HOW do you eat an elephant? "You have to eat it in smaller chunks." This is how Democratic Alliance (DA) provincial leader Sizwe Mchunu describes the task of growing the party in KwaZulu-Natal.
The "elephant" he refers to is the African National Congress (ANC), which now ranks KwaZulu-Natal as its largest stronghold. This, arguably, makes the province one of South Africa’s toughest political terrains to contest, as it is also the home turf of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and National Freedom Party, the third and fourth-biggest parties, respectively.
The DA controls none of the 61 municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, but it is the official opposition in eThekwini municipality, South Africa’s second-biggest local government structure. The DA also has councillors represented on many municipal councils.
But, Mr Mchunu says in an interview with Business Day, party membership has tripled in two years and he expects the growth to continue to well beyond national elections next year. He attributes this growth in the first place to a "re-engineering" two years ago to become a "much more bottom-up, ground-rooted party".
The changes included strategies such as allocating constituencies to each of the 15 DA MPs, so that the party is in touch with issues affecting communities.
Mr Mchunu also attributes the growth to people becoming increasingly aware of the "incompetence … lack of service delivery and accountability" of municipal and government organisations, and the fact that officials are more loyal to the governing party than to their ratepayers, who pay the salaries in municipalities. "The state of local government in this province is a shambles," he says.
Mr Mchunu criticised ANC premier Zweli Mkhize’s decision to retain his post until the 2014 election, while also working as ANC national treasurer-general. He says the province deserves better.
The premier’s office is supposed to co-ordinate the departments of the provincial government. However, it has taken on so many other tasks — such as rural development, soccer tournament preparations, treasury functions — that it resembles a ministry of its own.
Mr Mchunu was re-elected party leader in March last year after facing off a challenge by former IFP office bearer and founder of the National Democratic Convention Ziba Jiyane.
Previous positions in the DA include provincial DA youth chairman, regional vice-chairman, national media and communications officer, DA chief whip in Msunduzi municipality, DA provincial vice-chairman, DA provincial chairman of development, DA spokesman on youth and member of national council ADAC (Association of Democratic Alliance Councillors).
Mr Mchunu was elected deputy leader of the DA in KwaZulu-Natal for two terms and he first entered the KwaZulu-Natal legislature in 2009. While the DA in KwaZulu-Natal’s policies are in line with that of the national party body, its targets have been tailored for the political landscape in KwaZulu-Natal, he says.
The DA wants to be the province’s official opposition after next year’s election, a big target considering it was third in 2009 with 9,2% of the votes, while the IFP won 22,4% and the ANC 63%.
Mr Mchunu says the strategy for the election is in place and is being "rolled out as we speak". Nationally, the DA wants to win two provinces aside from the Western Cape, the Northern Cape and Gauteng.
Mr Mchunu says the perception of the DA being a party for "whites" remains a challenge, even though the "colour of the party has completely changed", and it is gaining "more and more support from its nontraditional support base".
Another challenge is political intolerance in some areas. For example, this week, the DA said it would lay charges of incitement and intimidation against ANC members and councillors who threatened a delegation led by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko with pangas and insults in Swayimane, northeast of Pietermaritzburg. The DA members were on their way to meet elderly women who had been the victims of a spate of rapes in recent times.
The third-biggest challenge facing the DA in KwaZulu-Natal is access to resources, relative to the ANC, which Mr Mchunu says uses a variety of government-funded projects such as imbizos, sod-turnings and service-delivery gatherings to promote the ANC’s goals.
Mr Mchunu says he wants to be "part of the change" for South Africa to become a free and fair country, a place where race and gender are no longer issues. "I want to be able to say, one day when I sit back and reflect, that I played my part."