The DA brings out Zille to woo white voters, with ANC also on a charm offensive
DAILY MAVERICK / 04 APRIL 2019 - 11.58 / CARIEN DU PLESSIS
Former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is back in full force, and will for the first time appear in a DA campaign outside the Western Cape to address a meeting in Gauteng – about crime. The DA isn’t the only one vying to win back white support – President Cyril Ramaphosa is on a charm offensive too
Two years ago the Democratic Alliance was trying to kick out former party leader Helen Zille for insensitive tweets about colonialism, which enraged especially black supporters. Zille stuck, but just to make it seem as if the DA was doing something to sanction her, she was kept from participating in party structures and communicating on DA issues. She didn’t even attend the party’s national elections manifesto launch a few weeks ago.
Well, Helen Zille is now back, and on Thursday night she is set to address communities in Kempton Park and Ekurhuleni on crime as part of the DA’s national elections campaign. It’s the first time in this election campaign that the Western Cape premier has been hauled out to woo some voters. And she’s not even on the party’s election lists to the legislatures.
DA chief whip and Team One SA (referring to the DA’s campaign team) spokesperson on crime, John Steenhuisen, will be flanking her. According to a press release by the DA in Gauteng: “Crime is rife in the area, and the Kempton Park police station is ranked the 20thworst performing police station in South Africa.” The DA promises a “professional and honest police service”.
It doesn’t say so on the press release, but the meeting is essentially aimed at wooing white voters. It will be held in the Kempton ParkGereformeerde Kerk, or the Reformed Church, a more conservative traditionally white Afrikaans church, that ironically still doesn’t allow women to become predikante(preachers).
Party insiders say her predecessor, Tony Leon, will be next to be deployed from the party’s back-up elections arsenal.
Interestingly, Zille’s deployment comes a week after a poll showed her to be more popular than party leader Mmusi Maimane. She did the honourable thing and tweeted Maimane’s achievements, but secretly this must have been a sweet moment.
The party’s recent internal polls have shown that, in its quest to attract more voters from black communities, the DA has alienated those white voters to the right, who oppose black economic empowerment and who are concerned about security, especially for white farmers.
General polls don’t predict much growth in the DA’s vote, which seems to imply that the party isn’t making big enough inroads in attracting non-traditional voters to grow significantly. Recent by-election trends, in George, Kroonstad and Mogale City, show that the party’s support might even be falling.
Even though by-elections are a far cry from general elections, in recent months the FF Plus has made gains in three predominantly white wards across the country, while, coincidentally, the DA lost votes in those same wards. This might signal a trend, and the DA is not taking a chance. At its national manifesto launch, federal chairperson Athol Trollip bashed the FF Plus, and leaders did the same at provincial manifesto launches like in the North West and the Northern Cape in recent weeks.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the ANC is wooing white votes too. In a clumsily worded statement announcing a “conversation with our white counterparts” in Sandton, also on Thursday night, the ANC announced that President Cyril Ramaphosa would “engage with our white compatriots as part of our continuous sectoral dialogues”. The theme is “Building Bridges” (not related to an Afrikaans singer with the same surname). The wording and the concept was so reminiscent of having entrance criteria similar to visiting Orania (and who would be representing “our White compatriots” anyway?), that there was a backlash on social media. The party changed the statement, removed the race references, and posted it on the whatsapp group – before removing it again. Insiders say the event is aimed at ANC members and sympathisers as well as business people.
It’s not his first elections campaign engagement with white people. Last week Ramaphosa addressed a packed hall with South Africans living in the Greek (Hellenic), Italian and Portuguese communities, under the banner of the HIP Alliance. Fortunately for the ANC’s PR team, these white people were organised.
Like the DA, the ANC needs the white votes, and has been going hardest after them in Gauteng. Insiders say the ANC’s figures look somewhat bleak in this province (the party already lost two out of the three metros there in 2016). the party knows this, hence the almost weekly campaign by the top six big guns in various venues in the province, as well as the latching on of the party to the chaotic recent protests in Alexandra.
Many white voters have indicated that they like Ramaphosa more than his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and this means the ANC could benefit from Ramaphosa taking a chance on roping them in.
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