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White politicians face barriers to power in South Africa

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Nine months ago, John Steenhuisen, chairman of South Africa’s second-largest political party, the Democratic Alliance, stood before news cameras and signed an agreement to no longer cooperate with the long-time ruling African National Congress.

“Good Lord,” Steenhuizen said. Raise your right hand and smile.

But when the ANC failed to secure a governing majority in elections last week and Thursday Inviting political opponents to join forces In the National Unity Government, Steenhuizen emerged as a leader among a number of political leaders who wanted to work with the party he had sworn off.

He and the Democratic Alliance are currently advancing South Africa’s most important political negotiations since the end of apartheid in 1994 and have drafted a document setting out the core principles of their coalition government with the African National Congress (ANC).

The ruling party’s votes fell – it only had 40%, Ending Thirty Years of Rule — This puts the 48-year-old Steenhusen on the brink of his political dream. As the leader of the second-place party with nearly 22 percent of the vote, Steenhusen seems likely to play a leading role in the next government, political analysts say.

But even as Steenhuizen is on the rise, he still has to deal with South African society’s thorny third rail: race.

Mr. Steenhuizen is white; His party’s national leadership Many still view him and his center-right party, which is favored by big business and the private sector, as defenders of white interests in a country where blacks make up 80 percent of the population. Political analysts believe this is partly due to the unresolved trauma of apartheid and the Democratic Alliance’s sometimes erratic and clumsy handling of racial issues.

“People have this perception,” Steenhusen said in an interview last year. “One of the perceptions is, ‘Oh, the D-League is going to restore segregation.’ I think there’s still a trust deficit when it comes to race.”

Mr. Stenhusen carved a shortcut to power with charm, wit and a strength that some said bordered on arrogance, rising from an ambitious 22-year-old councillor in South Africa’s third-largest city to the top job in the Democratic Alliance, the forerunner of an anti-apartheid party led by white South Africans.

The Democratic Alliance was formed in 2000 from a merger of several political parties. At the time, it was already the country’s second-largest party, in part because it attracted white voters after the National Party, which led the apartheid government, was dissolved.

Over the years, the DA has been able to win over the country’s minorities — white, Indian or Coloured, a multiracial classification. The party has also expanded its black voter base, especially among those who feel that the ANC’s efforts to bridge racial divides have failed to empower black South Africans.

Today, the Democratic Alliance’s biggest selling point is less corruption and better financial management in its municipalities and its only province, the Western Cape.

Some in the ANC strongly oppose the inclusion of the DA in the governing coalition, saying the party opposes eliminating racial inequalities caused by apartheid, especially in wealth, land ownership and employment. Opponents also accuse the DA of peddling racism.

Some ANC members even began petition Blocking an alliance with Steenhusen’s party over its opposition to laws supporting affirmative action, universal health care and land redistribution. They also published an image of a seven-year-old tweet by Helen Zille, one of the top leaders of the Democratic Alliance, which attempted to cast colonialism in a positive light.

“For those who claim that the legacy of colonialism has only negative consequences, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, running water and so much more.” Ms. Zille wrote.

Five years ago, Stenhusen succeeded the DA’s first black leader, Musi Mayimang, who had served with him as the opposition’s chief whip in parliament. Mayimang resigned after the DA’s disappointing 2019 election performance, and several other prominent black members left before and after him, fueling the party’s narrative of hostility toward black people.

in a A tell-all memoir Mr. Maimane, published this year defendant Mr. Steenhuizen thwarted his efforts to transform the Republican Party into a party that could attract more black voters.

A spokesman for Steenhuizen declined to comment and said Steenhuizen was unavailable for an interview.

Steenhuizen said in an interview last year that he believed “race plays an important role in South African society.” But he disagreed with the ANC on how to address racial inequality.

He said a colour-blind approach to poverty eradication would ultimately lift up black South Africans, saying the ruling party’s racial redress approach had mainly helped the politically connected black elite.

Steenhuizen’s party has proposed abandoning affirmative action policies, encouraging greater private sector involvement in state services such as electricity, increasing some welfare benefits and lowering taxes on certain foods.

But it is worth noting that the principles put forward by the Democratic Alliance in its negotiations with the ANC did not include an end to the racial priority program.

Critics say the Democratic Alliance does use race issues to win support, sometimes even as a veiled provocation.

Last year, the Democratic Alliance bused residents of coloured townships for a march through central Cape Town to protest an ANC-backed law requiring some employers to meet racial quotas in hiring.

“Black people are getting jobs, and our people of color are not getting any jobs,” said Reneé Ferris, who attended the demonstration and was looking for work as a janitor.

Mr Steenhuisen, who grew up in the coastal city of Durban, said Financial difficulties prevented him from completing college..

He joined his hometown council in 1999 and volunteered to go out and inspect city infrastructure or hand out leaflets at weekend rugby games, said Gillian Noyes, who served with him.

By the age of 30, Mr. Steenhuisen had become head The Democratic Alliance chaired the party caucus in the municipal council, leading experienced councillors. Three years later, he led the party to the KwaZulu-Natal election, and just two years later he was elected to the national parliament.

He built relationships with colleagues and voters, and some of his critics and supporters said he had a unique ability to read people’s minds. Ms. Noyes recalled that he hosted Christmas parties at his home and organized weekly after-get off work drinks.

But in 2010, Mr Steenhuisen was unfaithful to his wife of 10 years Steenhusen resigned as party leader in KwaZulu-Natal after having an affair with a party spokeswoman who was the wife of another party member. He is now married to the woman he had an affair with. The incident has not hampered Steenhusen’s rise in a country where political scandals are common.

Former members say he fought fierce battles within the party and earned a reputation for intolerance of dissent.

Three days after last week’s election, Mr. Steenhuizen held a meeting via Zoom with leaders of several smaller parties that also signed a pledge last year not to work with the ANC. Some of them decried reports that the DA would not live up to its commitments to the pact, according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The New York Times.

To Steenhuizen’s critics, he and his party, suffused with the smell of power, seemed ready to abandon the principles he championed.

The leader of a small party said of the Democratic Alliance: “No one will trust them in the future.”

“With all due respect, you have no authority to speak about the DA and what it is or is not going to do,” Mr. Steenhuizen countered. “You need to understand that very, very clearly.”

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