The Democratic Alliance was formed on the 24th of June 2000, when the then Democratic Party and the New National Party signed an outline agreement to establish the party.
But in fact the history of the Democratic Alliance goes back to 1959, when a number of liberal members of the United Party broke away to form the Progressive Party (PP). Dr Jan Steytler, a former Cape leader of the United Party, was elected the first leader of the new party. He continued as party leader until his retirement in December 1970. The PP opposed apartheid and took its stand on constitutional reform, calling for an entrenched constitution in which the powers of the provinces or federal states would be constitutionally protected. It stood, too, for an economy based on free enterprise.
In the 1961 election, only Mrs Helen Suzman managed to retain her seat in Parliament. Thus began one of the great parliamentary performances of all time. Mrs Suzman sat alone for 13 years, the sole principled opponent of racial discrimination in the whole South African Parliament. She fought against detention without trial; pass laws; influx control; job reservation on the grounds of colour; racially separated amenities; Group Areas; and forced removals. She demanded trade union rights for blacks and fought for better wages and working conditions. She visited prisons and obtained better conditions for prisoners.
In 1974, six more PP members won seats in Parliament. Soon after this, Mr Harry Schwarz and others left the UP and formed the Reform Party, which later merged with the Progressives to form the Progressive Reform Party (PRP) in 1975. In 1977, the UP merged with another small party to form the New Republic Party, at which point further UP members left to form the Committee for a United Opposition, which then joined the PRP to form the Progressive Federal Party (PFP). After the 1977 election, the PFP became the official opposition under the leadership of Colin Eglin.
In 1982, the Conservative Party (CP) broke away from the NP over the constitutional proposals which formed the basis of the tricameral constitution introduced by Prime Minister P.W. Botha in 1983. The PFP strongly opposed this constitution on the grounds that it excluded black people and gave the State President too much power.
During 1987, Denis Worrall resigned as South African Ambassador in London to return to politics. Together with Wynand Malan, who resigned from the NP, and Esther Lategan, he formed the Independent Movement to fight the 1987 general election. Only Wynand Malan won his seat when the partnership disintegrated. Denis Worrall, together with others, formed the Independent Party (IP), while Esther Lategan and others formed the National Democratic Movement.
The PFP lost a number of Parliamentary seats in the 1987 election, which was conducted under the cloud of the State of Emergency, and the CP became the official opposition. In 1988, Zach de Beer became leader of the PFP and continued the negotiations which culminated in the Independent Party, National Democratic Movement and Progressive Federal Party merging to form the Democratic Party on the 8th of April 1989. The National Party immediately called an election for September, and under the combined leadership of Zach de Beer, Denis Worrall and Wynand Malan, the DP won 36 seats in Parliament in the general election. The NP also lost seats to the right wing (Conservative Party) and the loss of support prepared the NP leader, F W de Klerk to announce a radical change in government policy on 2 February 1990.
With the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and other liberation organisations, and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, the process of negotiations for political change in South Africa began. DP leader Zach de Beer was chosen as the first Management Committee Chairman of CODESA (Convention on a Democratic South Africa). In CODESA, and the subsequent Multi-Party Negotiating Process, the DP played a vital role in the negotiation of an Interim Constitution, which included most of the principles and ideals around which the PP was formed in 1959.
In the first post-apartheid election in 1994, the ANC recorded a significant victory with the DP only winning 1.7% of the vote at national level. With only 10 MPs, and under the leadership of Tony Leon, the DP began a new fight: the fight for the legitimacy of opposition and holding government to account – something that is now accepted in South Africa.
The 1995 municipal elections showed a swing back to the DP and this swing continued into the 1999 general elections, where the DP won over 9% of the national vote and returned 45 members to Parliament. In addition, the party became the largest opposition party in the country.
1999 saw Thabo Mbeki take over as president of the country from Nelson Mandela. The Mbeki government was characterised by a concerted programme of taking control of every aspect of South African society, with ANC loyalists moved into key positions in business, media, sport and even such posts as Public Protector. This coincided with an internal crackdown on dissent as well as a concerted campaign to discredit and undermine opposition.
