Our History

The Democratic Alliance is the result of many parties and movements coming together over the years and coalescing around the vision of an open opportunity society for all South Africans. It has counted among its leaders prominent anti-apartheid activists such as Helen Suzman, Colin Eglin, Harry Schwarz and Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.

In 1959 a number of liberal members of the United Party broke away after the United Party voted against returning land to the black majority. The breakaway members formed the Progressive Party. 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 careers  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 all 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 the Progressives merged with the Reform Party (another breakaway from the UP) to form the Progressive Reform Party (PRP).  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 ruling National Party 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 newly created office of the State President too much power.

The PFP lost a number of Parliamentary seats in the 1987 election, which was contested 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.  In the National Party, De Klerk had taken over from PW Botha as leader, and so the  National Party called an election for September. Under the combined leadership of Zach de Beer, Denis Worrall and Wynand Malan, the DP won 34 seats in Parliament in the general election. The NP also lost seats to the right-wing Conservative Party and the loss of support enabled the NP leader, F W de Klerk, to announce a radical change in government policy on 2 February 1990. The dismantling of apartheid had begun.

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. Democratic Party 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.

Steady growth in post-Apartheid election results

In the first post-apartheid election in 1994, the DP won only 1.7% of the vote at national level. Under the leadership of Tony Leon, the DP began a new fight: for the legitimacy of opposition in a democratic South Africa.

The 1995 municipal elections marked the beginning of long, steady growth in DP support in South Africa. In the 1999 general elections, the DP increased to a 9% share of the national vote and returned 45 members to Parliament. The DP overtook the National Party, becoming the largest opposition party in the country.

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 and the New National Party (NNP). The Democratic Alliance was formed.

In the December 2000 municipal elections, the DA won a number of municipalities, including the Cape Town Metro.

The relationship between the former DP and NNP within the DA was an uneasy one. It broke down towards the end of 2001 when the NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk took the NNP into an alliance with the ANC.

In the 2004 general election, the DA built on the gains of the DP five years previously, gaining 12.3% of the vote and 50 seats in the National Assembly. The party grew its support in eight out of nine provinces and marked an increase of over 400 000 votes, despite 114 000 fewer votes being cast in the election. The election confirmed the DA’s status as the most popular opposition party, the fastest growing party overall, and the only viable alternative to the ANC.

The DA increased its national share of the vote by a further 4% in the 2006 local government elections – from 12.3% in 2004 to 16.3%. The party 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%, making the DA the largest party in Cape Town (ANC: 38%). 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 which enabled the DA to form a governing coalition of seven parties.

The realignment of politics

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 in Cape Town initially had a tenuous grip on power, but it became more solid once the Independent Democrats joined. Despite the ANC’s repeated attempts to unseat it, the coalition worked well.

On 26 November 2006, Tony Leon announced that he 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. In 2008, Helen Zille was awarded the title of World Mayor of the Year.

In November 2008, the DA was re-launched as a party of government that delivers for all. It was accompanied by a new logo to symbolise the DA’s diversity. This re-positioning found favour with voters in the 2009 elections which saw the DA win 16,7% of the national vote and 67 seats in the National Assembly. The DA won the Western Cape with an outright majority of 51,5% of the provincial vote.

DA in government

The DA’s track record in government has been characterised by a tangible improvement in service delivery and quality of life for all.  Voters in Cape Town rewarded the DA with a 60.9% share of the vote in the 2011 local government elections and a 57% DA vote across the Western Cape. The DA’s share of the national vote was 24%, up 8% from the previous local government elections in 2006. The DA is now in control of 28 municipalities across the country.

The DA is proud of its tradition of non-racialism and protection of human rights. The party is guided by its vision of an open opportunity society for all South Africans. We are proud to be the most diverse party in South Africa, representing the aspirations of a new generation of South Africans.