Struggle veteran and DA-convert unpacks his party’s dilemma

Very nearly elected Mayor of Ekurhuleni (losing to the ANC candidate by 11 votes) last year, the DA’s Ghaleb Cachalia, son of struggle veterans Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, brings something to the table that no formerly-privileged white DA member can remotely match.

That is a deep and experiential understanding of what the DA needs to do to get black voters on board, a fundamental requirement if it is to improve its showing in the 2019 national elections.

Here he reveals his thinking on that subject, evoked by watching Darrell Roodt’s movie on Winnie Mandela, a powerful catalyst if ever there was one.

He quotes Nelson Mandela’s astute comparison of the greedy and corrupt ANC leadership cadre with kids in a candy shop for the first time and illustrates just how out of touch many White South Africans are, (alluding no doubt to his own party colleagues), with the majority.

He explains the affection our majority, (and its party of choice), has for Cuba and surveys how our racial history ironically continues to divide us on emotive grounds, denying a sound alternative such as the DA a better chance of being elected to government.

The dilemma of our majority population is neatly summed up in one, almost poetic Cachalia line; ‘they are trapped between the rock of selective black benefit and the hard place of white control”.  That’s the rock his party needs to crush – and the control that needs well-managed, quicker relinquishing. – Chris Bateman

By Ghaleb Cachalia*

It’s not only about numbers…I recently watched Darrell Roodt’s movie on Winnie Mandela. The story starts in 1953, three years before I was born.

It’s a poignant tale about a complex, brave and ultimately flawed woman. It captivated me, mainly because it is about a history that was familiar to me – on almost every level – political, familial and more.

What struck me, as I watched the film, in this post-Nelson Mandela era in which the ANC of both Nelson and Winnie is imploding, is how hard it has become, for many people – mainly black – whose lives and consciousness were shaped by those events, to break with the liberation movement, no matter how tainted by corruption and failure it has become.

What also struck me is how many people – mainly white – fail to understand the complexities that govern allegiance to an organisation that championed the daily struggle of millions of black people against an iniquitous system of racial and social engineering.

These are issues of importance to me, as a black person, steeped in the history of the struggle for freedom that dates back, with the involvement of my family, to the days of Mahatma Gandhi and passive resistance, the defiance campaign of the 1950s, the clampdown and state of emergency of the 1960s, the suppression of the 1970s, the emergence of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s and the birth of our constitutional democracy in the 1990s.

This is especially important to me, given my decision to join the DA and my current role within that party, which is poised to play a pivotal role in challenging the power of the ANC in the forthcoming elections of 2019.


In Zapiro’s eyes more of a collision government. More magic available at

Twenty-two years after our democratic election, white and black people still have to find each other in significant numbers in an organisation that will replace the ANC at the helm of national government.

Enter the DA – an evolving, growing and diverse party – the only one able to almost guarantee, on past performance alone, the garnering of, say, 31% of the national vote.

The question is, what will impel the majority of black voters, who sat on their hands in the recent municipal elections and deprived the ANC of their hitherto guaranteed vote, to cast their ballots for the opposition and catapult the DA to, say, 41% in 2019, thereby consigning the ANC to the opposition benches?

Harking back to the issues that struck me as I watched Roodt’s movie, I realised it’s about the development of an affinity by black voters with the soul and purpose of the DA – it’s also about finding that soul.

It’s about a demonstrable understanding by white DA voters of a parallel affinity with the legitimate grievances of the black majority, some 22 years into ANC government – grievances of apartheid’s making, compounded by the ANC’s ineptitude and graft.

In many ways, there needs to be a recognition that the ineptitude was predictable and that the graft was inevitable, that both need to be reversed and that this reversal calls for another party at the helm of the nation’s fortunes, given the deep rot that bedevils the ANC.

The ineptitude was predictable for a number of reasons: allegiance to outmoded and conflicting ideologies, the purging of talent and administration in the public service, the introduction of people into those positions who were essentially novices – all compounded by the enormity of the challenge.

The graft was inevitable because a new governing class, bereft of any real private capital, sought, as a matter of course, to use their hegemony in the public sector to create private wealth and bolster the coffers required to keep the party in power. Witness the empowerment of a black elite, the arms deal and, not least, the current nuclear deal that seek to feed this need and hunger.

I recall Mandela replying to a question I once posed about the growing corruption and graft. He likened the reason for this inevitable trajectory to children who were let loose in a sweet shop for the first time; to the sweet taste and the human addictive imperative for more. He understood it, but was increasingly complicit in tacitly overseeing the feeding frenzy that ensued under his watch and thereafter – a frenzy that fed the party machine.

This complexity and reality need to be understood to usher in a change by both black people – many of whom benefited – and by white people who continued to be structural recipients of a relatively exclusionary economic reality in the private sector.

It also has to be understood by the majority whose lives benefited little from the perception and reality of being caught between the rock of selective black benefit and the hard place of white control.

The smaller entities that constitute the parties on the periphery are destined to remain on the outers, but will be natural partners in a coalition.

The Economic Freedom Fighters may well increase its vote.

The trouble is that they champion a narrative that is populist, unworkable and that will ultimately fail to deliver the economic growth we sorely need.

We need to be open to discussion, but our values need to be preserved and the difference between tactical alliances and principle-driven coalitions understood.

Then the DA can emerge as the warrior knight, in tune with both white and black aspirations as it battles for an inclusive, fair and just future based on prosperity, growth, innovation and freedom that delivers jobs and justice and hope.

That said, it needs to demonstrate, beyond optics, that it is the inclusive alternative, that its policies and practices are sufficiently differentiated and that, above all, it understands, in order to shift, the complexities of allegiance.

It needs to display an understanding, for example, of why Fidel Castro’s Cuba – utterly opposed to liberal values of freedom – occupies a special place in the hearts of the black majority.

It needs to understand the value of the support given by Castro and others to the aspirations of liberation from a system that impugned dignity and kept the majority in relative poverty – when the ostensible bastions of liberalism abroad were silent or opposed to change.

It needs to bridge this divide. It needs to champion the aspirations of the majority and drive an engine that will deliver dignity, peace and prosperity for all.

It needs to tackle the continued spatial and economic legacy of apartheid and it needs to address the misgivings of the majority who withheld their vote in the local elections, if it is to emerge as the party poised to govern.

This requires giving the membership it intends to woo a real say in the future direction of the party. This is beginning to happen.

It needs to be accelerated. The party is currently revising its policies in line with its vision and values, and members will have an opportunity to contribute. It needs to bare its soul.

If we aim to become the majority party in Gauteng and part of national government in 2019, we will have to move beyond the necessary, beyond credible, costed and implementable policies, beyond the required demonstration of how these policies will be funded without harming the critical growth needed to reduce unemployment.

We will need, if we are to move from the necessary to the sufficient, to demonstrate that we are the party of the future – the party that is genuinely diverse, that understands the past with empathy, that posits a future with prescience.

It’s not about conflicting ideologies. It’s about understanding the role of conflicting ideologies in the past and having the courage to transcend these in the future.

It’s not about protecting an old establishment. The status quo is being challenged in every corner of the globe.

It’s about the values, the soul and the unity of our nation. It’s about who we are and what we’ll do. I have little doubt that we’re on the right track.

  • Ghaleb Cachalia is DA caucus leader in Ekurhuleni
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