South Africa: Sleeping with the Enemy. (Countryfile)

By Nevin, Tom | African Business, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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South Africa: Sleeping with the Enemy. (Countryfile)

Nevin, Tom, African Business

In one of the most astonishing U-turns in South African history, deadly political and battlefield foes have joined forces. The New National Party (NNP), erstwhile the National Parry that ruled apartheid South Africa from 1948 to 1994, and the African National Congress, the spearhead of a bloody crusade for black freedom, have formed a political pact in a turn of events that will change forever the country's political landscape whether for good or bad is anybody's guess.

The unlikely courtship took place amid the ruins of the Democratic Alliance (DA), a marriage of convenience between the Democratic Parry (DP) and the NNP to strengthen the opposition voice in parliament. That union fell apart over something as seemingly inconsequential as the renaming of two of Cape Town's streets.

Fat In the fire

The city's mayor, NNP's Peter Marais, wanted to change the names of Adderley Street to Nelson Mandela Avenue, and Wale Street to FW de Klerk Avenue. The intention was honourable, but the DA was not sure if the move was supported by the majority of Capetonians and ordered a yea-or-nay poll.

The far was in the fire when Marais was caught allegedly cooking the books to ensure that the results of the poll supported the change. A disgruntled member of the mayor's staff apparently blew the whistle and the volatile Tony Leon, leader of the DP and the DA, immediately moved to have the mayor fired.

Party political fences were quickly erected and the DA virtually split into its old allegiances, with some notable exceptions. The NNP closed ranks around its mayor and stood firm against the DP's onslaughts. Leon and the chief of the NNP, Marius van Schalkwyk, traded accusation and insult on a daily basis as the alliance rapidly unravelled.

Not without reason, the two leaders are known as Short-Fuse Leon and Kortbroek (short pants) Van Schalkwyk because of his youthful appearance. The mayor was suspended for a period through pressure of the superior numbers of DP officials in the alliance, and this hastened the DA's end.

SA's bewildering politics

It is indicative of the bewildering state of South African politics that the system appears to be impervious to allegations of massive impropriety in the R50bn arms procurement deal, and yet a once-robust and determined opposition can be eviscerated and brought to its knees over street name changes which, in fact, better historically represented the triumph of South Africa over its apartheid past.

Political middle ground is a rarity in South Africa; all or nothing is the order of the day. In a last ditch attempt to stop the NNP from incorporating with the ANC, Western Cape premier Gerald Morkel went to the Cape high court seeking an interdict to block the NNP's bid to amend its constitution to allow it to split from the DP. The court rejected the application and the DA's fate was sealed. Morkel had been in court the previous day, this time to restore his membership of the NNP, voided after he opposed the parry's move to join the ANC. Even though he won that particular round, Morkel now seems headed for the political wilderness.

The NNP's court victory opened the way for merger talks to begin in earnest and they started the same day. Before the week was our, an ANC-led coalition was in place and the DP was relegated to 'voice of the opposition'. The ANC now controls eight of South Africa s nine provinces, KwaZulu-Natal the only one still holding our against the Thabo Mbeki-led juggernaut.

In the demise of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa follows the African pattern in its inability to mount a cohesive, credible and strong opposition. Parry infighting based on cultural, traditional and political ideology make differences irreconcilable and unity impossible. In this case, a healthy dollop of intransigence and pig-headedness added to deadly mix.

As the DA edifice began to crumble, office bearers watched in alarm fearful of losing their parry-nominated positions in the administration.

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