Democratic Alliance (South Africa)

The Democratic Alliance (Afrikaans: Demokratiese Alliansie) (DA) is a South African political party and the official opposition to the governing African National Congress (ANC). The interim leader of the party is John Steenhuisen, who was elected on 17 November 2019 and succeeded Mmusi Maimane.[2] The party is broadly centrist, and has been attributed both centre-left[3] and centre-right[4] policies. It is a member of the Liberal International and the Africa Liberal Network. The DA traces its roots to the founding of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party in 1959, with many mergers and name changes between that time and the present.

Democratic Alliance
Federal LeaderJohn Steenhuisen (interim)
Federal ChairpersonIvan Meyer (interim)
Deputy Federal ChairpersonsIvan Meyer
Michael Waters
Refiloe Nt'sekhe
Federal Council ChairpersonHelen Zille[1]
Parliamentary LeaderJohn Steenhuisen
Founded24 June 2000 (2000-06-24)
Preceded byDemocratic Party
Headquarters2nd Floor
Theba Hosken House
c/o Breda and Mill Streets
Cape Town
Western Cape
Student wingDemocratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO)
Youth wingDemocratic Alliance Youth
Women's wingDemocratic Alliance Women's Network (DAWN)
Overseas Supporters NetworkDemocratic Alliance Abroad
Economic liberalism
Political positionCentre
International affiliationLiberal International
Continental affiliationAfrica Liberal Network
Colours     Blue
Slogan"One Nation. One Future."
National Assembly
84 / 400
20 / 90
Pan African Parliament
1 / 5
SADC Parliamentary Forum
1 / 6
Provincial Legislatures
89 / 430
City of Cape Town (council)
154 / 231
City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality (council)
103 / 270
Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality (council)
57 / 120

In addition to governing several major metropolitan municipalities, the DA has been governing the Western Cape, one of South Africa's nine provinces, since the 2009 general election, having won a bigger majority at the election in 2014, but slightly losing support in the 2019 election. The party draws its support predominantly from Afrikaans and English-speaking people (80%+), people aged over 35 (65%+), and white people (50%+),[5] as well as the Indian South African community and the Coloured community.


Helen Suzman and Harry Schwarz, who were prominent anti-apartheid campaigners during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Beginnings in the Democratic Party

Although the Democratic Alliance in its present form is fairly new, its roots can be traced far back in South African political history, through a complex sequence of splits and mergers. The modern day DA is in large part a product of the white parliamentary opposition to the ruling National Party. The origin of the party can be traced to the mid 1950s when some younger members of the United Party felt that they were not providing strong enough opposition to the National Party and its policy of Apartheid, causing them to break away and form the Progressive Party in 1959. In the 1970s, as it rose to become the official opposition, the party would merge with more splinters from the disintegrating United Party and become known first as the Progressive Reform Party and then as the Progressive Federal Party. The Progressives sought to change the system from within, but in doing so chose to comply with Apartheid legislation outlawing multi-racial membership. During this time, the party was led by liberal-minded opponents of apartheid, such as Jan Steytler, Helen Suzman, Zach de Beer, Colin Eglin, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Harry Schwarz. In 1989, it would merge with two smaller reformist organisations to become the Democratic Party, a name that was retained into the 1990s when freedom was achieved. It was marginalized by the National Party's shift towards the center after 1990, and faired relatively poorly in the first democratic election in 1994, won by the African National Congress.

The DP would establish itself as a more effective party of opposition,[6] however, and eventually rose from relative obscurity and ascended to the status of official opposition in 1999 under the leadership of Tony Leon, mainly by taking votes from the New National Party, the renamed version of the NP. The party also became kingmakers in the Western Cape province, where it formed a coalition government with the NNP. With a fractured national opposition standing against an increasingly dominant governing party, there was a perceived need to better challenge the ANC. To this end, the DP reached a merger agreement with the NNP and the much smaller Federal Alliance (FA) in 2000. Together they formed the Democratic Alliance. The merger was ultimately aborted, with both the NNP and FA leaving the DA. Many former NNP members remained, however, and the new name was kept.

