real grassroots dissatisfaction, from the townships to the leafy suburbs. Requests for information in terms of the Public Access to Information Act are answered late, with sketchy info. Requests for written reasons for administrative inaction in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act are ignored. When residents raise concerns they are cynically told to take their concerns to court, which hardly constitutes either participatory or co-operative governance.

It is instructive to examine how the thorny matter of planning and development has been handled in the Cape Town Metropolitan area. A consortium of developers, unhappy with the perceived tardiness of the government in processing planning applications, formed what is known as the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF).

The forum includes pretty much everyone in the local property development game, from banks to individuals. It has been singularly effective in directly influencing government policy. Both City and Province have imitated the investment friendly position assumed by centre right liberal governments in the developed world, where the path is smoothed for business while public participation is discounted and minimised.

The DA’s political name for this new policy is “a red carpet for red tape.” The doors of planning agencies have opened to developers as they have slammed shut on civil society oversight. The WCPDF is so certain of its place in the city that it states on its website that it anticipates becoming a “statutory recognised body”.

Very nice for developers, but how does this affect the broader planning and participatory imperatives?

The WCPDF initiated an unsolicited bid for a new mini-city to the north of Cape Town known as WesCape. This huge new satellite town has been roundly slated by planning experts. It falls far short of current best international practice. It promotes further urban sprawl in the mother city, which already has some of the lowest density development in the world, an absurd situation given its geographically constrained situation. Paris, around the same size as Cape Town, has more than double the population.

Wescape also flies in the face of numerous inclusively decided planning policies, including the Spatial Development Framework (SDF), the consultatively agreed to overarching planning policy document, which promotes densification over sprawl. This is not the first time that the city has condoned proposals in direct conflict with the SDF. It has over-ridden its urban edge policy, which sets firm boundaries to the city, in several controversial cases, predominantly driven by developers aligned to the WCPDF.

The most controversial of these was the recent imposition of a speculative, for-profit housing estate for middle income earners, in the midst of prime agricultural land known as the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA). The PHA is amongst the most productive farming land in the country. Provincial authorities overturned the City decision but the city appears set to appeal this after the election.

At a recent meeting with representatives from this area the mayor’s delegate declared he would “like to cover the entire area with houses” and that it “falls into a service delivery black hole.” It is remarkable how political leaders appear not to grasp the elementary basics of sustainable cities and fail to grasp that this agricultural area, which produces nearly half of the City’s fresh vegetables, should be protected.

This is all profoundly ironic given that Cape Town has assumed the mantle of World Design Capital. The authorities only seem able to grasp the concept of imposing design instead of co-designing with the public. Good design means the integration of all aspects of life, not only those with aesthetic or monetary value. In this the city continues to fail, new logo and all.

It is equally instructive how the city interfaces with civil society. Beside the unambiguous dissatisfaction of the so-called “poo protesters,” who along with other service delivery protestors represent the poorest inhabitants, there is increasing distrust and alienation between the City and residents of working, middle and upper class suburbs, from Hout Bay to Mitchells Plain and from Simonstown to Sea Point.

Much of this dissatisfaction emanates from the “growth at all costs” policy. This is because the DA, like the ANC, measures success primarily against the benchmarks of GDP and rateable income growth. This is the logical consequence of pursuing liberal economic policies and aligns neatly with business friendly initiatives like the WCPDF.

There are rumblings within the party at the top-down leadership of Zille and de Lille, as councillors who try to promote ward interests counter to DA policy are rapidly brought to heel by inflexible party discipline. While some “partnerships” with social activist groups have been attempted, they have ended in tears because of the increasingly doctrinaire and confrontational municipal governance style. There is profound discontent with both elected and administrative leaders of the city at their increasing lack of engagement with citizens – unless you are in business.

Perhaps the best indication of this authoritarian, neo-liberal, business friendly attitude is exposed in the Mayor’s formation of a Strategic Policy Unit (SPU). This is run by three young white academics (yep, white again!) with little real-life governance experience. Their views have strongly influenced the executive and align with those of the Councillor for Economic, Environment and Spatial Planning, Gareth Bloor.

