Why are whites missing from the DA’s marches?

2017-10-15 06:19
The stage bearing DA leader Mmusi Maimane's face at the party's election manifesto launch in Johannesburg.

The stage bearing DA leader Mmusi Maimane's face at the party's election manifesto launch in Johannesburg.

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‘Baphi Abelungu?”, translated as “Where are the whites?”, was a question that was raised by eNCA award-winning journalist Karyn Maughan on Twitter, following our march to the Guptas’ residence in Saxonwold on October 5. This is a common question that follows most of our marches, but it had never hit me as much as it did this time around, and it had nothing to do with the fact that it was raining or that Maughan had asked it on Twitter. It finally dawned on me that I have been avoiding responding to it, both as a South African and a leader in the DA, for it carries a deeper message.

As with many questions of this nature, one is always tempted to go on the defensive and, in this case, try to justify why there were very few whites at the march. One could even try to look through the gallery of photos from the event to see if there were some white people in attendance, and send them to Twitter as a way of answering. But that would be running from the question and trying to spin it away. This time around, I chose to give a proper response.

A closer observation of political marches in the country – be it by the ANC, Cosatu or the EFF – shows that the absence of white people is not something that only affects the DA. It is a challenge faced by all political parties that have taken to public protest as a tactic to raise issues of national importance. However, as the DA, we cannot afford to dismiss this question by merely pointing out that other political parties face the same challenge as ours.

There is a perception that we have to shed: a perception that we are a white party or a party controlled by whites. This perception does not affect the other political parties. The DA has done well to include protests and marches as part of our political culture.

The question is thus relevant to us; people expect more from us as a party, that we should be leading society in building a party that is truly home to South Africans wherever we are, be it in the streets, parliament or councils. The DA needs to be seen as a truly diverse party at all times, it is not enough to say we are diverse when that diversity cannot be seen or experienced by all.

From observation, we are yet to achieve social integration between blacks and whites 23 years into our democracy. We come from a racially and socially divisive past and the effects are still with us to this day.

As a country, we have relied on legislation to facilitate social integration, and the pace has been slow. I am convinced that legislation alone will not achieve the social integration that South Africa needs. This task requires a leadership that will provide a vision for society, a vision that is shared and supported by all.

A task that is facing us as the DA is how to become an agent of real social integration. We need to assess whether we are ready for this mammoth task of leading social integration across racial and class lines. To lead will require us to have deep and, at times, uncomfortable conversations among ourselves about how we are seen and perceived. What is becoming clear is that we cannot avoid this conversation. Our society needs a leader, and the reason people are asking us the question, “Baphi Abelungu?”, is because they see us as a leader in building a nonracial, diverse society.

It is now generally accepted that the culture of protest and marches is part of our DNA, and we need to ensure that our marches represent the diversity that South Africa has to offer. This will require work and a lot of convincing and mobilising, especially of our white supporters and voters. In the same way that we took a deliberate action to start marching and protesting, it must be as deliberate to ensure our marches are diverse. We cannot afford to fail at this task. For if we fail, the question “Baphi Abelungu?” will continue to be asked.

Gana is a DA member of the Gauteng provincial legislature

Read more on:    da  |  protests

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