FOR the first time since taking power 16 years
ago, the African National Congress (ANC) is feeling rattled. Not that it worries about losing control of the national government. But the pesky little Democratic Alliance (DA) is yapping at its
heels in the run-up to local polls due next year. The DA was formed ten years ago in an improbable merger of Helen Suzman’s anti-apartheid Democratic Party (DP) with the former ruling National
Party, which had been renamed the New National Party.
The centre-right DA is the only party that has gained ground in every general election since apartheid
ended. The DP, its predecessor, won just 1.7% of the vote and seven parliamentary seats in 1994. Last year the DA got nearly 17%, up from 12% in 2004, giving it 67 seats in the 400-seat parliament
and confirming it as the country’s official opposition. Its closest rival, with just 7% of the vote and 30 seats, was the new Congress of the People (COPE), an ANC breakaway that had been expected
to do better. But the mainstream ANC romped home just short of a two-thirds majority, leaving competitors to wonder if the ruling party could ever be ousted.
With dogged patience, Helen Zille, the DA’s leader (pictured above), hopes to defeat the ANC “ward by ward,
city by city”, setting an example of integrity, good governance and efficient services. Her party started with Cape Town, wresting it from the ANC in 2006 and installing Ms Zille, a former
journalist and anti-apartheid activist, as mayor. Last year the DA took control of the Western Cape, its first provincial conquest. Since then, it has been steadily clocking up local by-election
successes across the country and is confident of further gains in next year’s municipal elections.
Widely regarded (and derided) as a “white” party, the DA has been striving to expand its support beyond the
9% of the population that is white—with some success. Its victory in the Western Cape was largely due to a surge in votes from coloureds (people of mixed race), who make up around 60% of the
province’s population. With some minor privileges under apartheid, many coloureds voted for the National Party in 1994 for fear of being swamped by a hegemonic black majority.
About a third of the DA’s MPs are non-white. But the party still struggles to attract the black vote,
three-quarters of the total electorate. Despite increasing criticism of the ANC government’s failings, most black people refuse to break their bond with the former liberation party. Barely 2% of
black people voted for the DA last year.
Ms Zille says she is ready to make way for a good black leader. But there is no evidence he or she would
attract more votes. The blonde, hard-working, Xhosa-speaking Ms Zille is popular across all groups in the Western Cape. Her courage in standing up to black paternalistic authority is particularly
admired among black women. Under increasingly virulent and sexist attacks from ANC members—she has been accused of being a “racist”, a “wild whore” and a “cockroach”—she gives as good as she