It is now history that Mbali Ntuli’s Rhodes University degree could not prevail over John Steenhuisen’s matric certificate for the position of DA federal leader. This is the same party whose political yarn is spun around merit – not race – being the qualifier to better things.
For a moment, I was certain my eyes were playing tricks on me. Generally, the DA’s leanings to everything – from quotas in sport to affirmative action and BEE – have been hitherto hinged on flowery self-actualisation theories and disdainfully shunning leftist laws of engineered redress.
Turns out they were anti-everything, that is, except anti-Steenhuisen, where now “the best person for the job” and other such liberal claptrap were conveniently shelved as the DA openly voted with their hearts – putting a white face in seemingly for the sake of it.
If it sounds like I’m a meritocratist, that’s because, between a qualified black woman candidate and a less-qualified white man, one would’ve thought Ntuli would win hands down. In voting for her, they would have knocked several birds with one stone. For a start, they would’ve shown that women and black people have a place in this DA that is demonstratively exorcising its white demons.
Nevertheless, back to merit...
Before Steenhuisen’s qualifications were dug up, many had taken for granted that, given his race and position in the party, a university scroll or two were probably hanging somewhere in his house. Surely he, along with his fellow white top brass, historically had all the advantages our racial history bequeathed to those of their hue.
So what – as is often asked of former president Jacob Zuma when other Robben Islanders were furthering their studies from prison – was stopping Steenhuisen? In 2008, when we were looking down our noses at EFF leader Julius Malema’s matric results, he became the ridiculous subject of intemperate lampooning.
The intelligentsia thought we were inexorably degenerating into despotism when a man who had never seen the inside of a high school classroom became president in 2009. So then why are Steenhuisen’s qualifications being rewarded by the same people who generally saw nothing but morons in both Malema and Zuma?
If a qualification is required to practice medicine or law or to teach Grade R, why should that logic not figure in public office? When, in the absence of qualifications, one cannot stand to teach six-year-olds, then what merits him to stand in a municipal council, legislature or even Parliament and address millions of people, some of whom are older and more qualified than he is, as to what is best for them?
In his own defence, Steenhuisen once cited the fact that the Constitution did not “put an education threshold” because “you don’t have to have a degree to service your community”.
Many had to rub their ears at this shallow response that did not take into account that, at the time the Constitution was drafted, the liberation movement – comprised of exiles, convicts and a motley crew of black leaders whose ambitions had been thwarted by “a crime against humanity” – including stringent academic clauses would’ve left few darkies at the table of national reconciliation.
That cop-out cannot be sustained by a privileged white man and an alumni of a school as posh as Northwood School in Durban.
On this one, the DA fumbled the ball.
The party’s racial history notwithstanding, there was something noble in their spiel about “equal opportunity for all” when, on the other side of the political divide, the ANC seemed to be appointing girlfriends, daughters and sons to the workplace rather than the competent.
In fact, we stood by and watched as the governing party defied God and the poets in equal measure. It was easy to think that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a fool when he said in his essay Self-Reliance: “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best.” Or to say the Bible was lying when it tells us: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
The ANC was creating an abnormal society where mostly the politically connected got to eat. You need further evidence? I’ll refer you to the recent cringing testimonies before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
So just when those who wanted nothing but their children to live in a society where your surname matters less than what’s inside your brain turned to the DA, the party seemed to be saying: “Okay, if the ANC favours darkies, we will go with the whities.”
This one will cost them, but Steenhuisen has raised an interesting point: perhaps the Constitution should be reviewed when it comes to public appointments.
Mayaba is a graduate and freelance writer