South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), says it wants to prevent the ruling African National Congress (ANC) from winning a two-thirds majority in parliament in elections scheduled for April 22nd. DA officials are strongly opposed to the allegedly corrupt ANC leader Jacob Zuma becoming South Africa's next president but seem resigned to it happening. At the country's last polls, the DA received more than 12 percent of votes cast. This time it's aiming for 15 percent.
Makashule Gana's eloquence belies his youth. At just 25 years of age, the young man with the ready smile is one of the Democratic Alliance's rising stars in what is one of the richest part of South Africa, Gauteng.
In the run-up to what many analysts see as the country's most important elections since its first democratic polls in 1994, Gana has been "tramping the province flat" in an effort to win support for the party, which many of his compatriots still see as being largely controlled by whites.
The face of the DA is a feisty white woman, Helen Zille. But, says Gana, "more and more blacks" are losing faith in the ANC, mostly because of the Jacob Zuma "whitewash," and are declaring support for the DA's "strong anti-corruption stand."
South African investigators had
accused Zuma of various charges related to alleged graft with regard to a
multimillion dollar arms deal. But prosecutors have decided not to pursue the case against the likely president, despite a lot of evidence previously led in court that Zuma had received bribes from a French arms manufacturer.
Bad white people, good white people
VOA caught up with Gana on the campaign trail at a restaurant in central Johannesburg. He said he'd abandoned the ANC for the DA because of the official opposition's "non-racial" policies.
"The ANC was talking more about defining 'blacks' as separate from the rest of the country. The ANC never said, 'This is what I am going to do for you as a person.' It always said, 'This is what I am going to do for you as a black….' First and foremost, I am an individual. And the DA stresses the point that the individual comes before a group. And that appealed to me," Gana explained.
But at some of the ANC's pre-election rallies, ruling party leaders have repeatedly attacked the DA for consisting mainly of "disaffected, white racists" and "token blacks." They say it is "not a truly South African party."
"That's the problem that I had with the ANC and that I'll continue to have with the ANC," Gana replied. "Just because you might have a certain white person out there who displays racist tendencies, it does not make every white person a racist. You've got good white people, you've got bad white people – inasmuch as you've got good black people and you've got bad black people."
Another argument frequently rolled out by the ANC against the DA is that the party is "elitist" and only interested in improving conditions for South Africa's white minority. Again, Gana rejects the contention. He points to the city of Cape Town, where the DA controls the local government, and rattles off the names of various areas where the DA has built houses for "mostly black people and colored (mixed race) people."
He says the number of black people who support the DA far exceeds those who vote for parties with almost exclusively black membership in South Africa.
"If you look at the Cape metro, we have done away with…. little cliques. We are united in serving the people. That's why the Western Cape is South Africa's most efficient province in terms of service delivery. That's why Helen Zille has been elected the best mayor in the world," Gana says.
In October last year, the DA leader was awarded the 2008 World Mayor prize by City Mayors, an international urban affairs think tank.
Fifteen percent 'realistic'
Gana says he's "come to terms with the fact" that Zuma is going to be South Africa's next president, before adding that "realistically" the "best" the DA can hope for is to win 15 percent of the votes cast at the polls, thereby preventing the ANC from winning a two-thirds majority in parliament. If the DA fails in its mission, Gana's concerned that the ANC will "override" the constitution in order to protect its members, most notably Zuma, from possible criminal prosecution.
In a recent speech, Zille stated that since Zuma was elected ANC president in 2007, the ruling party had "systematically abused its two-thirds majority in parliament to shield Zuma and to further his narrow interests and those of his cabal. The ANC abused its majority to kill off the Scorpions, because the unit had investigated Zuma and other members of his closed, crony circle. The ANC abused its majority to ratify the dismissal of Advocate Vusi Pikoli, the former national director of public prosecutions, because it knew it couldn't persuade Pikoli to drop the charges against Zuma."
Gana said he "couldn't agree more" with Zille's sentiments.
"Having so much power corrupts a party, because then it becomes a law unto itself. It knows it answers to no one but itself and so can then change constitutions or whatever in order to protect it and its members."
ANC leaders deny that they'll amend the law if their party sweeps the polls with a large majority.
But Gana maintains he's "extremely worried" about the "types of characters" that Zuma as president will surround himself with.
"Zuma owes an awful lot of people an awful lot of things, because they have supported him all along as he ousted (former president) Thabo Mbeki and fought corruption charges," Gana said. "Many of these characters are dubious, to say the least."
COPE not coping
Gana commented that it was "plain wrong" to think that South Africa's newest political party, the Congress of the People (or COPE) would "play into the hands" of the ANC and end up weakening the DA by taking opposition votes away from the party.
"The emergence of COPE is an opportunity for us. People have come to realize that you don't have to be with the ANC to show you are patriotic about the country…. But I don't think it's going to change much in terms of the voting for this election," Gana told VOA.
He said it was "much too soon" for COPE to "eat into the DA's traditional support base" as the new party hadn't had enough time to "build capacity" and was so far "not coping" with the challenge of attracting mass support.
Gana agreed that COPE's initial projection of winning 51 percent of the vote was "optimistic in the extreme."
He hinted, though, that his party and COPE could in the future unite in an alliance that would "further strengthen" opposition to the ANC.
Gana predicted that the ANC would "only feel a small pinch during these elections, but I think it will really feel opposition in the 2014 general elections.