Book review – DA must confront the identity of the SA voter

2014-02-24 08:00

In an edited extract from his new book, Could I Vote DA?, Eusebius McKaiser argues that the opposition must get to grips with the black voter’s identity politics.

Could I vote DA?

Author: Eusebius McKaiser

Publisher: Bookstorm

Price: R189 at

Pages: 200

The DA has to face an unfortunate truth about race.

ANC voters do not just want to see black leaders in the DA before they are prepared to consider the DA a real alternative home to the ANC.

In that sense, simply foregrounding the black leaders the party has isn’t going to work.

Black voters can afford to be fussy when it comes to the DA in a way in which the voter is less fussy when it comes to the ANC.

The reason for this is interesting, but perfectly coherent.

Given their relationship with brand ANC, the ANC supporters protest in their municipality but want services to be delivered by men and women who look like them, speak like them, sound like them and who share their political identity and historical roots.

But the black voter has no such loyalty or historical bond with the DA.

What this means is that black voters can look at the DA far more dispassionately and critically than they do the ANC.

It is not rocket science.

So the desire to see DA leaders with whom they can identify should not be simplistically reduced to skin colour.

It is about identity, but not merely about skin colour.

If we had constituencies in which we stood for national elections, someone like white DA leader Athol Trollip would surely have a good chance of winning a constituency seat in the Eastern Cape, where he is from, over black DA leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

The black voter’s identity politics need to be engaged more intelligently.

Identity is in massive part about race, but not only about race.

It is also about language, colour, ethnicity, class, geography and other traits.

The DA would begin to worry the ANC for the first time in any serious way if its strategists started asking themselves what it might mean for the next video or next poster campaign to think of black people’s identity in these more layered ways.

The challenge, of course, might stump them. Unfortunately for the DA, the ANC has a head start here.

The ANC does not need to have a workshop on how to engage black communities.

Why? Because ANC leaders come from these areas and, more importantly, the thousands of ANC volunteers, branch members and foot soldiers unleashed during the election period actually live these layered identities.

It is not academic for them. It is not an intellectual exercise.

It is their uncomplicated everyday reality. The ANC speaks their language.

The ANC is part of their language.

The DA is perhaps more culturally disadvantaged here than many DA leaders have the ability to truly grasp.

But at the very least, the DA needs to become conscious of the fact that in engaging the ANC, and the current ANC voter and supporter in attempts to win her over, it needs to be mindful that it is not simply facing racial identity politics, but complex identity politics.

The DA really needs to stop pretending that critics are people who are beyond the pale of political persuasion.

I, for example, am probably someone many people within the party would have to, if it is consistent, regard as beyond the pale –?a voter who has no intention of ever voting for the DA.

Because that is what the DA does when it is confronted with a critic?–?it dismisses them as inherently uninterested in the party.

Why on earth would I spend so much time writing a book?...?if I were not within reach of being persuaded to vote for the party or, who knows, even joining the party at some point?

I have noticed a pattern. When I criticise the ANC as an analyst, or just when I am in comment mode on social-media platforms, DA fans endorse my content with glee.

When they need to step up to the plate, however, for example when a DA leader or supporter makes a mistake, they are all woefully silent.

A case in point was when Helen Zille went out of control, calling some of our internationally respected civil society leaders on public health matters the “Aids Gestapo” because they showed her up for her evidence-insensitive proposal that we criminalise the transmission of HIV with no regard to what experts had long been saying about the issue in terms of the public health risks of such a policy proposal, however well intentioned.

DA leaders pretended nothing was happening.

The point is that the party comes across to many black voters as consisting of hard-headed, know-it-all, mostly white leaders who think they have a monopoly on the solutions to our problems.

How about showing humility when you make mistakes?

How about conceding when a critic makes a salient point? Sadly, intransigence is part of all politicians’ DNA.

For the DA, however, the cost is higher than for an incumbent ruling ANC with over 60% of the vote.

And this is why a more actively listening DA, which engages critics and not just fans, would develop a more appealing brand among would-be voters.

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