Helen Zille is running unopposed for a new term as head of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Her tougher task is to win enough support from the country’s black majority to challenge the ruling African National Congress.
“They need to attract black leaders who will appeal to the black masses,” Prince Mashele, executive director at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Politics and Research, said in a Nov. 21 interview. “They need to acknowledge that South Africa’s racialized history has twisted the economic circumstances in the country and they need a plan to rectify this.”
As the only nominee, Zille, 61, is guaranteed to win a second five-year term at a two-day congress that starts today in Johannesburg. She’s chalked up some success, seeing the DA’s share of the vote jump to 16.7 percent in 2009 from 12.4 percent five years earlier. It also won a majority in Cape Town’s Western Cape province, making her the premier there, and took 23.9 percent of the vote in municipal elections last year.
Still, 12 years after it was formed, five of her party’s nine leaders are white. The racial group makes up 9 percent of the population and earns on average six times more than blacks, according to a census released by Statistics South Africa last month. The party’s leader in parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, is black.
The DA was formed in 2000 by a merger of the Democratic Party and the New National Party, whose predecessor ruled under apartheid. The two movements split the following year and NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk formed an alliance with the ANC.
Zille has urged other opposition groups to unite against the ANC, which draws most of its support from blacks after leading the fight against white-minority rule and holds a two- thirds majority in Parliament. The Independent Democrats, a party led by Cape Town’s mayor Patricia de Lille that won less than 1 percent of the vote in 2009, last year agreed to merge with the DA.
Zille called in September for a “realignment” of South African politics, urging those who believed in “values of non- racialism, constitutionalism and a market-driven economy” to unite against the ANC’s “populism.” The ruling party’s policies will push the country into the “abyss of absolute poverty,” she said.
South Africa’s economy is struggling, hit by three months of mining strikes, rising unemployment and downgrades by credit- rating companies.
The rand fell to a more than three-year low of 9.0092 per dollar on Nov. 21 and has plunged 9.3 percent this year, the second-worst performer of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. It was trading at 8.9193 a dollar at 8:40 a.m. in Johannesburg. The cost to protect South African debt against non-payment for five years using credit-default swaps rose 20 basis points to 167 in the past month, indicating deteriorating risk perception among investors, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last month cut the forecast for economic growth this year to 2.5 percent, the slowest pace since a recession in 2009.
“There’s no doubt that the DA will grow,” Mashele said. “I don’t see them really as causing a political earthquake and challenging the ANC in a serious way.”
The DA has won some battles against the government. The Constitutional Court last month ruled in its favor when it challenged President Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, South Africa’s chief prosecutor, arguing it was invalid because of his lack of experience and he misrepresented facts in an inquiry into the conduct of his predecessor, Vusi Pikoli.
The ANC on Nov. 21 also agreed to schedule a parliamentary debate on a motion of no confidence in Zuma after the DA went to court to force lawmakers to discuss the motion. Initially, the ANC called the request “frivolous” and “based solely on spurious allegations rather than facts,” according to a Nov. 14 statement.
The ruling party, which is holding its own leadership conference next month, is now suggesting that the debate be held in February.
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