MyNews24: Maimane, Mashaba should team up again

2019-11-01 13:22
Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba.

Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba.

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The exit of both Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba from the Democratic Alliance (DA) presents an opportunity to form a strong liberal opposition party, should they decide to do so. 

Currently in South Africa, the word “liberal” is an anathema, thanks to the DA. Many of DA’s critics associate the word with rugged colour-blindness that pretends as if black and white South Africans are at the same socio-economic level.

This is because the DA has failed to adapt its liberalism to the South African situation. The party’s apparently in-built inertia can be seen in the way it equivocates on empowerment policies.  

It is not clear, for example, if the DA supports Affirmative Action or not. It is equally unclear where they stand on the BBBEE policy.

Often its leaders speak out of both sides of the mouth. One moment they do not support policies that target groups of people, the next minute they are not against redress policies.

It is for this reason that some people believe the DA’s liberalism is a code for maintaining white privilege.

Maimane and Mashaba have an opportunity to build a coherent liberal party that can appeal to both black and white South Africans who sincerely want a just South Africa; one that would simultaneously address the legacies of apartheid and colonialism while protecting individual rights.

Such a party, however, must respond to South Africa’s idiosyncratic conditions. Also, when drafting its policies, it must not become a slave to ideology. It must be as pragmatic as it can be.

Mashaba has already proved his dynamism and pragmatism during his mayorship of Johannesburg. His pro-poor decisions have often come into conflict with the ultra-liberal factions of the DA.

Were they to establish a new party, they would have to deal with questions that would distinguish their party from others.

One such question is what must be the role of the state in the current South African situation? To what extent, if any, should the government be allowed to participate in the economy?

Provision of social services by the ANC government, for example, has shown the important role played by social grants in poverty alleviation. The new party would probably need to keep this policy and improve on it.

On the other hand, provision of infrastructural and utility services by the ANC has proved disastrous. Power cuts, droughts, poor quality infrastructure, corrupt deals and mal-administration have come to characterize the ANC government.

Maimane’s party would have to grapple with the question of whether infrastructure development must remain the domain of government or not.

Some people prefer to see the state taking part mostly as a competitor in the economic affairs of the country. They want the government to have its own mining company, its own commercial bank, its own construction company and so on that can compete with private corporations. The state must be able to generate income on its own and not rely solely on taxes.

Apropos to this is the question whether the state should sell off its SOEs or if it should simply relinquish its monopoly where it has one and allow private players to compete with it.

Still on monopoly, the new party must have a clear position on private monopolies. As it stands, construction, mining, insurance, banking and many sectors of the South African economy are dominated by the same few players.

These monopolies have rendered free enterprise a myth. That’s why they can engage in price-fixing and collusion, thereby making it impossible for new players to come in and crack it.

While debating the role of the state, the new party would also have to answer the question: who must be the owner and custodian of natural resources? Is there any moral justification to have natural resources owned by individuals? Aren’t they supposed to belong to every single one of us, as a community?

Germane to ownership of natural resources, naturally, is the ownership of land. The Economic Freedom Fighters and some in the ANC believe that the land must be under the custodianship of government. At face value, this is an illiberal suggestion. But is it?

If the state can be used as an instrument to ensure that every single South African gets equal access to land, as opposed to only those with the money to buy it, how is that illiberal? The new party would need to respond to this question in a serious way.

The questions that the new party would have to confront are not limited to the economy. There are psycho-political legacies of apartheid and colonization that the new party would have to confront.

The decolonial movement has gained currency particularly at universities. There is no question that the colonial regime imposed upon our society an education and symbols that were meant to entrench the superiority of Europeans over Africans.

This symbolism was necessary to mark victory for the colonists over the native populations.

It seems sane that a free country cannot continue to bear statues and street names that resulted from their invasion. Some of these are questions that the DA typically did not entertain. But a new liberal party that genuinely wants to build a South Africa for all would have to deal with them.  

Dimo Mariri is an MSc History student at the University of Edinburgh. He writes in his personal capacity.

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