The DP was disbanded after the 2003 floor crossing period, establishing the DA at all levels of government.

Since becoming the Democratic Alliance in 2003

The party consolidated its status as the official opposition in the 2004 general election, while the NNP collapsed. Having gone into opposition in the Western Cape in 2001 when the NNP formed a new coalition with the ANC, the demise of the NNP made the province a natural target for the party. In the 2006 municipal elections, the DA narrowly gained control of its largest city, Cape Town, in a multi-party coalition. Helen Zille, the executive mayor of Cape Town, then succeeded Leon as DA Party Leader in May 2007. In 2008, she re-launched the party as one that no longer acts solely as an opposition but also as an alternative choice for government. The party also introduced a new logo and a new slogan.[7][8] Zille said the new DA would be "more reflective of our rich racial, linguistic and cultural heritage",[9] and emphasised that she wanted it to be a "party for all the people" and not decline into a "shrinking, irrelevant minority".[10] The Western Cape was won by DA with an outright majority in the 2009 general election, and Zille became the new provincial premier. In her newsletter, she wrote that "winning power in the Western Cape will allow us to show what co-operative governance between local authorities and a province can achieve".[11] In the 2011 local government elections, the party won control of most of the municipalities in the Western Cape.

In 2013, the DA launched the "Know Your DA" campaign, in an attempt to try to show that the DA (via its proxy predecessor organisations) was involved in the struggle against apartheid. This campaign focused mainly on the role played by a few key individuals in opposing apartheid — particularly Helen Suzman and Helen Zille.[12] The campaign received a certain amount of media attention, much of it somewhat sceptical.[13][14] The ANC issued a detailed critique of the campaign, focusing especially on Suzman's role in the apartheid parliament.[15] Partially on the basis of this campaign the DA contested the 2014 general election, where it once again grew its support base but failed in its stated goal of winning Gauteng province.

In the municipal elections of 2016, the DA made significant gains along with other opposition parties in some of the country's most important metropolitan areas. The DA currently governs Tshwane (including Pretoria, the administrative capital),[16] Cape Town (South Africa's second-largest city and legislative capital) and various other municipalities.

In the general elections of 2019, the DA's national support declined for the first time in its history.[17] The party retained control of the Western Cape but with a reduced majority and failed to win Gauteng once again.[18][19] The conservative Freedom Front Plus made significant gains on the DA in the Afrikaner community.[20]

Formation and mergers

Ideology and principles

The DA sums up its political philosophy as the belief in an "Open Opportunity Society for All".[23] Former party leader Helen Zille has argued that this stands in direct contrast to the ruling ANC's approach to governance, which she maintains has led to a "closed, crony society for some".[24] This formed the basis of the philosophy underlying the party's 2009 Election Manifesto,[25] which seeks to build a society by linking outcomes to "opportunity, effort and ability".[26]

The DA's historical roots are broadly liberal-democratic. During the 1990s, the party remained associated with liberal values, though party leader Tony Leon's support for the reintroduction of the death penalty, the party's controversial 1999 campaign slogan "Fight Back", and the short-lived alliance with the right-wing New National Party fuelled criticisms of the party from the left.[27][28][29] After Helen Zille's election as party leader, the DA has attempted to reposition itself as a mainstream alternative to the ANC.[30] The party's economic policy is also broadly centrist, and supports a mix of high spending on crucial social services such as education and health care, a basic income grant, and a strong regulatory framework, with more "moderate" policies such as a lower budget deficit and a deregulated labour market.[31] At her 2009 State of the Province speech, party leader Zille described her party's economic policy as pragmatic:

We believe the state has a crucial role to play in socio-economic development. We are not free market fundamentalists. By the same token we do not believe that a state, with limited capacity, should over-reach itself."[32]

Current policies


In the DA's crime plan, "Conquering Fear, Commanding Hope",[33] the DA committed itself to increasing the number of police officers to 250,000. This is 60,000 more than the government's own target.[34] The party also announced plans to employ 30,000 additional detectives and forensics experts and 500 more prosecutors, in order to reduce court backlogs, and establish a Directorate for Victims of Crime, which would provide funding and support for crime victims.

