In the mix

2011-10-04 00:00

PERHAPS the most underestimated news headline last week was the confirmation that the young and energetic Lindiwe Mazibuko will run for the position of parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance. This should have been one of the most positive news items discussed were the media not obsessed with negative headlines.

We have come to regard bad news as exciting news, which says certain things about a future­ we should all desire pale into insigni-ficance. Instead of hallowing and debating the rise of black stars and the difficult multiracialisation of a white political opposition party — the DA — we were discussing rumours of the imminent dismissal or suspension of the National­ police commissioner General Bheki Cele, and the departure of the Avusa CEO under a cloud of shenanigans on the Avusa­ board.

There is so much controversial, although good news, to get the nation­ talking about a country we want to fashion. The once-iconic Nation-builder of the Year awards, the new Ubuntu awards last week and even the work of many NGOs who are involved in nation building are some of the good news stories that are being ignored in the mainstream public discourse.

The prospect of a serious contest for caucus leadership between a seasoned and Xhosa-speaking white moderate liberal in Athol Trollip and Mazibuko, the eloquent black diamond in the DA’s new pool of politicians, is a useful way of starting a discussion of our nation. At least its outcome will tell us whether the DA message about being “the truly multiracial party” reflects the general feeling in its leadership.

A few months ago Helen Zille and her team of strategists hoped that a number of the DA provincial congresses would elect leadership of a mixture of races, but it emerged with an almost all-white leadership. This raises the question of just how deep Zille’s efforts to transform and modernise the party goes and if indeed the membership buys into this strategy of the DA’s growth through gradual transformation.

Of course, when presented with an opportunity to balance competence and legitimacy, Zille appointed a mostly white and all-male cabinet before she brought in Patricia de Lille in a cabinet reshuffle following the DA’s acquisition of the Independent Democrats. This unwise move cemented the perception that the DA is a party of privileged whites.

That there was no outcry about this, but that there was a clever rationalisation of this regressive step, suggests that the multiracial agenda is a political strategy driven by the top leadership to woo votes and expand its membership.

During municipal elections, the DA played the multiracial card by displaying faces of leaders of various­ races on its elections posters­. Mazibuko and Wilmot James frequently featured in posters designed to project this new character of the DA. But the question is whether the DA was willing to back up this skillful PR exercise with concrete multiracialisation of its leadership in the government in the Western Cape, in provincial legislatures and in the national parliament, remained.

Of course the DA has, among a number of its constituencies, a large number of conservative liberals­ including the former National Party verkrampte who should be sceptical of this multi-racial ideology being foisted on them under Zille. The Zille leadership seems to be cautious of making inroads into black constituencies without losing its traditional support base, its main source of financial resources.

The politics of multiracialism is made even more attractive for the DA by the fact that the ANC is decrying declining support among racial minorities, a development that should not be surprising in light of the dynamic nature of the middle-class voters in general. It is a wise strategy by the DA to try to take the multiracial character as an important moral ground in pursuit of political power.

But it cannot work if it is limited to advertising, slogans and plans. It must be seen to be done in practice. This includes the election of black leaders in critical positions in the DA and their ability to engage black communities in order to reflect black issues as well as they currently do with white issues­.

While Mazibuko does not want to be seen as a black candidate, to avoid alienating the verkramptes, her ultimate value will be in helping the DA better understand and reflect blackness in its policies, discourse and leadership choices.

If she avoids this because she sees herself as a deracialised individual then she would fare no better than Joe Seremane a former DA chairperson, who left no visible mark in the DNA of the DA, when he retired.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the

executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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