‘It has backfired’ – Steenhuisen’s ‘drunkard’ comment ‘exacerbates DA’s likeability problem’
'While this will not necessarily harm the brand, it came across as the kind of tone-deaf comment DA haters will seize upon.'
DA leader John Steenhuisen at the launch of the DA’s Johannesburg mayoral candidate Mpho Phalatse’s election campaign at the Johannesburg City Council in Braamfontein, on 11 September 2021. Picture: Michel Bega
Amid an uproar sparked by remarks made by Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen, a leading communications expert said calling amaPanyaza crime wardens “drunkards”, wearing uniform bought from PEP Stores, was “spiteful”.
Campaigning in Soshanguve over the weekend, Steenhuisen told DA supporters: “What did [Gauteng premier] Panyaza Lesufi do? He took your tax money to buy ill-fitting PEP Stores uniforms for untrained cadres and pretended that they were crime wardens.
“What kind of person pulls a drunkard out of a shebeen, gives him a uniform and a weapon, and then unleashes them on to a community?”
Communications guru Sarah Britten said: “Judging by the response to the remarks, this kind of commentary is not good for the DA. It has backfired, coming across as spiteful.
“The DA already has a likeability problem and this just exacerbates that perception.
“It is no surprise that the comments were interpreted as racist, because PEP Stores is associated with black, low-income shoppers.
“While this will not necessarily harm the brand, it came across as the kind of tone-deaf comment DA haters will seize upon.”
Had similar utterances been made by EFF leader Julius Malema, “it would not have been a big deal”, Britten said.
Policy analyst Dr Nkosikhulule Nyembezi and independent political analyst Sandile Swana said the Steenhuisen remarks signalled “the ugly tone and nature of what can be expected in political campaigning”.
“Steenhuisen will undoubtedly enjoy a turbocharged good press,” said Nyembezi.
“His poll numbers in DA’s traditional support base patches will also increase. However, much of the praise will be misdirected.
“This was an important speech about an important subject at the onset of a tricky election campaign, where the DA must blend – not alienate potential coalition partners,” Nyembezi said.
“The tone, especially dealing with the character assassination of individuals helping communities fight crime, was impractical and unthoughtful.
“But the lack of promise of relatable practical alternatives – far from being an act of great political mastery – could prove to be Steenhuisen’s career-defining error.”
Swana said while Steenhuisen was “not a suitable leader for the DA”, there were several lingering questions about amaPanyaza.
“The selection of crime wardens in line with good practice within human resources and the security cluster remains in question – whether they would have met relevant recruitment process and whether the training was adequate.
“The appointment of crime wardens, in the manner Lesufi did at the time with community policing forums and community neighbourhood patrollers, was not the route to take.
“Whether Steenhuisen can produce proof these people are drunkards, unfit for the job, is another question,” Swana said.
South Africa should expect “this type of scandalising campaigning in the run-up to the elections”, he said.
“All these political leaders – Gwede Mantashe, Fikile Mbalula and Jacob Zuma – are involved in such scandalising campaigning, with Steenhuisen not the only one.”
Steenhuisen’s remarks have created an unease within members of the MultiParty Charter, with ActionSA national chair Michael Beaumont saying the utterances failed to advance the image of the coalition of opposition parties.