🔒Dirk Hartford: DA set for shift to ‘centre-left’ via R1bn, Roger Jardine and friends

In South Africa’s post-apartheid political scene, there’s buzz about a R1 billion funding boost for Roger Jardine, ex-FirstRand Chair, to lead the DA. Initially resisted by DA’s Helen Zille and John Steenhuizen, they seem to have yielded to the financial sway. With a rich history in ANC activism, government, and business, Johannesburg’s Jardine joins forces with activists Mark Heywood and ANC’s Mavuso Msimang, potentially revolutionizing the political landscape. As Jardine nudges the DA towards a “centre-left” stance, similar to Rise Mzansi’s, this move questions whether it can draw ANC supporters and challenge the ANC/EFF hold in the upcoming elections. This shift could redefine opposition strategies and offer a new choice against the ANC/EFF coalition.

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By Dirk Hartford


Although not yet officially confirmed, it appears that the funding block behind the rumoured R1 billion bid to have recently retired FirstRand chairman Roger Jardine parachuted into the leadership of DA-headed opposition has been successful.

The DA’s Helen Zille and John Steenhuizen apparently surrendered to the idea with the funding gun at their head. The new leadership for the DA’s election campaign will be inaugurated at an event this coming weekend in Riverlea – the Johannesburg township where Jardine hails from.

While Jardine’s name will have little resonance among the masses, he comes from a dyed-in-the-wool ANC family (his father, Bill Jardine, was a major figure in anti-apartheid sport inside the country in the 1980s), and he has an impeccable record as an activist, civil servant and businessman. 

Jardine was the country’s youngest-ever Director General of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology under Nelson Mandela at age 29. He holds an MSc in Radiological Physics and has had a meteoric business career.

Already seasoned activist and ex-member of Inquaba Ya Basebenzi (the Marxist worker’s faction of the ANC in the 80s and 90s), Mark Heywood has put up his hand to join Jardine. 

Heywood, alongside his former comrade in Inquaba Ya Basebenzi Zachie Achmat, has been at the centre of almost all the successful civil society initiatives in post-apartheid South Africa. The Treatment Action (TAC), Equal Education and Ground-up campaigns amongst others.

He and Achmat, currently running as an independent in next year’s elections, are among the most well-known and admired leaders in the NGO sector and certainly have impeccable track records for “doing good” in a democratic South Africa.

Mavuso Msimang, the highly respected ANC veteran who threw in his towel with the ANC last week, is also expected to join them next weekend.

They will be joining a trickle of activists from the ANC, including the head of then-president Thabo Mbeki’s Administration, Lucille Meyer, who has recently quietly joined the DA. Meyer, who leads the DA’s flagship youth training project in the Western Cape, Chrysalis Academy, also has an outstanding leadership track record in government.

The big question going forward in this high-risk gambit for the DA is whether these leaders will indeed become a positive pole of attraction for many other thoroughly disillusioned ANC activists of old to cross over and join up.

The strategy would be to do what Malema’s EFF is already doing – to “eat the ANC elephant chunk by chunk” in his memorable description. 

In addition to well-known names like ex-corrupt Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Zuma spokesman Mzwanele Manyi, the EFF has also recently been joined by ANC NEC/RET stalwart Magasele Mzobe and Ukhozi fm radio legend Linda Sibiya.

The blocks potentially up for the taking in the new look DA could include the ANC Veterans League under the leadership of Snuki Zikalala. They are already fed up with the ANC leadership ignoring its directives concerning those whom the Zondo Commission has fingered for corruption. Msimang was also a long-time deputy president of the Veterans League.

Then there are the erstwhile leaders of the UDF/Cosatu mass democratic movement alliance from the 80s who recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UDF. They include the likes of Alan Boesak (even though he boycotted the commemoration), Trevor Manuel, Popo Molefe, Valli Moosa, Jay Naidoo, Alec Erwin, and possibly even Terror Lekota.

Activists like these – and many more well-known names – formed the collective leadership corps that the likes of Ebrahim Patel, Enoch Godongdwana, Pravin Gordham and Cyril Ramaphosa emerged from. They are all thoroughly disgusted with the ANC, and their dreams that Ramaphosa would somehow lead the ANC out of the corrupt, stinking morass it is mired in have been shattered.

But publicly leaving the ANC and joining a DA-led initiative is another thing for this bunch – certainly under the Zille/Steenhuizen leadership. But perhaps the Roger Jardine initiative will begin to constitute a more acceptable and robust pole of attraction for them. They would certainly provide a big fillip to the DA’s election chances in the future if they did.

Apparently, Jardine’s leadership emphasis for the DA and its allies will be “centre-left”. This is the space that the socially democratic-oriented Rise Mzansi under Songezo Zibi seeks to occupy.

Rise Mzansi has already successfully attracted a bunch of rank-and-file UDF stalwarts behind its banner and is making inroads amongst a new generation of young activists. It has no interest, pre-elections, in any kind of coalition and is stressing a return to a grassroots, from the bottom-up, style of organising. 

A recent Rise Mzansi meeting in Kalk Bay attracted about 30 well-known activists from the trade unions and UDF in the 80s.

Meanwhile, Herman Mashaba’s Action SA went to his home turf in Hammanskraal a week ago to launch his party’s election campaign. Like Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance launch a week before, it was a flop.

One can only hope that the DA’s new initiative with Jardine et al will go some way to solving the leadership crisis that all these opposition parties are suffering and start to constitute a genuine pole of attraction for all those opposed to the ANC/EFF both in the run-up to next year’s elections and also in the coalitions established afterwards.

PS – After this story was put to bed early Sunday morning, I encountered a different version in the Sunday Times’s front page lead story. My source – as close as can possibly be to Roger Jardine in the current situation – put a different spin on it than the Sunday Times, who said Jardine’s agreement with the DA was NOT a done deal. Let’s wait and see. Maybe Jardine’s launch this weekend (according to the Sunday Times) will be a flop like so many other “launches” recently. Or maybe it will be the beginning of Jardine becoming a de facto “leader” of the DA and its alliance parties in the months leading up to next year’s elections. I can’t vouch for the details of what has transpired between the DA and Jardine till now, but the overall trends and dilemmas for SA’s main opposition party remain valid. – DH

PPS – If the DA needs, as it definitely does, a black South African leader with deep resonance with all South Africans to be their titular presidential head, then they could do worse than approach Siya Kolisi or Trevor Noah or even DJ Fresh. Just saying.

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