08/05/2018 11:52 SAST | Updated 08/05/2018 12:43 SAST

DA’s Plan To Take 3 Provinces — A Pipe Dream?

The country's largest opposition party has grand designs on two more provinces in the 2019 election. Did it just shoot itself in the foot?

In three dramatic days, has the DA slashed its dream of winning three provinces in the 2019 election?

The DA has become a party focused on its internal politics, embroiled in a damaging race war with its leader Mmusi Maimane, and facing a long drawn-out battle with Patricia de Lille, the mayor it axed on Tuesday.

On Sunday, City Press reported that Maimane had faced a mauling by senior leaders for innocuously stating that "white privilege" was a hurdle to ending black poverty.

On Monday, the deputy leader of the party's federal executive, Natasha Mazzone, tweeted that her "dark father" from Naples had pulled himself up by the bootstraps. The micro-message landed a macro-bomb for the DA, as it revealed how shallow race-consciousness is in the party.

On Tuesday, the party used the same Mazzone to front its axing of De Lille.

The DA's hopes of winning three provinces in the 2019 election now hang in the balance. Here's why: when a party is internally focused on factions and ideological wars, it loses sight of the electorate. Ask the governing ANC, which suffered precipitous electoral fortunes when its locus of focus turned inward.

The DA is now likely to only just hold onto Western Cape, where it governs with a significant majority — but it heads into the 2019 election with neither De Lille nor Helen Zille fighting in its corner.

Both women have been marginalised by the party's leadership, but both are enormously personally popular.

So instead of an easy win in Western Cape, the party's going to have to run hard to merely hold onto its lynchpin province.

In addition, the party's inability to take a progressive position on race (either on land, black empowerment or how privilege is located) could dent its ambitions in Gauteng. Gauteng is the province capable of the most swing ahead of next year's election.

The DA has moved its headquarters to Johannesburg, because it is so focused on winning Gauteng.

The 2016 local government election suggested the DA was in with a chance, because Gauteng is a city-based province and the opposition governs both Tshwane and Johannesburg. Gauteng is also home to South Africa's most sophisticated and wealthy black electorate, who were tired of the ANC under Jacob Zuma — but are more likely to swing back to the governing party now that it is represented by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The DA's vexed approach to race politics is likely to be a turn-off for this coveted electorate.

Finally, the DA planned to build on its wins in Western Cape to win the minnow province of Northern Cape, where 40 percent of the population is coloured. But by going to war with its most prominent coloured leader, Patricia de Lille, the party has gifted the ANC in Northern Cape with a campaign target.