In addition, the party announced its support for a prison labour programme, which would put prisoners to work in various community upliftment programmes. The proposal was criticised by labour unions, who believed it was unethical and would result in labour job losses.[35]

In late 2008–2009, the DA took a stand against the South African Police Service's VIP Protection Unit, after several officers in the unit were charged with serious criminal offences. The party later released documentation of the unit's poor disciplinary record, and claimed its divisional commander had himself dodged serious criminal charges.[36]

The DA strongly opposed the disbandment of the Scorpions crime investigation unit,[37] and similar efforts to centralise the police service such as the nationwide disbandment of specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units.[38]

Social development

Central to the DA's social development policy, "Breaking the Cycle of Poverty",[39] is a Basic Income Grant, which would provide a monthly transfer of R110 to all adults earning less than R46,000 per year. The party also supports legislation that would require the legal guardians of children living in poverty to ensure that their child attends 85 percent of school classes, and undergoes routine health check-ups.

In addition, to aid with youth development skills, the party proposed a R6000 opportunity voucher or twelve month community service programme to all high school matriculants. The party also supports a universal old age pension, and the abolishment of pension means tests.


The DA's education programme, "Preparing for Success",[40] focuses on providing adequate physical and human resources to underperforming schools. The DA supports guaranteed access to a core minimum of resources for each school, proper state school nutrition schemes for grade 1–12 learners, and measures to train 30,000 additional teachers per year. The DA continues to support the introduction of new performance targets for teachers and schools, and also advocates a per-child wage subsidy, and a national network of community-based early childhood education centres.


The DA's "Quality Care for All"[41] programme is focused on tackling the country's high HIV/AIDS infection rate. Included in these plans is an increase in the number of clinics offering HIV testing and measures to provide all HIV-positive women with Nevirapine. The party's health policy also plans to devote more resources to vaccinations against common childhood illnesses.

The party also advocates creating a transparent and competitive health sector, to boost service delivery and encourage health care practitioners to remain in the country.


The DA's economic policy aims to create a society in which all South Africans enjoy both the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and the opportunities to take advantage of those freedoms. In its 2010 Federal Congress booklet, The Open Opportunity Society for All, the party describes this society in the following terms:

Opportunity is the vehicle with which people are empowered to live their lives, pursue their dreams and develop their full potential. And the DA believes that the role of the government is to provide every citizen with a minimum basic standard of quality services and resources with which to be able to do so – a framework for choice.

The DA therefore advocates a mixed-economy approach, where the state is involved in the economy only to the extent that it can expand opportunity and choice.[42]

The manifesto includes various proposals detailing how a DA government would manage the economy and facilitate growth. The majority of the interventions suggested by the party are aimed at creating an atmosphere conducive to job creation and greater foreign direct investment.

The DA has suggested measures to make South Africa's labour market more amenable to job creation.[43] The party has also suggested several targeted interventions to allow for higher employment, especially amongst the youth. These interventions include a wage subsidy programme to reduce the cost of hiring first-time workers.

The DA has committed itself to a counter-cyclical fiscal policy approach. This is evident in the party's previous alternative budget frameworks, with both alternative budgets posting deficits. The party defended this stance by arguing that increased spending was necessary to help the economy out of recession.[44] Other fiscal interventions have included a proposed scrapping of value added tax (VAT) on books and tax rebates for crime prevention expenditure by businesses.

The DA supports an inflation-targeting monetary policy regime similar to that of the ANC government. It has also repeatedly reaffirmed its support and commitment for reserve bank instrument independence.[45] The DA proposes to incentivise savings by reducing taxes on income earned from fixed deposits that are held for longer than twelve months. The party states that this would help South Africa to boost its domestic savings rate to enable the country to invest in projects that will provide additional job opportunities.

