Tjatjarag – Senseless . . . really?

2011-09-10 11:39

When the DA’s Wilmot James first read the ­article “Whites still the cream of the DA” (City Press, August 28), he was annoyed.

In an email he sent to me, he said the article had no point and was quite senseless.

It’s good to read, then, that he now sees that diversity in leadership and a demonstrable commitment to non-racialism is a real issue for his party.

Changes of heart are good things, ­especially when they happen so quickly. As James notes, it’s not easy for a small, largely white party to change its blue stripes.

But under Helen Zille, strides have been made. The last election was its ­watershed, where the face of the DA and its dominant Anglo-Saxon culture were inextricably altered.

My sense is that black leaders like James, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille have a real voice in the party, and are not merely black-wash.

But it’s clear that the party, like the ­private sector, still has a long way to go before it is demonstrably non-racial in practice. A clear indication of whether any institution, workplace or organisation is non-racial lies in its staff complement, especially at the leadership level.

Sadly, too many people interpret a commitment to non-racialism as being race blindness. It is anything but that, and in South Africa we have not framed workable definitions for what we mean when we say we are non-racial.

It is a blindspot for the DA and we first saw it when Zille, in her first composition of her provincial cabinet, managed to put in place a nearly all-white, all-male team.

This is in line with the party’s view that it only employs people who are “fit for purpose”, its term for a belief in ­meritocracy.

No problem with that, except merito-cracy in the vision of who and what is fit for purpose, it falls into the classic trap of seeing competence only in its own dominant image.

This is one reason the private sector has stubbornly refused to alter its leadership at the operational level.

People like working with their own, but in a complex and diverse country, leaders have to change this.

It is not Zille’s blindspot alone: if, for example, there is a coloured director-general, you’ll find that he employs many coloured people.

Ditto Indians.

I’ve heard early rumblings that an Indian Cabinet minister is quickly creating a “mini-Mumbai” in his department. Black politicians, too, will hire in their image.

While the DA has a new generation of young black politicians who were the toast of the last local elections, its engine rooms reflect a confidence only in old boys and girls.

The party’s national management ­committee, where the big operational ­decisions are made, only has two black people on it.

While the party’s employee demographic is more diverse than most South African companies (58% of its staff are historically disadvantaged), a closer look will reveal that its senior employees ­remain largely white.

Black leaders who are speaking to the media say it is very difficult to raise race issues in the DA.

You can see why if DA councillor for the City of Johannesburg Marcelle Ravid says: “We don’t believe in putting ­people in positions based on their race. We are the least racist party.”

Clearly, the constitutional principles of affirmative action have not seeped into the party if its senior leaders still believe that affirmation action equals racism.

It’s good that the DA’s journey to genuine non-racialism has begun. But it’s equally clear that the road ahead is long.

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