Some taxing questions about the future of the DA

A senior Democratic Alliance member of parliament once told me, “Matthew, the DA already has the support of nearly all SA’s taxpayers.”

There are about 3.5million taxpayers in SA today. And they pay 35% of SA’s tax. In the 2009 general election, the DA got 2.9million votes or 16% of the ballot. So, if DA support did increase to 24% in the 2011 municipal elections, there would still be more taxpayers than DA voters.

Put another way, without taxpayer support, Lekota or Buthelezi would be the leader of the opposition.

This is nothing new. Harry Oppenheimer’s money kept the Progressive Party going with Helen Suzman in the Houghton constituency. Humphrey Borkum, Tony Bloom and Gordon Waddel hung in there in the crucial 1974 election, which could well have been the end of the Progs.

Call me old-fashioned, but I adored the style and charisma of Van Zyl Slabbert. That was before he threw in the towel at the worst moment possible.

Tony Leon was no Slabbert, and he did a deal with the Nationalists, something that left many taxpayers confused. So, when an ex-farmer, Athol Trollip, was promoted from Bhisho to the hot seat in parliament in 2009, taxpayers had to console themselves with, “At least he has 10 years’ experience street-fighting in the Bhisho and Bedford club. At fortysomething, there might still be some lead left in the pencil. And the Trollip family history guarantees that DA MPs will never, ever wear grey shoes.”

When Patricia de Lille joined the DA, there was hope that she could lead the DA in parliament – and continue her brand of magic, as she has done, inter alia, in the arms-deal debacle. This is important to taxpayers, as their gripe is not the collection of taxes, but rather how taxes are wasted. But the DA’s priorities in the Western Cape are greater, even though only 16% of taxpayers live there.

In November, the DA caucus has to decide on its leadership again. This poses some very interesting questions. Is impressing taxpayers no longer the priority of the DA? Is there a greater prize in trying to impress the youth and score some Malema supporters? Are the older DAs and taxpayers now to be assigned to kitchen duty, along with the farmer from Bedford?

Surely if taxpayers want SA to be taken seriously as a global player, we cannot offer the world a head of the opposition in parliament, complete with an honours degree, in Helen Zille. It may well be Progressive, and it sure looks like a Party.

Originally published in the Sunday Times Tax Talk column.

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