The DA’s race and diversity fight hots up

2018-03-25 00:00
Gauteng DA legislature member Makashule Gana.

Gauteng DA legislature member Makashule Gana.

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The great race issue in the DA has again taken centre stage after some members questioned whether the concept of diversity is being used to smuggle in rigid racial categories.

The latest showdown, two weeks before its federal congress on April 7 and 8, has been set off by a five-page letter to delegates titled Real progressives reject groupthink, authored by MPs Michael Cardo and Gavin Davis.

The letter cautions against “ANC-ese” talk in the party about race ahead of congress.

“If these [media] reports are to be believed, the ‘progressives’ want race quotas applied to the party’s representatives in Parliament and other legislatures. The ‘progressives’ (who are almost always quoted anonymously) speak a sort of dialect of ANC-ese, in which terms like racial ‘transformation’ and demographic ‘representivity’ are parroted un-self-consciously,” they write.

The bone of contention stems from the tabling of a proposal to amend the party’s constitution to include diversity as a value.

City Press understands that some in the party say the letter is alarmist and reeks of a “swart gevaar” warning.

The federal congress has been viewed as a “battle for the soul of the DA”, which will pit those who want to maintain the status quo against those who want to see change in the party in order to win the support of more black voters.

Diversifying the party has been the rallying cry of party leader Mmusi Maimane, who has been relentless in his call for the DA’s parliamentary benches to be more “transformed”.

Cardo and Davis write that they welcome the addition of diversity as a value, but take issue with its loose definition.

“This clause – in its current formulation – does very little to distinguish the DA from the ANC’s doctrine of racial representivity.

“According to the ANC’s world-view of representivity, every organisation needs to be transformed until its demographic breakdown is an exact mirror of the population as a whole.

“The job of each person in the organisation is to represent the racial category that apartheid imposed on them, with little room for individual agency or personal autonomy.”

In a letter of reply penned by KwaZulu-Natal DA legislature member Hlanganani Gumbi, he accuses the authors of “lambasting” a motion championed by Maimane.

He says he agrees with the authors that the ANC’s diversity should not mean “racial representivity”.

Gumbi quotes from former DA strategist Ryan Coetzee’s speech, titled Building a party for All, delivered to the DA federal council in October 2006. In it, Gumbi says, Coetzee “made it abundantly clear that diversity is about bringing in decision-making people of wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds without assuming that people can only be represented by others of the same colour and gender”.

Anyone, of any colour, should be able to hold any position, Gumbi quotes Coetzee saying.

“I would venture into arguing that all too often, the diversity of South Africa is not on display in too many areas of our party, nor do we bring in decision-making people of wide-ranging experiences. This not only becomes an affront to many people left out, but further makes it questionable to what extent we take diversity seriously,” Gumbi says.

He laments that in his home city of eThekwini, the DA structure recently elected 11 leaders, without a single black person and only one woman.

Last week, City Press reported on an uproar about the alleged lack of black delegates from townships at the upcoming congress. Gumbi also addresses this in his letter.

Gauteng DA legislature member and premier hopeful Makashule Gana, meanwhile, has warned against being dismissive of the points made by Cardo and Davis.

“If there is anyone who will have a go at Gavin as a person or Michael as a person and not engage on the issues that they are raising, we will have a problem ... We must never close the space for people to raise their views on these matters,” Gana told City Press.

He said the DA needed to agree on a definition of diversity at its congress.

Maimane said the debate was an important one for the party and that the DA needed to speak to South Africa’s past.

“This is not a battle of progressives or conservatism, but about the DA occupying the centre space of politics, where the rights of all South Africans are protected. It’s about building a party that can give voice and leadership to all of society, an acknowledgment of our past and an appreciation of our diversity.”

Davis reiterated yesterday that the motivation for the letter is to bring about constructive engagement.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  politics

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