Guest Column

The DA is an opposition unto itself

2017-04-25 14:31

Oliver Dickson

The problem with South African democracy is that we hold our soccer and rugby coaches to higher standards of accountability than we do our leaders.

This doesn’t just hold true for our leaders serving in government and the ANC, but holds more disproportionately true for our opposition, particularly the DA.

The strength of our democracy is determined by the strength of our opposition and their ability to contest actions and ideas enacted by the ruling party. So even if you’re not a supporter of the DA, their political position and the things they stand for, it is still quite strongly in your interest that we have a stronger DA, for the sake of our democracy. Now more than ever.

Much like we do with the private sector, we don’t seem to care to hold opposition parties to account, or at least not as much as we do the ruling party. Presumably because the ruling party has a mandate that opposition parties don’t hold. But this couldn’t be more fallacious. By their mere existence in the democratic space, opposition parties have a mandate equally as heavy, because they have offered themselves up to the concern of improving South Africa and our democracy and we ought to hold them to that standard.

In the DA’s case, not only are they the biggest opposition party, they’re also not just an opposition party. Holding office in several key metros and municipalities (under several coalitions), the DA is a ruling party for many.

But why the sudden concern with the DA?

The DA has become an opposition unto itself in almost exactly the same way the ANC has. It silences internal critical voices, exonerates problematic key figures, backbenches its strongest and most important leaders and refuses radical change – by holding onto the old white boys club.

Crucially, for the DA to demonstrate that it takes South Africans and their plights serious, it needs to make a concerted effort to start being truly representative of South Africans by undertaking a radical transformation project. 75% of the DA’s parliamentary body is still male, that means only 25% of the DA’s leadership is female, despite having had a female figurehead. This is disgusting standards for any party that seeks to lead South Africa. It gets worse. A staggering 80% of the DA’s parliamentary caucus is white, holding only 20% black Africans on the bench.

In a country that is predominantly black, where most of the problems disproportionately affect black people and where the poverty is largely a black struggle – as Cyril Ramaphosa puts it, the poverty in this country bears the long face a black women – it is mind boggling how the DA’s representative body can be so unrepresentative. More disgustingly, only but 9% of that representative body is black and female.

Surely this is not displaying of a party serious about representing South Africa? Importantly, continuing this demographic mismatch, the DA can forget about growing any further – especially given that there now exist a young vocal and energetic black alternative in the opposition politics spectrum, namely the EFF. The EFF’s growth comes from exactly their ability to look as representative of the poor majority of this country.

This transformation project is simple. Break up the old white boys club. Importantly, then, it means the DA needs to start employing more black talent and leadership – leadership that is young and female.

Even then, the DA needs to place that young black leadership in critical parliamentary positions. It makes no sense that the chief whip, the opposition’s voice in Parliament that gets the most airtime, remains a white voice. John Steenhuisen is the very face of the white monopoly capital that Jacob Zuma talks about and people will continue to believe his insincere characterisation of it because people continuously see John Steenhuisen and his Backstreet Boys Gang insincerely challenge the political moment.

With the talent of Phumzile van Damme as chief whip and potentially Hlomela Bucwa as her deputy, the DA’s voice becomes one that black voters in this country can take serious when they challenge the political moment.

Outside of Parliament, the DA continues to face a moral crisis by exonerating problematic figures within the party. Helen Zille remains the most recognisable and influential figure in the party and her utter racism and sheer arrogance towards the pain and suffering of black people in South Africa continues to cost the DA its growth. Leaders in the party who came to her defence since her Twitter blunder exonerated her and displayed the true sentiments of the party regarding colonialism and its impact on black people.

The DA loses nothing by getting rid of Ouma Helen, but in fact, would gain a lot more respect and support from people who were and are uncertain of the DA’s colour line. Importantly, Ouma Helen’s disciplinary hearing should have been an expedited matter give the sensitivity of the case, her Twitter account confiscated and she should have been put on immediate suspension pending the outcomes of her disciplinary hearing. When the DA, specifically Mmusi Maimane failed to do that, the DA displayed that it is an opposition unto itself.

I would love to see a DA that is stronger, more sincere and proactive because it is only then that the ANC will take itself serious and take us serious. But the ANC remains unshaken by the DA because the DA is doing as much damage to itself as it does to the ANC.

Importantly, for a party that governs in metros, cities and a province (and potentially another province after 2019), the DA is not just an opposition, so we need to hold the DA to the same standards we do the ANC. This means we may need to march for the removal of Ouma Helen as much as we do the removal of Oupa Jacob. We may need to march for the transformation of the DA’s racial make up as much as we would the Gupta’s state capture.

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater currently ranked Africa's nr. 1 debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

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