How world sees SA: Nation needs strong political opposition, but is DA it?

By Alec Hogg

I’ll be among the hundreds watching DA Leader Mmusi Maimane address the London School of Economics tonight. His lecture on “Protecting South Africa’s Fragile Democracy” is one of the highlights of a whistle-stop visit to the UK. The young leader of SA’s official opposition (he turned 36 this month) is guaranteed a full house – a friend who regularly attends LSE events says he was lucky to get a ticket in the traditional lottery.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.

While the firebrand Julius Malema attracted as similar attention when visiting the UK last year, as an unknown with outrageous economic ideas but a huge following, he was largely curiosity value. Maimane is taken very seriously in London, his visit co-inciding with a lengthy article today on SA in the city’s leading business magazine, The Economist, headlined “In Need of Opposition”.

Focusing on its speciality, the prestigious magazine says South Africa’s economy is “in dire shape” after GDP contracted at an annualised 1.2% in the first three months of 2016 and the Rand fell another 15% in the past year having halved in five years.

The magazine lists the “own goals” and other issues concerned South Africans keep pointing towards: a looming debt downgrade; the new visa regime making it more difficult for tourists to enter the country; last month’s passing of a controversial land distribution bill; BEE legislation that has killed fixed investment in long-term sectors like mining; inefficiencies wrought by cadre deployment – and so on.

These tables, reproduced from a major story today in The Economist, expose South Africa’s three ugly sisters. Read the full story by clicking here.

The magazine opines that DA is hoping for a breakthrough in the August municipal elections, but says it faces an uphill battle as it is perceived as a “white” party in a country that is 80% “black”. And suggests the DA’s only hope of repeating its successful Western Cape governance exercise would be by a coalition with Malema’s EFF which, The Economist says, “could be a disaster – alienating the DA’s core vote and perhaps leading to chaotic government followed by spectacular divorce.”

Maimane refuses to go there, telling the magazine “The time for talking about coalitions is after the election”. But he reveals the DA has thought about the prospect by adding the DA and EFF have worked together in Parliament and stating that if they were to do so at local level the DA “would insist on holding the jobs of mayor and municipal treasurer.”

The Economist concludes: “The DA has a golden opportunity to show South Africans that it can govern outside the Western Cape. Until it can do this, its chances of national office will remain slender. So a lot is at stake in August.” No wonder it’s standing room only tonight.

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