The party has rejected the ANC's approach to Black Economic Empowerment, with former party leader Helen Zille arguing that the current policies have only served to enrich a small elite of politically connected businessmen. The party proposed an alternative it calls broad-based economic empowerment, which would provide for targeted interventions focusing on skills training and socio-economic investment instead of ownership targets. The party believes that this approach will give a broader group of black South Africans an opportunity to compete and partake in the economy.[46]

The party advocates an active industrial policy that allows the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to co-ordinate industrial policy. Additionally it would also set up a sovereign venture capital fund to help support innovation in key industries. The DA also supports the creation of Industrial Development Zones and Export Processing Zones. The party suggests that by relaxing certain regulations in these zones, manufacturers and exporters would be able to grow faster and employ more people. This fits into the party's broader vision of growing the economy by cutting red tape and regulations it claims is holding back South Africa's economic growth.[47]

The DA has been against the introduction of a national minimum wage, arguing that workers should be allowed to accept a wage of less than R3500 on their own terms.[48] On the other hand, The Presidency stated that the R3500 per month (R20 an hour) minimum wage was still not a living wage, and would only "advance the struggle for a living wage".[49]


The DA is resolutely against land expropriation without compensation.[50] This is in response to the ANC and the EFF's recent attempts to change section 25 of the Constitution which deals with land reform. The DA says that changing the Constitution will open the floodgates and undermine property rights, allowing government to own all land and forcing all South Africans to be only permanent tenants of the land. The party says that it is committed to ensuring that those entitled to land receive it in the form of direct ownership, and not as lifelong tenants.

The DA's "Land of Opportunity"[51] programme supports the "willing buyer, willing seller" principle, though it also allows for expropriation for reform purposes in certain limited circumstances. The party has been critical of the resources that government has allocated to land reform, claiming that government has not been sufficiently active in buying up land that comes onto the market. Though the DA believes this could speed up the pace of land reform, their policies have been vocally criticised by members of the Tripartite Alliance. Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza accused the DA of attempting to "stifle" land reform,[52] while the South African Communist Party contended that the DA's policies overly favoured big business.[53] In a speech at the DA's national congress in April 2018, DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, praised DA Western Cape Provincial Leader, Bonginkosi Madikizela, for overseeing the delivery of 91 000 title deeds in the province and allowing residents to have full title deeds to their homes.[54]

Environment and energy

In the build up to the 2009 elections, the DA announced it would create a new Ministry of Energy and Climate Change, to ensure improved integrated energy planning in order to deal with South Africa's growing carbon dioxide emissions.[55] The DA's 2009 environment and energy plan, "In Trust for the Nation"[56] proposed new measures to increase energy efficiency, and the introduction of sectoral carbon emission targets.

Electoral reform

The DA broadly supports reforms recommended by Frederik van Zyl Slabbert's electoral reform task-team, that would see the current party list voting system replaced by a 75% constituency-based/25% proportional representation-based electoral system that would apply at national and provincial level.[57] The DA's governance policy Promoting Open Opportunity Governance[58] also makes provision for the direct election of the president, which would give voters a more direct link to the executive branch.

The DA believe voting rights should be extended to include all South African citizens who are living and working abroad, many of whom intend returning.[59][60] Since 2013, South Africans living abroad can now register and vote in national elections.[61]

Electoral performance

These charts show the electoral performance for the Democratic Alliance, and its predecessor the Democratic Party, since the advent of democracy in 1994:

National elections

National Assembly

Election Total votes Share of vote Seats +/– Government
1994 338,426 1.73%
7 / 400
in opposition
1999 1,527,337 9.56%
38 / 400
31 official opposition
2004 1,931,201 12.37%
50 / 400
12 official opposition
2009 2,945,829 16.66%
67 / 400
17 official opposition
2014 4,091,584 22.20%
89 / 400
22 official opposition
2019 3,621,188 20.77%
84 / 400
5 official opposition

National Council of Provinces

Election Total # of
seats won
+/– Government
3 / 90
in opposition
8 / 90
5 official opposition
12 / 90
4 official opposition
13 / 90
1 official opposition
20 / 90
7 official opposition
20 / 90
0 official opposition