The DP decided that the best way to protect and strengthen democracy in South Africa was to build a strong opposition able to restrict the one-party dominance of the ANC. In 2000, the DP reached a merger agreement with the Federal Alliance of Dr Louis Luyt. The DP then entered into talks with the New National Party (NNP). The Democratic Alliance was formed, a move that found favour with voters in the December 2000 municipal elections, where the DA won a number of municipalities, including the Cape Town Metro.
But the relationship between the former DP and NNP within the DA was an uneasy one. The break came in October 2001 over a decision by DA leader Tony Leon to suspend controversial Cape Town Mayor Peter Marais from the party after he had been implicated in a number of contentious decisions and actions, including a sexual harassment lawsuit. NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk’s response to the suspension of Mr Marais was to reconstitute the NNP, taking the party into an alliance with the ANC.
In May 2003, the legislation making it possible for MPs and MPLs to change parties was passed, and many NNP MPs and MPLs, who had been forced to join Van Schalkwyk’s alliance with the ANC, rejoined the DA.
In the 2004 general election, the DA built on the gains of the DP five years previously: we gained 12.3% of the vote and 50 seats in the National Assembly. In absolute terms, the party grew its support from 1 527 337 to 1 931 201 – an increase of over 400 000 votes. This means that the DA increased its support by roughly a third. This was despite the fact that about 114 000 fewer votes were cast in the election. The election confirmed the DA’s status as the most popular opposition party (we increased our support in 8 out of 9 provinces and were the only opposition party to be represented in every province in the country); as the fastest growing party overall; and as the only viable alternative to the ANC. It also set the stage for our performance in the 2006 local government elections.
In the 2006 local government elections, the DA increased its national share of the vote by 4% – from 12.3% in 2004 to 16.3% in 2006. We gained more representatives in all six of the metropolitan councils, most notably in the Cape Town Metro where the DA increased its share of the vote from 27.1% in 2004 to 41.9% . This put us ahead of the ANC (at 38%) and made us the largest party in Cape Town. On March 15 2006, Helen Zille – up until that point a DA MP and the party’s national spokesperson – was elected Mayor in a nail-biting contest. She obtained a 2-vote majority to become Mayor, and this enabled us to come to power in a seven-party coalition.
The formation of a DA-led multiparty government in Cape Town initiated a process of political realignment that has seen opposition parties coalesce around core common values rooted in the Constitution. The coalition government initially had a tenuous grip on power, but it became more solid once the ID (which had sided with the ANC against the DA in the mayoral vote) joined. Despite the ANC’s repeated failed attempts to unseat it, the coalition has generally worked well, despite inevitable difficulties.
On 26 November 2006, Tony Leon announced that he would step down from the leadership of the Democratic Alliance in 2007, and would not accept nomination for the leadership of the party at the party’s Congress in May 2007. At that Congress, Helen Zille was elected the new leader of the DA.
The DA-led multiparty government in Cape Town, and other coalition governments which the DA managed to form across the country after the 2006 election, show that coalition-driven realignments will eventually lead to the ANC losing power at all levels of government. The realignment process was accelerated in 2008, when the ANC eventually split after Thabo Mbeki was recalled as President. At the end of 2008, there were encouraging signs that the DA would win the Western Cape and possibly take power from the ANC in some other provinces after the 2009 election.
Looking to the future, we believe that we can win major cities after the 2011 local government elections. And the process of political realignment will be complete when we become a party of government nationally after the 2014 election – either on our own or in coalition with other parties.
The DA is now indisputably a party of government. We are no longer only an opposition party. Because we wanted publicly to confirm and manifest this change, we relaunched the party at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg in November 2008. We wanted to show that we share a dream for South Africa with millions of people who do not yet identify with the DA, and millions more who do. That dream is of an open opportunity society for all in which citizens are equipped with the tools they need to exercise their freedom, take responsibility to use their opportunities, and work hard to develop their full potential. It is a dream of one nation with one future.
The DA will continue to build on its proud and principled history of non-racialism, and we look forward to the day when – as the party of government nationally – we can realise our vision of the open opportunity society for all.