Simon Williamson

The most non-racial party

2014-02-07 10:00

Simon Williamson

One of the Democratic Alliance's pivotal marketing points is its claim that it is the most diverse political party in South Africa when it comes to race. In fact, the DA's leader in the Gauteng Legislature (for now) Jack Bloom tweeted a link to a recent IPSOS survey and added: "Ipsos survey shows DA only party that draws support from all races". Party leader Helen Zille followed up with: "Ipsos survey shows again: DA is the most non-racial party South Africa has ever had".
 
The survey to which both senior members of the DA refer declared that 18% of the DA's support base is black. While surveys reported in South African media are often garbage, this Ipsos survey is not so. There really isn't a valid reason to disbelieve the fact that 18% of DA supporters are black. While the stat doesn't look particularly impressive in a country that is nigh on four-fifths black, relative to the pale complexion we've come to expect of the DA it has set party tongues wagging (which is nice as they had a rough start to February).
 
However, it is a deep reminder that South Africans - notably including the DA after the party assumed Mamphela Ramphele saying its talking points would invite a stampede of black voters - choose not to think outside race when it comes to what is going on in the country. South Africa is a diverse electorate that is difficult to understand, so most of our punditry and political talk is done through the lens of race. And this talk of who is the most non-racial party kind of works like this:

A facile look

We are the DA. We have 50% white support, 27% coloured support, 20% black support and 3% Indian support. Look at how broad that is. That, over there, is the ANC. It has 96% black support, 2% coloured support and 2% Indian support*. Therefore we have higher percentages of people who are not white, and the ANC is virtually all black. BOOM. Non-racial!
 
(*(the Ipsos survey showed 0% white support for the ANC but 1% for EFF - a statistical anomaly, but these are not abnormal when it comes to polling statistics on small numbers.))
 
This sort of analysis - which has been repeated ad infinitum for years now - is a remarkably facile look at the South African electorate, and looks at people in race terms without taking anything else into account. For example, that same survey shows a much broader income range for ANC supporters, whereas the numbers for the DA stack up towards the top. Forty-eight percent of ANC supporters live rurally, whereas that is only true for 10% of DA supporters. Nearly 70% of the DA's supporters are older than 34 years, compared to only 46% of ANC voters. Of the DA's support, over one-third is located in Gauteng and a quarter in the Western Cape. The ANC is more spread out, with 22% in KZN, 19% in Gauteng, 16% in whatever is left of the Eastern Cape, 13% in Limpopo and 10% in The Mabuza fiefdom of Mpumalanga. This sort of statistic by municipality would be even more interesting.

Survey doesn't prove anything
 
Which means that the "non-racial" song being performed to us from Zille, Bloom and company shouldn’t necessarily be confused with "diverse".
 
That is not to say this may not be the case, but a survey about race sure as hell doesn't prove anything, except the slow build up of black support for the DA is increasing, pretty much as everyone thought it would.
 
Particularly for the folks who preach "non-racialism" among us, let's not pretend that's all there is to South Africa.

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