Provincial elections

Election[62] Eastern Cape Free State Gauteng Kwazulu-Natal Limpopo Mpumalanga North-West Northern Cape Western Cape
%Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats %Seats
1994 2.05%1/56 0.57%0/30 5.32%5/86 2.15%2/81 0.21%0/40 0.56%0/30 0.50%0/30 1.87%1/30 6.64%3/42
1999 6.29%4/63 5.33%2/30 17.95%13/73 8.16%7/80 1.42%1/49 4.48%1/30 3.26%1/30 4.77%1/30 11.91%5/42
2004 7.34%5/63 8.47%3/30 20.78%15/73 8.35%7/80 3.59%2/49 6.94%2/30 5.00%2/33 11.08%3/30 27.11%12/42
2009 9.99%6/63 11.60%3/30 21.86%16/73 9.15%7/80 3.48%2/49 7.49%2/30 8.25%3/33 12.57%4/30 51.46%22/42
2014 16.20%10/63 16.23%5/30 30.78%23/73 12.76%10/80 6.48%3/49 10.40%3/30 12.73%4/33 23.89%7/30 59.38%26/42
2019 15.73%10/63 17.58%6/30 27.45%20/73 13.90%11/80 5.40%3/49 9.77%3/30 11.18%4/33 25.51%8/30 55.45%24/42

Municipal election results

Election Ward + PR Votes % +/–
1995–96 302,006 3.48%
2000 Not released 22.1% 18.6
2006 3,888,780 14.8% 7.3
2011 6,393,886 23.9% 9.1
2016[63] 8,033,630 26.9% 3.0

Ancillary structures

Democratic Alliance Youth

The Democratic Alliance Youth (DA Youth), which came officially into being late in 2008, was first led by Makashule Gana until 2013, Mbali Ntuli led between 2013 and 2014, Yusuf Cassim led from 2014 to 2018. The current Federal Leader, Luyolo Mphiti, was elected at the Democratic Alliances Youth Federal Congress in 2018.[64][65] Mbali Motsoeneng, Henning de Wet and Dikeledi Selowa are the DA Youth Federal Deputy Chaipersons in Administration, Training and Development, and Media and Publicity Deputy Chairperson respectively.

In the Gauteng Province, the first dually elected Democratic Alliance Youth Provincial Executive Committee took office in November 2017 after they were elected at the Gauteng Provincial Congress the same year. It consists of Pogiso Mthimunye (Chairperson), Patrick Oberholster (Deputy Chairperson), Cay-Low Mbedzi (Media and Publicity), Khathutshelo Rasilingwane (Recruitment and Campaigns) and Prudence Mollo (Training and Development).

In the North West Province of South Africa, Emi Koekemoer is the elected Provincial Chairperson while Henning Lubbe takes the role as Provincial Deputy Chairperson of Administration, Quinton Booysen fills the role of Provincial Deputy Chairperson of Recruitment and Campaigns, Percilla Mompe is the Provincial Deputy Chairperson of Media and Publicity and Neo Mabote is the Provincial Deputy Chairperson of Training and Development.

Democratic Alliance Women's Network

The Democratic Alliance Women's Network (DAWN) current federal leader is Dr. Nomafrench Mbombo, who is also the current Western Cape Minister of Health. The deputy federal leader is Safiyia Stanfley.[65]

According to the DAWN constitution:[66]

DAWN will:

  • promote the empowerment and development of women and help build their self-confidence to stimulate and activate initiatives.
  • promote amongst women a consciousness of accountability, patriotism and unity.
  • promote women’s participation in every sector of public life.
  • promote a healthy culture of the recognition of women’s rights as human rights.
  • oppose violence against women wherever possible.

Each province has a provincial DAWN chairperson. The provincial chairpersons are as follows:[67]

Democratic Alliance Abroad

The Democratic Alliance Abroad (DA Abroad) was officially launched in November 2009, and first led by Ludre Stevens.

