Should the DA welcome with open arms any ANC defectors who have left the party because they are put out by Zuma's re-election as party president? The conversations had by several prominent Blue House leaders on Twitter suggest that they will do exactly that. But some caution is absolutely necessary if they want to avoid saddling themselves with people who will turn out to be a major problem down the line.
The simple fact is that anyone who abandons the ANC shortly after Zuma's re-election has not heard what the party has resolved on key policy issues, and is therefore not likely to be motivated by policy disagreement. It is far likelier that the decision is about the network of patronage excluding them in the coming years. Put crudely, they believe that their spot at the feeding trough is gone.
After the Polokwane conference and Thabo Mbeki's sudden recall from state power, many of his allies found themselves in this exact position and chose to leave the party altogether to form the Congress of the People (Cope). The party enjoyed unprecedented success in the 2009 national elections, managing to gain 7.42 percent of the popular vote. Since then it has collapsed, riven by internal strife. Deprived of the glue of power that once held these comrades together, the party quickly fell apart.
The likelihood of another split from the ANC by the faction that failed to dislodge Zuma from power shouldn't be easily discounted. Zuma received 2983 votes while Kgalema Motlanthe received 991 - his victory was overwhelming but not all-encompassing. For many years now, a group of lesser leaders attempted to get an anti-Zuma campaign going. It never quite took off, thanks to the political destruction of its main cheerleader, the former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema. The former ANC deputy president's reluctance to take on an anti-Zuma stance until the very last minute didn't help things.
Many of the people who spent months campaigning against Zuma declined nominations to one of the top six positions, or ran and lost. Some balked at being nominated for a position on the national executive committee. These included Tokyo Sexwale, Paul Mashatile and Mathews Phosa.
The speech given by DA leader Helen Zille at her party's recent national congress suggested that if these jilted ANC people were to join the opposition party, they ought not to be welcome. She slammed what she called the economy of insiders and outsiders, where the politically connected had access to opportunities, while those on the outside were left to fend for themselves. She was describing the typical powerful ANC cadre. In November, she described the ruling party as "essentially a patronage-driven party" in an interview with Reuters.
It would go against the spirit of her own words to suddenly invite the defectors in.
The DA already has a successful model for working with other parties. After losing the City of Cape Town following the defection of the New National Party to the ANC at the beginning of the last decade, Zille became the mayor of Cape Town in 2006 after she secured 106 council seats as opposed to the ANC's 103. It was a narrow victory in the face of intense opposition from the ruling party and the Independent Democrats.
The ID is now an ally of the DA, and its leader Patricia de Lille is the mayor of Cape Town. In the 2011 local government elections, the Blue House won 51.46 percent of the vote, a clear victory over the ANC's 31.55 percent.
There are talks underway in Parliament for greater co-operation between the DA and other opposition parties, including Cope and the IFP.
What the DA needs in the first instance in order to gain power is for the ANC to lose, not for it to win an outright majority. There are surely enough opposition parties for it to form coalitions without necessarily requiring them to abandon their own formations. A coalition government can be mandated.
The DA should not need or want Cope-esque ANC cadres. Jilted ANC voters are another matter altogether.