South Africa: The DA comes of age

Aiming for 30% in 2013, the Democratic Alliance elects a 31-year old black woman as parliamentary Leader.

The Leader of South Africa's official opposition Democratic Alliance remains Helen Zille, but the meteoric rise of youthful black Lindiwe Mazibuko to the post of the Leader in parliament gives the party a sporting chance of hitting its target 30% national support by the next general election.

Scornfully referred to as Helen Zille's "tea girl" by Julius Malema, she brings star performing charisma and a sharp wit to the fray. Ever quick, Mazibuko responded with "He's not even an elected public representative. What is he offering us besides sensational headlines?" reported the Telegraph.

Lindiwe Mazibuko is an educated, articulate and internet savvy politician with brief experience yet huge ambition. She was elected into the post after endorsement from Zille, and beat an incumbent political heavyweight Athol Trollip in a tight race.

The centrist liberal DA has persistently gained ground at every election since full democracy arrived in 1994, results of which were as follows:

2009 2,945,829 votes (16.66%) and 67 seats out of a total of 400 in the National Assembly. Official Opposition to the ANC, and also the winner and thus forming the provincial government in Western Cape.

2004 1,931,201 votes (12.37%) and 50 seats. Official Opposition nationally.

1999 1,527,337 votes (9.56%) and 38 seats. Official Opposition nationally.

1994 338,426 votes (1.73%) and 7 seats.

The ANC has lost ground recently, and now faces several serious opposition parties apart from the DA itself. The most prominent of these are COPE, an ANC splinter group with 30 seats, and the IFP, a KwaZulu-Natal regionally focussed party with 18 seats. Nine other small parties hold a total of 21 seats between them. But the ANC dominates the political scene at national level, with 264 out of a possible 400 National Assembly seats. Its support becomes progressively weaker the further west it gets, the reverse being true for the DA. 

However, both the ANC and the Democratic Alliance are truly nation-wide operations, picking up support and seats right across the country. Lindiwe Mazibuko is the MP for North Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, Helen Zille is the Premier of the Western Cape and Athol Trollip is the DA's leader in Eastern Cape as well as being an MP in the National Assembly.

Should the DA achieve its target of 30% of the popular vote at the next national election, how long would it take to wrestle power from the ANC?

To effect change to the Constitution of South Africa, a party (or collection of parties) must command the support of three-quarters of the members of the National Assembly. With the ANC now down to that borderline, it might get progressively difficult for it to prolong its dominance of the country's political scene indefinitely. The DA's performance in 2013 will be key, therefore, to thwarting any undemocratic aspirations certain ANC elements might quietly have. 

It might take two or even three elections for the DA to gain power, but government might be a realistic hope if not dashed by constitutional change.

Race remains a powerful factor in South African life these days, unfortunately. So it's vital to mention that the fact the DA's youth wing is dominated by black South Africans augers well for this hitherto white-controlled liberal party. 

The avid-tweeting Lindiwe Mazibuko clearly appreciates the huge influence new media and social networking can have in effecting attitudinal change.

So, could we really at last be witnessing something remarkable in South Africa: the burgeoning of genuine competition and pluralism in politics?

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