DA’s face is darkening

2011-09-10 11:34

Every day I receive messages from young black South ­Africans urging the DA to promote a more diverse ­leadership.

In most cases, these young people ­already believe in the DA’s values, but they want us to diversify so that they can proudly identify with the party.

Since the party does not yet look like them, they wonder if it truly represents them. The DA leadership agrees with this ­assessment and acknowledges that this is a real challenge. Much of this is due to our history.

During apartheid, our predecessor parties did not have much access to black communities – nor they to us.

But we have been able to go from being a party with an all-white leadership in 1994 to one whose national leadership is more than 30% black.

This is a real change for an organisation that was once so small and white.

Now that we are the second-largest ­party in the country, we recognise that we still have a long way to go before all South Africans believe we represent them, and we have initiated and intensified the ­following mechanisms:

» First, as part of our long-term strategy, our Young Leaders Programme brings in talented young people under the mentorship of our national leadership.

Many graduates are already active in DA structures, such as Makashule Gana, the DA youth leader, and Sizwe Mchunu, the DA provincial leader of KwaZulu-Natal.

» Second, as a short-term measure, we are recruiting established politicians from other parties who share our values.

That is how we brought in Bonginkosi Madikizela, the current Western Cape MEC for human settlements, and Patricia de Lille, who runs the City of Cape Town. This approach has its limits, but adds significant value to the party quite quickly.

» Third, we are reaching out to black ­students, business people, professionals and civil society to join us. This approach brought in distinguished journalist and businessman Sej Motau, now an MP ­representing Tshwane, as well as community activist Mmusi Maimane, our recent candidate for mayor of Joburg.

But black members are subject to the same rigorous, democratic processes as others, assuring voters the DA promotes diversity and quality simultaneously.

We are launching branches in the townships and engaging with communities that previously never paid any attention to us.

When the membership and the ­leadership are both diverse, then the party will truly blossom.

A City Press report headlined “Whites still the cream of the DA” (August 28) ­suggested we are not living up to our claim that we are the most diverse party in the country.

In that respect, the report was ­incorrect. But the article was correct in stating that the DA does not as yet broadly reflect the racial and gender diversity of our population.

The future success of the DA rests, in part, on how quickly we make the leadership better reflect the racial and gender variation of the country. We will get more diverse over time.

But we agree with those who say we’re taking too long. That is why it is now one of our top priorities – along with delivery, reconciliation and redress.

We believe in holding the government accountable and thus would expect nothing less from others regarding our claims.More than that, we call on black South Africans who care about the fate of this country to do more than critique us from the outside.

We invite you to join us, to enhance the DA and become part of the changes that are not only necessary for the party, but will build a better ­democracy in South Africa.

» James is the federal chairperson of the DA 

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