Hlengiwe Mnguni

DA needs people skills

2010-10-08 06:52

The DA has always worked harder than most other political parties (as the official opposition should) to put itself across as the party that could do it better. And there are many times when I am convinced of this.

For instance, not only is the DA’s attitude towards the spending of public funds refreshing, but the much-needed social welfare and education programmes that the party’s Western Cape government initiates in the Western Cape, reflect a party that takes seriously the idea that it takes more than infrastructure to better communities.

But I can’t help but wonder how much success the DA is really having in communicating its vision when time and again its shows its inevitable weakness in the gulf that seems to stretch between itself and the mainly poor, predominantly non-white communities.

That Zille’s picture of what is hampering progress in Hangberg features drug-peddling Rastas holding peace-loving Capetonians ransom demonstrates how far out of touch the party is. We have seen and heard people, who don’t readily fit that drug-peddling ransom-holding Rasta description, tell of their unhappiness about the way Hangberg service delivery complaints have been addressed over the years.

When the DA announced in August that there had been a 70% decline in the number of reported incidents of crime in Khayelitsha in five years, I, like many, believed it.

(It’s unfortunate that this was incorrect, for the Khayelitsha residents especially, but that most of South Africa accepted this astounding statistic without question goes to show what a reputation the DA has built.)

Error

When the Social Justice Coalition, an NGO operating in the area, pointed out the error, that the decline in reported crime had actually been 24% (DA research had failed to include statistics from two out of three police stations in the area in their calculations) the first thought that came to mind was: How could they have not known something was amiss? It would have been difficult for them, at some point before the announcement, to have not at least questioned such a drastic drop in crime in one of the province’s crime flashpoints had the party had some sort of meaningful and sustained interaction with the community.
 
While arranging meetings with disgruntled communities shows some level of commitment, it has been of little use in attempting to address a number of service delivery complaints in the DA-led Western Cape. When some residents of Makhaza in Khayelitsha participated in ANCYL-led protests, trashing temporary enclosures around toilets, they had recently met with the City of Cape Town.
 
The community of Hangberg has been in talks with the city for years. The anger and violence has not gone away or subsided. I recently saw a video of then mayor Zille addressing a 2008 meeting of Hangberg residents. It could as well have been taken this week.

It is never enough to have good ideas and good intentions. After 10 years since it came into being, the DA still fails to translate itself into a party that fully identifies with the struggles that traditionally accompany poverty.

Start speaking a different language

While the DA PR machine goes into overdrive to show that it was justified in its actions in Hangberg and that the victims of government “brutality” aren’t always so innocent (as demonstrated by pictures taken and distributed by the city showing a number of Hangberg residents, who claimed to have been defenceless bystanders when they were injured, throwing rocks at the police), it also ignores that in conflicts between (poor) communities and the government such a show of force is likely to make a bully of government - no matter who is right or wrong.

The DA regrets that violence ended being used in Hangberg, particularly because it has met and tried to engage with the community for years. The DA needs to start speaking a different language at these meetings. Because someone is not getting the message.

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