Most black people view the DA as a “white party”.
It is also a common belief in the streets that the black people in the DA are being used to front for the party, with no real power afforded to even those in seemingly powerful positions.
The common belief among black people is that should the DA get into power, they will maintain the inequalities from the past by blocking any forms of radical transformation that the country needs to change the current economic inequality drastically – this is one of the reasons why the party has not been able to make tremendous strides into black communities, even at a time when the ANC was at its lowest. For the record, despite Ramaphoria, the ANC is still at its lowest.
The fear for “white rule” is still palpable in the minds of black people, and the DA is not doing a good job of changing its image enough, to restore faith in the party by black people. The shenanigans of recent days are not helping things for the party either and are actually affirming this widely held rhetoric amongst blacks, however untrue it might be.
I have, a few times in the past, given my vote to the DA, in both national and provincial elections. Then, my issue was the ANC not delivering and therefore no longer deserving my vote, but looking around, there was no party with a political system sophisticated enough to take on the ANC and reverse the rot. The DA then became a consolation vote – it was either the DA or no voting and the latter was just not a choice for me. I voted for the DA, only to reduce the power of the ANC.
COPE was founded, I gave them my vote, like most black folks – but their shenanigans made us regret, so some of us went back to voting for the DA whilst others returned to the ANC and the rest got dejected. The formation of the EFF helped restore a lot of people’s faith that balance in the political system shall be restored and the prospects of changing the tide against the ANC again looked promising.
The DA was still there, getting enough airtime and winning more black minds – the biggest advantage for the DA was that it was winning educated black minds who have a good standing in their communities. For any political party to make serious inroads into new territories, it needs prominent opinion leaders from those communities – for a while, the DA seemed to be making those inroads with faces like Lindiwe Mazibuko, Patricia de Lille, Mmusi Maimane and others.
Persistent 'white party' suspicions and rumours
The suspicions around the party being a “white party” in disguise persist to this day; it doesn’t seem they will abate soon either. The DA leadership’s conduct doesn’t seem to be aimed at countering that suspicion either. The rumblings received some fuel when Lindiwe Mazibuko left and it was rumoured that she was just too hot for Helen Zille to handle. I used to follow Hellen Zille’s activities and utterings in public spaces and I could identify with the rumblings rumoured to be from within the party.
For me, it was bound to be a challenging situation to have two feisty women leading the same party, diverse as their roles may be. I can’t remember seeing anywhere about a political party that thrived from shared political leadership; in my experiences, only shared values contribute to a cordial political party existence. Therefore, at first my rational brain said “this is bound to happen, especially since Lindiwe is very young and up-coming, while Hellen is seasoned and politically mature”; both ladies were very strong-minded.
When Mmusi Maimane was thrust into the limelight – I went to read about his background and opined that even at parliament level, he was in beyond his political depth. Being exposed to politics (even at a young age) and being a political activist are different things. I am still not convinced that Maimane can hold his own in the DA top echelons and lead the party to the prosperity they so hunger for.
The “black fronting” rhetoric started gaining momentum but I still gave a benefit of the doubt; it would seem a lot of voters did the same because the party continued to grow, albeit not to the extent that their ambitions seem to suggest.
Primary and recency effect in politics
In my opinion, politics are largely driven by the “primary and recency effect” – largely so in South African politics. That is why the ANC remains dominant in the mind of voters and other small up-coming political parties only get the attention at initial stages and seem to wither in the long run. The consistent leadership changes in the DA, of pulling in black leaders, boded well for the party because it kept the party in the mind of the voter as a potential future “saviour”.
ANC – the 'saviour' from apartheid
The ANC is highly revered by black people, to a degree where some view it as their “saviour” from apartheid. The ANC holds a place in most black people’s hearts only a church supersedes. The ANC knows that and they are milking it to the last drop. All other parties can only win measurable voter numbers from the ANC if they are viewed in similar “saviour” light. That is why parties like the EFF seem to be able to grab voters from the ANC more than other older parties.
The EFF crowd knew this from the beginning, and they played to that notion very well; this is why they pitched themselves as the alternative to the ANC from the start, indicating that being from inside the ANC, they knew the workings of the ANC and the underlying politic within, and that they are ready and able to take it on.