Bloor revels in being the youngest member admitted to the neo-liberal linked Mont Pelerin Society. This anachronistic organisation is aligned with the discredited Austrian and Chicago schools of economics, blamed in turn for the 2008 economic meltdown through promotion of market deregulation.

Bloor’s dogma has clearly filtered through, amplified by the SPU. For instance the Economic Growth Strategy clearly supports minimising regulatory oversight. Several new and unilaterally decided policies, drafted and guided by this cabal, have emerged, including a Strategic External Relations policy and a Social policy.

The latter policy is informative; its results have begun to manifest. The City recently proposed to strictly enforce by-laws, forcing street people to relocate to quasi “Kibbutz” zones in the Philippi area or face criminal sanction. This social engineering has been heavily criticised. It pursues similar lines to the outlaw tendencies of the City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit, which legal commentator Pierre de Vos said acted like vigilantes, breaking the rule of law and going so far as to cite an imaginary, fabricated law to evict squatters.

The DA also apparently fails to recognise the irony of its attacks on the ANC for inflating employment figures by citing job opportunities arising out of the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP), when it has pulled exactly the same trick in the Western Cape. It conveniently ignores that its own job growth and poverty reduction success are significantly due to national government social grants and EPWP opportunities. Such is the nature of political opportunism.

Gareth Bloor is now headed towards Parliament. If the DA wins the elections he would be well placed to impose his discredited and outdated neo-conservative economic policies on the whole country, perpetuating apartheid-era economic privileges. Meantime, Cape Town civics and NGOs breathe a sigh of relief as they prepare to reconstruct their shattered participatory democratic space.

But beware: Should the DA prevail in the national elections the stench of sewage on the streets of Cape Town may be headed to a town near you.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at Ekogaia - Writing for a Better World. Follow him on Twitter @ekogaia.

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22 Apr

Successful 'DA'

Obviously the DA could be more successful, so lets replace them with the freedom front who will get rid of 'affirmheid', which the 91% majority requires to protect themselves from the minority 9% whites.

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29 Apr

So, Its Just Race?

So, the gist of the problem is the DA is not "representative" of the national demographics? WC is mainly white and coloured. And ANC leadership is so far from "demographic representivity" its just not funny. Can I get a paid job with SACSIS for writing SACSIS that the ANC is "too black"?

Mike Thurgood Verified user
22 Apr

What If the DA Was Running SA?

I am not going to pretend, foolishly or otherwise, to know what is in WC Premier and DA Leader Helen Zille's mind. But when the DA took over power in the Western Cape from the ANC in 2009, there were, as far as I am aware, no blacks in this province with the sort of personality that is required for good politicians and administrators. And that to me would have been a major problem to deal with. Hence Zille's appointments were predominantly whites. All very unfortunate, but that is the historical situation that has tended to prevail in the Western Cape.

That situation is changing now. It certainly has done so in other provinces which are predominantly black, although my memory isn't good enough to be able to run their names off the tips of my fingers. But just look at Mazibuko for starters, the DA's parliamentary leader. And how the ANC parliamentarians hate her for daring to belong to the DA, for her magnificent English speaking voice, for her intellect and strong personality and, by Hecuba, she knows what she's saying into the bargain. Yes, how those small minded ANC parliamentarians hate her! Zuma has even tried his silly intimidating tactics on her, because she's supposed to be a submissive woman in his eyes, all to no avail.

If the DA can accumulate a black membership of the same calibre as hers, there should not be any problem with the DA running the country. It's rather narrow minded to believe otherwise.

The reality with finding blacks of the right sort of calibre has been the appalling failure of the education system over the 20 years that the ANC has been in power.

But I am not going to suggest that the DA is in any way perfect, far from it. I have noted an authoritarian attitude from the CoCT, which I believe emanates primarily from Mayor Patricia de Lille. Well, she is not likely to remain Mayor for ever, any more than Zille will remain WC Premier - personalities inevitably change. And it must not be forgotten that the DA is, as is also the ANC, a political party, although a major difference between the two is that the ANC historically will never escape from its origins as a fighting/struggle organisation. Hence its continued emphasis on all things revolutionary, rather than evolutionary and developmental. And that attitude will be its inevitable downfall - just give it time.

