The DA’s small-town thinking drags it down

2018-02-11 05:54


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Metaphorically speaking, the deteriorating state of our small towns could be equated to the ideological crisis in which the DA finds itself.

Most of our small towns were established as small military outposts under colonial rule during the 19th century. Magistrates’ courts and office buildings formed the core of these towns. Infrastructural investment was minimal and economic development rarely went beyond general dealerships.

The investments and developments were generally limited to the central white business centres of these small towns – to the detriment of the non-white residents, who were (and still are), restricted to slum areas.

The DA and its predecessors were founded on the same ideological premises: the promotion and entrenchment of a white ideology – to the extent that the party’s (white) leadership is faced with a huge dilemma: steering a party with a predominantly black membership, while ideologically preserving whiteness.

So how does the DA leadership reconcile the interests of its white liberals with those of its black social democrats? The answer lies in an ideological paradigm shift.

Ideologies constitute an important manifestation of political values, which often underpin the behaviour of most – if not all – political actors.

Coined by the Frenchman Antoine Destutt de Tracy between 1796 and 1798, the term ‘ideology’ describes a set of values used as guidelines for living. The danger inherent in ideology was captured in an old proverb, loosely formulated by UK historian AJP Taylor: “One’s ideology is like one’s own breath: one cannot smell it.”

In a different context, in an attempt to provide a solution to the dilemma around ideology, historian Hermann Giliomee commented: “It is much better to openly admit from which corner you are coming when you tell your story.”

Wittingly or unwittingly, former DA leader Helen Zille, in her autobiography Not Without a Fight, explained the ideology from which the DA came.

Tragically for the DA, neoliberalism has failed abjectly. In its initial years neoliberalism found itself on the periphery, despite extravagant funding, but during the 1970s, characterised by economic crises on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, increasingly in the mainstream.

Neoliberalism was promoted and propagated under the guise of “there is no alternative”. To such an extent, that it became responsible for the economic crisis of 2008, the rise of wealth and power as captured in the Panama documents, the decline of public education and health, the rise of Donald Trump, racism and ethnic chauvinism, as well as the failure of the left.

Neoliberalism opposes state intervention and ensures markets control ownership and exchange of commodities. There is scant regard for unions and human relations are defined by competition. Those of the poor who are not competitive, are marginalised.

The emergence of a traditionalist like Jacob Zuma in the ANC since 2007 has seen the suppression of young black social democrats in the party. This is why some young black politicians have left the ANC and joined the DA or Cope. The far-left have joined the Economic Freedom Fighters.

By 2007 Thabo Mbeki’s modern political and economic thought was years ahead of the ANC. To the extent that he came to pose a threat to die-hard ANC traditionalists, spearheaded by Zuma.

The ANC’s perpetuation of dogma and sentiment under Zuma has kept the party out of modern and intellectual think-thanks. Whether this will change under Cyril Ramaphosa, only time will tell.

The ANC is now predominantly a rural party that relies on the support of the working class. The results of the 2016 municipal elections in the cities testify to this.

Tragically for the DA, the ANC’s headaches are now affecting it directly. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the black social democrats (Mmusi Maimane) and the white liberals (Zille) are now fighting for the soul of the DA.

Zuma has ostracised the social democrats from the ANC and they now regard the DA as the appropriate vehicle to realise their ideals. But liberals like Zille are standing in their way.

The social democrats believe that race is a reality, while the liberals focus on the DA policy of “opportunities”. To date, the liberals have had a problematic relationship with race. This is because some liberals underrate the negative effect of race-based politics. Maimane has stated that “if you don’t see that I am black, then you are not seeing me”.

Despite the failures of neoliberalism, the DA faith in it remains unshaken and it regards any attack on it as an attack on whiteness.

Former journalist, sociologist and author Christi van der Westhuizen wrote: “Zille thinks that a critical analysis of whiteness means there is no place for white people in the country.” She wrote that the DA dressed up its liberal racial thinking as “merit”.

The DA’s failed neoliberalism is therefore equal to race essentialism (Van der Westhuizen’s words), which could loosely be defined as small-town thinking.

Lloyd is a sociopolitical commentator and former journalist

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