Unfortunately for the DA, they do not have the “saviour” element within the party; that might just be the obstacle that keeps the party from winning more black votes in the future as the EFF grows, especially amongst the youth of this country. Black as he is, Maimane doesn’t have those elements either.
Explosive fusion of cultures and ideas in the DA
By bringing blacks into leadership positions, the whites in the DA demonstrated that they are willing to share the stage – however the party still has a long way to go to demonstrate that the whites are willing to share power. It seems the party was not ready for the explosive fusion of cultures that was to happen with this change. From where I stand, the white people in the party seem hell-bent on keeping power, while the blacks seem determined to change the power dynamics within the party – talk about polarised ideals and positions.
To add to that, the African culture of collectivism is pitched directly against the European culture of individualism. So here is a party where one needs to stand up on their own to show their true colours, and in comes a group of people who although they stand as individuals to a degree, they move as a collective. One would be forgiven for thinking that the DA hoped to benefit from this collective mentality while maintaining individualism – lo and behold, it was not to be.
Now we have a party consisting of two extreme schools of thought and behaviour, which seem to be an antithesis for each other. I would say the DA has an identity crisis on its hands. Sadly, the identity crisis is playing itself simultaneously with pressing society issues and a crippled state due to ANC inefficiencies and corruption. The intensity of this seems to have taken the DA by surprise and while scrambling for trouble shooting, the leadership is at loggerheads with each other about the ideals to push forward now and in the upcoming elections.
The handling of the Patricia de Lille issue, for me, is a stark revelation of how the DA will take a while to realise that its approach needs to drastically change in order to attract more black voters and keep them; however, that comes at a risk of alienating the moneyed white voters, who are holding on to economic power for dear life. At some point, the DA is going to have to accept that they can’t have their bread buttered on both sides.
Unclear stance regarding diversity and inequality
I watched with fascination the DA’s recent conference where the issue of diversity and inequality was said to be on the agenda. Sadly, to this day, the party seems to not have an agreement within on what diversity means for the party. To think that 24 years later, into democracy, the party is adding a clause to their constitution to explain their view of diversity, after all these years of claiming to be for diversity. What have they been doing all this time?
The fact that the issue was raised by a black leader, who only came into power in recent years, only demonstrates that contrary to their claims, the DA old boy scouts aren’t ready to relinquish any of that political power. I was also fascinated by how they scrambled to water down Maimane’s version of the proposed clause.
The party does not seem to agree on the implications of societal inequality to the party either. As a result, we see polarised views playing out in the media regarding how the leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, views the issue and how his white counterparts view the issue. Again, this shows the polarised views around how to take the country forward. Inequality is a sore point for black voters.
Maimane is already viewed as a stooge in the party leadership by many a man on the street; what happened with the diversity clause and the reported backlash he got from the DA leadership around his inequality remarks serve only to fuel those views. First it was Mazibuko, then De Lille and now Maimane – we can see you, DA. Did someone just say “black fronting”?
Most black people living in the Western Cape, the only province where the DA governs, claim that apartheid is still live there and that the DA is only pushing to maintain the economic inequality – these claims are based on views around DA’s delivery of social services, not necessarily on their policies.
The issue of land expropriation without compensation has just added more dark spots onto the DA’s white flag. The DA missed the point that the land issue is more about the restoration of black people’s dignity, heritage and identity than just about access to physical land for economic reasons. Instead of acknowledging the pain suffered by blacks under apartheid, and then highlighting how other approaches could be considered before expropriation, the DA jumped onto the blame wagon.
Imagine if you are a poor black person in the DA right now, yearning to have access to land and make a living from it!
How can one political party ever balance white privilege against black poverty, in order to change the racial inequality that exists in this country, without alienating a certain portion of their electorate? South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world and the drive for white privilege from the past (through colonialism and apartheid) is to blame for that.
Until the DA acknowledges that white people are economically better off than their black counterparts and that the playing field is still not level despite regulations aimed at levelling it, the DA has a long way to go to convince the ordinary sceptics like me that they are ready to embrace diversity and tackle inequality head-on. As for the “white party” and the “black fronting” rhetoric associated with the party, it’s going to take them many years to overcome at this pace.