Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One of the things that surprised me about Patricia de Lille was her decision to form a new party rather than to join the DA. In fact, if this report is to be believed, the DA made a considerable effort to woo her over but was stymied by her insistence that she be rewarded with either the Premiership of the Western Cape or Mayor of Cape Town.

So, is the formation of the Independent Democrats simply part of an extended courtship? If de Lille manages to win a respectable share of the vote, she'll become even more attractive to the DA (not to mention a considerable threat) and might therefore be in a position to extract major concessions from them. Not a bad strategy, really, but the problem is that after all the rhetorical abuse that has flown between the DA and IDs recently, I'd imagine that there are a number of people, on both sides, who'd be deeply opposed to any putative alliance or amalgamation. The DA may yet live to rue the day that they let de Lille get away.

This points, of course, to the problem with opposition politics in South Africa - it is largely driven be ego and personality. Think of Peter Marais, Buthelezi, Bantu Holomisa, de Lille, Leon etc etc. With the exception of Leon, all of these people are larger than the parties that they lead. Their media profile and presence on the national stage depends upon their independence and ability to be their own person. But if opposition politics is really going to take off in SA, the 'personalities' are going to have to bow to party principle and accept a lower profile role. Is this likely or even possible? On the basis of the emergence of the ID's I'd have to answer in the negative. As long as the Holomisa's and de Lille's of the world are able to float the mirage of an opposition able to take on the ANC and as long as the South African electorate displays the sort of political immaturity that it has by supporting such chimaeras, there will be an incentive for high profile figures to go their own way whenever they feel that they are not getting what they want. And of course the problem really is that none of these people are actually expanding the size of the opposition vote, they're simply competing with each other to carve it up differently.

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