I received a long text message from a friend, who is also a strategic sector professional and head of a highly specialised entity in South Africa, over the weekend, lamenting the state of things in the country.

He went on to correctly list many of the things that have gone wrong – things that have come to dominate our braai and dinner conversations – especially in the past ten years; then he spoke about the opportunity costs for the country before, irony of ironies, he ended the message with:

“…but being the conservative that I am, [DA spokesperson Natasha Mazzone]’s recent heart-rending speech in parliament about Eskom and the ANC is still not enough for me to vote DA. And I am not ready to vote EFF yet. I will vote for ANC for the last time, hoping it will change.”

The change many fear

I had not spoken to the said friend for a while, so I wondered why he made the unexpected appearance when he did and chose me to discuss that particular topic, as if I had been asking him to vote for the DA. A bit of me began to feel defensive, but only for a moment. But that was before I remembered that I had recently shared the video clip of Mazzone’s address on a social media platform.

Upon further exchanges, he wrote this:

“I have difficulty in switching loyalty, but I will decide when in the ballot box. Last time I had been impressed by Juju’s manifesto and I wanted to try EFF, but when I saw a long line of white voters in my polling station, sentiments made me vote ANC…”

The mind jump between the ANC and the DA

My friend is not the only one to express sentiments of the nature he shared.

There are many others out there, especially Blacks who are old enough to have known apartheid. Some people will remember the angry outburst by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, back in 2009, when the government refused to grant an entry Visa to the Tibetan Spiritual Leader, the Dalai Lama, after he had been invited to attend Tutu’s 80thbirthday celebration in South Africa.

Instead of threatening to vote for the DA or another party in the coming elections at the time, Tutu threatened to abstain from voting. Many observers saw this as an opportunity lost.

The coming elections pose a major headache for many South Africans of all backgrounds, Blacks in general and many Whites, who would like to give Cyril Ramaphosa a chance but do not want the ANC he leads, for all the reasons we already know.

Faced with the impossibility of seeing Ramaphosa separating from the ANC to form his own party that they would support with clearer consciences – a wish many have expressed – many are left with imagining him standing for alone on the ballot paper and representing the ideals they believe he shares with them, as that seems to make them feel better about supporting him despite his current position.

But we all know that a cross next to the face of president Cyril Ramaphosa on the 2019 ballot paper will be a cross for Ace Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane, Fikile Mbalula, Bathabile Dlamini, Gwede Mantashe, Malusi Gigaba, Faith Muthambi, and several others we had hoped would be eliminated from the ANC’s candidate list by the party’s much touted Integrity Commission.

But again, we also know that the said Integrity Commission cannot pass any ruling it makes past Secretary-General Ace Magashule, he who still has to account for hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds that had been budgeted to fund emerging black farmers in the Free State and ended-up in the bank accounts of the Guptas and being used, in part, to fund a lavish wedding party attended by the who’s who of our discredited political class and SOE officials in Sun City.

South Africa needs a credible alternative

The other side of the coin, as indicated in the sentiments expressed by my friend, above, and not-so-directly, by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, has to do with the frustration faced by many for a credible alternative political program for South Africa.

Going by the manifesto launched by the Democratic Alliance a few weeks ago, there must be something in it for South Africa to work with in order to rebuild, but the DA faces a major image huddle of its own. And this is the line that many older Blacks would like to flirt with but fear deeply.

Clearly, while the DA has made huge strides in penetrating the “black voter market” in recent years, the election of Mmusi Maimane, a black man, as party leader, and that of other Blacks to lead other party structures has failed to convince many older Blacks that the DA of today is no longer the Democratic Party (DP) of yesterday.

It is either this or that levels of cynicism that exist vis-à-vis the DA’s bona fides will need a lot more than the changes we have seen in this party to reverse and eliminate them.

Many Blacks keep expressing the fear that Maimane might just be a puppet of more powerful forces behind the DA, especially Whites who remain opposed to transformation even when they realise that their party will not grow into a significant political force without broad-based black support.

Options for the Democratic Alliance

The DA can either stop focusing on this ageing population of black voters and direct its energy and resources to young South Africans, many of whom are children of the former, as they are the future and have, on the whole, demonstrated the kind of openness that is not tainted by their parents’ experience of apartheid.

This is particularly the case for young black middle-class South Africans. This approach would require a long-term plan, as more time would be needed for the DA to be fully integrated in ‘black minds’ as a normal party that should be accepted like all others, but one with an attractive program to build a diverse, united, South Africa where the ANC has failed.

Another approach would be for the DA to invest in a complete rebranding process, and by this I do not mean the usual changing of logos and colours, but one whose aim would be to teach more South Africans about what the party really stands for, its medium-to-long-term Brand Vision and Values, as well as how everyone of its programs will be underpinned by these considerations.

This latter approach would enable the DA to plant a seed that will one day be a big tree that will offer a shade many more South Africans can enjoy; and the mind jump between where it sits today, vis-à-vis where the ANC sits, would probably be a lot shorter for those who have begun to contemplate it today but still fear making the leap.