Reading the City Press this morning, in the article headlined "White heat on Mmusi Maimane", one could not help but get the wrong idea about the DA.
On the one hand, it is a good thing that the DA is a diverse party, and that it grapples with issues about the complex history of our country and our place as individuals in the post-apartheid South Africa.
On the other hand, one is left wondering what the intent is behind those in the party who wish to challenge our leader on his remarks at the recent Freedom Day rally in Soshanguve in Pretoria.
For those who missed it, Maimane spoke passionately about the issues of white privilege and black poverty and the need for this to be confronted in an inclusive manner. He used the upbringings contained in his own marriage, between himself and his wife Natalie, to give expression to the complexity of our society.
One has to question both the moral standing in South African society of anyone who questions this, as well as their intent in so doing.
South Africa is now the most unequal society in the world, as confirmed by the most recent study conducted by the World Bank.
The lines between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ continue to reflect our cruel and painful racial legacy of dispossession and discrimination that formed the key theme of hundreds of years of the history of our country.
Our country celebrated our great icon, former president Nelson Mandela, for his uniting of all South Africans towards the purpose of building a rainbow nation, uniting people behind this dream who had been kept separate by racial hatred.
Unfortunately, under successive ANC governments this dream did not produce the required changes in the structure of our economy, leaving the lines between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ much the same as before.
Today Maimane rightly stood behind his words adding that, “We must focus on solving the problem. Liberation of one race is not the enslaving of another – all of us, black and white must come together to build one South Africa for all.”
Maimane’s remarks espouse neither a departure from the dream of the rainbow nation nor the party’s commitment to redressing the legacy of our past.
So the question emerges, who do these critics of Maimane represent?
Not the vast majority of people in our country, who across the racial identities, by and large understand that the legacy of our past has to be redressed.
To get to the bottom of this question one has to look further into the ‘reasons’ for their reaction. When one does this, one finds this conservative, small-minded thinking cited in the article as the fear surrounding a perceived haemorrhaging of votes from the traditional base.
When one examines this fear, it cannot be seen to hold water.
Firstly, is anyone under the impression that this is the first time that a DA leader has spoken about redressing the legacy of our past or the racial lines that continue to separate the privileged from the poor?
No, not even the most selective or amnesia-prone mind can claim this to be true.
Secondly, recent by-elections across the country have demonstrated very clearly the DA’s continued retention of minority voters. This doesn’t mean that this should be taken for granted. Far from it, we must regard every vote as only lent to our party for which we will need to re-apply to renew support in each election. However, it does discredit the idea of some kind of haemorrhaging.
I have found a number of white South Africans deeply offended by the notion that their votes are predicated on the idea that the party should be silent on the notion of privilege and poverty along racial lines.
If anything, what recent by-elections have demonstrated is the need for our party to break the trust deficit that exists between it and black voters.
One has to ask how the sentiments of these critics of Maimane’s words aid this endeavour?
No, one can only place these sentiments of the critics against the backdrop of a looming candidate selection process for 2019, where vested interests may be challenged by Maimane’s commitment to transform the party.
Once one comes to this deduction of logic, what remains is to clarify the extent to which these critics purport to represent views other than their own.
Look no further than the party’s recent re-election of Maimane, less than a month ago. If these views put forward by the critics carried any weight don’t you think there may have been a challenge, even of the meekest or most mild nature?
How about the party’s adoption of diversity as a value to join the ranks of freedom, fairness and opportunity? Unanimously approved without a single dissenting voice from the floor of a 2000-member congress.
The party has spoken publically on the requirement to redress the historical legacy of our country’s history since the days of Tony Leon and Helen Zille. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself in the countless speeches and statements that were made by these great leaders.
So why then, under the leadership of Maimane, do some choose to pretend like this is some radical new direction that is being announced for the very first time?
It can only be about the kind of self-interest that permeates politics at the time when politicians need to re-apply for their jobs.
I think it is time that the silent majority of our party speaks up, rather than allowing a small group to do so in their name, with sentiments that do not embody their values for our country.
I also believe that the people of our country should stand behind Maimane and celebrate his vision, and what it represents for the future generations of our country.
- Mashaba is executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.
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