The DA Abroad is the DA's overseas network of volunteers who are making a difference and contributing to the success of South Africa through projects and campaigns that are aligned with the DA's vision of One Nation with One Future underpinned by Freedom, Fairness, Opportunity and Diversity for All.

The DA Abroad is led by DA Abroad Leader Francine Higham, Chairperson Nigel Bruce and Finance Chair Neville Marshall and Global.

The DA Abroad has active hubs in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia.

Democratic Alliance Young Leaders Programme

The DA's Young Leaders Programme (YLP) is a political leadership development programme for South Africans between the ages of 18 and 35 who believe in the DA's vision of the Open, Opportunity Society for All. Participants of the programme are highly motivated individuals, interested in pursuing a career in politics, with a track record of leadership excellence. Over the course of one year, participants of the programme are equipped with an in-depth political knowledge, critical thinking and communication skills and the opportunity to grow their leadership capacity, self-awareness and emotional maturity.


Accusations of racism

Leaders of the DA as well as DA members[68][69][70] have been accused of making racially insensitive comments and this has led to disciplinary action. MP Dianne Kohler Barnard was briefly expelled from the party because of statements she made on her Facebook page praising P. W. Botha.[71][72][73][74][75][76][77][78][79] In response to these incidents party leader Mmusi Maimane, set out a stronger stance in January 2016 for the DA on the issue of racism, than his predecessor, Helen Zille (who had also denounced racism). Maimane spelled out a charter on racism that all new DA members will have to commit to when they join the party. He also announced that the DA would introduce equity targets when the DA selects candidates for public office in order to make the party more diverse and reflective of the country as a whole.[80] Some of these commitments may have consequences that become hard to manage in the future, as enforcing the pledge could be hard and there could be opposition to equity targets from established potential candidates who may be affected.[81] In response to Maimane's new position, former DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko wrote an opinion piece in which she lauded his initiative, but criticised what she called the almost exclusive domination of white men within the DA's 'brains trust', and called upon Maimane to address this as well.[82][83] The DA denied Mazibuko's claims.[84]

In March 2017, Helen Zille, still Premier of the Western Cape, issued a number of tweets suggesting that colonialism was not entirely negative, and faced a disciplinary hearing for publicly opposing DA principles; deliberately acting in a way that impacted negatively on the DA; and bringing the DA into disrepute.[85] The matter was eventually resolved by agreement with Zille apologising for her tweets.[86]


In December 2007, a local DA councillor, Frank Martin, allegedly encouraged local families to occupy newly built N2 Gateway houses in Delft in the Western Cape. After over 1,000 backyarders from the area occupied the houses, a high-profile political fight between ANC and DA leaders ensued, each accusing the other of racism, playing party politics, and using the poor for their own gain.[87][88] The ANC along with a number of civil society organisations such as the Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers accused the DA of either instigating or tacitly approving of Martin's role in the invasions.[89][90][91] Judge Van Zyl of the Cape Town High Court ruled to evict residents and also faulted Frank Martin for instigating the occupation.[92] Criminal charges against Martin were later dropped.[90][93][94] On 18 February 2009, a City of Cape Town disciplinary committee found Martin guilty of encouraging people to invade homes at Delft and was suspended for one month.[95] A further political spat ensued after February 2008 between the DA and the Delft-Symphony Anti-Eviction Campaign, which accused the DA of favouring its party supporters.[96][97] In response, Zille denied this, and pointed out that the City of Cape Town had responded to the crisis by providing comprehensive services to the Delft evictees.[98]

Patricia de Lille

2018 saw further controversy with a major conflict developing between the party and Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, resulting in further criticism of party leader Mmusi Maimane.[99] This and other controversies appear to have given rise to speculation about a split in the DA, but this denied was by Maimane.[100][101] In June 2018, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the DA decision to oust De Lille from party membership was unlawful.[102] In August 2018, De Lille announced that she would resign as Mayor in October 2018. She left office on 31 October 2018 and Dan Plato was designated to be her successor.

See also


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