Simon Williamson

Hanging black curtains

2011-10-07 07:40

It would be folly to suggest that all parties haven’t attempted window dressing at times. Every party wants to appeal to all people. Lynda Odendaal was that at Cope (because who needs two deputies when you don’t even know who the leader is?), FF+ head Piet Mulder is in Jacob Zuma’s cabinet, Joe Seremane was on the front of the DA website for years without the majority of its electorate having the foggiest idea who he was (we know this because the PAC bitching only began when Patricia de Lille joined the DA).

John McCain was always considered too middle-of-the-road to be a Republican presidential candidate, so he subjected us to the presence of Sarah Palin into the world. Tony Blair was a master at turning the Labour party into a business-friendly entity. Barack Obama was seen as too young, so he roped in Joe Biden as his number two. In South Africa, much of our party membership is race-based, and the ANC will go after white votes in the same way the DA will chase black ones. For the ANC it means adding legitimacy to policy decisions, for the DA it means a likely future on the sidelines may one day come to an end.
 
So it isn’t surprising to hear the chattering classes discussing the window-dressing merits of Mazibuko at length, since the announcement that she will challenge DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip for his position, either supporting the tactic or ridiculing it.
 
That all being said, I don’t quite think Mazibuko is window-dressing. Well, if she is then I don’t think she’s particularly good at it. I do, however, think the colour of her skin adds a different element to her political equity than, for example, the ever decreasing-in-age Helen Zille or wisened wrinkles of Wilmot James.

Her party’s stance, of course, is a non-racial one, which I assume is intended to mean that Mazibuko has her role without the fact that she is a black woman being taken into account. And I think that is, to a large extent, true. Because she hasn’t, from a marketing point of view, maximised the fact that she is a darker hue than most of the voting base of the party she represents. In fact I think that if her pigmentation is taken into account, it does more to add legitimacy to the party for liberal white folks than attract new black ones.
 
The DA’s most important problem is not that it doesn’t have enough black people in its leadership (although that is a notable concern), it’s that its policies differ from what the bulk of the country – mostly poor black people, to point out the obvious – look for in a ruling party. If one looks at what voters want, it isn’t quite deregulation, the sale of state assets, or a reduction in affirmative action policy or land redistribution. And no matter what the DA say about their current lot of policies, 74% of people at the last count, aren’t buying, them as solutions to the bucket of turds with which the apartheid government left South Africa to deal.
 
And the party has not directly used Mazibuko merely to attract black voters either. I have read numerous political statements she has released and none of them seek to speak on behalf of black South Africans. In fact I’d say she toes the non-racial DA line pretty closely. The DA has always had a sprinkling of black voters which has increased marginally over the last few elections. The party didn’t need Mazibuko to do the job for it and I am not convinced that anything other than DA governance and programmes, pretty average ANC service delivery and policy, corruption, the absolute non-performance of the smaller parties (I sadly include the IFP in this bracket) and the odd divisive figure like Julius Malema or Jimmy Manyi has led to the DA’s continual growth every time the nation goes to the polls.
 
Mazibuko is not likely to add any serious amount of black votes to the DA by virtue of being a black woman; she tows the party line without saying anything majorly different to what other spokespeople have said before although some DA stalwarts I know have struggled to explain to me precisely what her plan for the party is. The real difference that Mazibuko makes to the party is that white folks, who have historically voted for the DA – PFP and leftover Nats alike – in droves, now feel like their party and political points of view are less “white”, justifying their long-held assertion that race-based voting plays no part in the DA and that most black folks are just sheep and feel obliged to vote for the liberation movement of ANC. Evidently this was closure unfelt when a large portion of coloured folks joined the ranks. It also, unfortunately, doesn’t relate to Mazibuko’s ability in the role.
 
In fact in South Africa, as a liberal white person, there is very little that makes one feel legitimised like having a black person back your political opinion, meaning an easy exit from any argument countered by racism. And Mazibuko’s name will be dropped multiple times in arguments over the dinner table and in the media when people accuse the DA of pandering to whites, maintaining the demographic status quo and being a racist party.
 
It isn’t going to make a noticeable difference to the party solely by replacing the hue of Parliamentary leader Athol Trollip’s skin tone with hers.  I highly doubt black voters will come running solely because a singular black person is wearing a blue shirt with a DA logo on it.
 
It will have far more to do with her competence in the role. Something very few of us, and I include myself, have taken into account since our chins began wagging when she announced her intention to run.
 
So, South Africa, don’t expect hordes of folks jumping from the ANC to the DA purely because a black person now gets to make the noise.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  helen zille  |  lindiwe mazibuko  |  patricia de lille
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