But, at the same time, one cannot escape from the opinions from various sources that the Western Cape is the best run province, both administratively and developmentally, and with the least corruption. However, the DA cannot claim that they have escaped from the phenomenon of wasteful expenditure, primarily on contracts with organisations whose leading personalities seem to have something sinister to hide.

A final point, about improving the conditions in the poor townships. This is obviously a very costly exercise, and it remains a very sore point, but it isn't helped by the continued influx of black migrants - or whatever is the accepted buzzword - from the Eastern Cape, who seem to believe that they have priority rights over our own local population who have been waiting for service delivery for 10 to 15 years. But, of course, it's a convenient point for the ANC to be able to latch on to in its political campaigning for the forthcoming elections.

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23 Apr

If the DA run SA

I strongly believe that when someone wants something so badly they would do anything to impress. The DA boasting about the WC. For starters they have inherited a well established province for an apartheid era. The people of the WC mainly the white and coloured community have not accepted that black people also have the right to live and work in the WC. Yes they will only allow those blacks that like the previous speaker was talking about who can speak well like Lindewe. I have heard and seen how the race cards are played in the WC. The DA will have to transform but it will be hard for Zille to move because she is working hard on her personal achievement to be SA president

25 Apr

If the DA Run South Africa

"...no blacks in this province with the sort of personality that is required for good politicians and administrators. And that to me would have been a major problem to deal with. Hence Zille's appointments were predominantly whites. All very unfortunate, but that is the historical situation that has tended to prevail in the Western Cape."

The neo-liberal mindset. 'Nuff said.

26 Apr

No Blacks

There were no blacks in the entire western cape when Zille took over? Really?

23 Apr

Colour Blind

Really?! And still the same old song is sung over and over.

"kom oor dit!"

I have lived in a colourless working environment out of choice.

I do not care what the colour of your skin is but can you do the job or should you get a job because of your skin and not your abilities.

Julle almal is kamstig in die nuwe Suid Afrika. But still you sing the same old songs. And we the youth of this nation must listen to this crap and see how you are failing our country. Look at the rand dollar. When ever our government opens its mouth it just worsens.

It's not about the colour, its about a bunch of idiots that are trying to run a country into the dirt.

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Ziyad Franks
25 Apr

DA in Cape / ANC in Jozi

Cool...drive a while on Jozi roads...your CDs bounce in the CD player they are so uneven...

Service delivery and homes to disadvantaged...not cool...

Transport system, barely operational...

Traffic and street lights...many dark patches...roads aren't painted...

So what would you prefer, dysfunctional ANC living in chaos, or a well run city...

Educate the less fortunate and train them to deliver exceptional service...

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Rory Verified user
26 Apr

A Non-racial South Africa

A non-racial South Africa where your humanity comes first is what I have always wanted for our country and thanks to 1994 that is the frame within which I am more and more able to live. But unfortunately the public space, including this article unfortunately, and much of what the ANC government does, as opposed to what it lays claim to, is not in that space. Thus an individual's competence to do a job, is what matters to me, and us all in reality, and it is not their racial origins.

Unfortunately our country's history has meant that many unreformed people's racial prejudices, whatever race they themselves belong to, influences their judgements particularly when it comes to appointments to positions of some public prominence. Particularly is this the case when the person is, in their assessment, not going to be personally effected by the appointment of the individual concerned. A consequence of this situation is that many public positions have been filled by race not by competence to the detriment of everybody else including the poor who are completely dependent on the quality of public services.

The ANC government itself recognised that it could least afford, in the tax department, the kind of disruption that this approach to public appointments produces, so that department was left largely unscathed and that is why the efficacy of tax collection has only continued to improve. It is a pity that the government could not be as colour blind in other areas of governance, we would as a country, be in a much, much, better space than we are right now.

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26 Apr

Time to Move on from Racial Stereotyping and Focus on Performance

The DA are not perfect certainly and there is much room for improvement but they are currently streets ahead of the present day ANC. So if the ANC continue on their current path, then the sooner the DA increase their influence on the country the better for everyone. And lets stop condemning people because of their race. If they are doing a good job then it doesn't matter what racial group they come from, they deserve to be there. Likewise if they are doing bad job they need to be removed irrespective of race. Of course we all want a society and government that is racially representative of the country and if we create the right conditions for people to uplift themselves both economically and educationally, this will happen.

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