THE current turmoil within the Democratic Alliance is a classic example of how political ideology, a set of values meant to give hope to an entire nation, is being used to score cheap political points at the expense of the organisation’s future.
As DA leaders engage in an internal struggle for power, the DA’s campaign to get the citizens of this country to buy into the party’s liberal ideology rooted in pluralism, diversity and constitutionalism, takes the back seat.
It is a tragedy of the worst kind that a political party which in the recent elections campaigned on the back of promises to bring about prosperity, social cohesion and constitutionalism, is now embroiled in crippling power battles.
On the one hand is a group of leaders claiming to be custodians of the DA’s reformist agenda, while on the other is a clique purporting to preserve the core liberal values on which the party was founded.
The schisms created by the stand-off have seen former DA leader Helen Zille, whom some political pundits have dismissed as a spent force, throwing her name in the hat in the contest for the party’s federal chairperson position.
A complex political figure, Zille is credited for growing the DA to phenomenal heights during her tenure as party leader between 2007 and 2015.
While Zille is on record as saying her election as the DA’s new federal chairperson will give her an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the party’s preparations for the 2021 local government elections, some view her as a proxy for the faction that is fighting a preservative war in the party.
The Zille faction, which accuses the Mmusi Maimane clique of steering the DA away from the liberal path which the party had taken since its formation two decades ago, views her as an essential instrument in the fight to restore the party’s liberal values.
Using the DA’s failure to woo enough white voters during the May general elections as proof that Maimane and his faction have detoured from the DA’s liberal values, the hardcore liberals believe that bringing back Zille will return the party to its winning ways.
On the other hand, the Maimane faction wants South Africans to believe that liberal values are essentially about bringing in a new crop of leaders and by extension, more black leaders, into the DA.
Further, the Maimane faction wants the DA, which has previously been equivocal about race-based affirmative action, to revisit its position on black economic empowerment and economic redress.
However, the truth of the matter is that both factions are using their stated positions on the DA’s future as a smokescreen to grab power.
Those supporting Zille and those DA leaders who look back at history with a mixed sense of nostalgia and admiration are quite aware that Maimane and his group are not entirely to blame for the party’s downward spiral.
Zille’s backers are also acutely aware that the DA’s poor showing in the recent elections had nothing to do with the so-called departure of the party from its core liberal values under Maimane’s leadership.
In the same vein, the Maimane faction has exaggerated the role of race-based affirmative action policy in winning elections.
Apart from the few who are politically well connected, most black people have not benefited from any of the empowerment policies being implemented by the ANC-led government.
There is absolutely no evidence that by embracing black economic empowerment and economic redress, the DA will somehow appeal to black voters who have previously not voted for the party.
In fact, what drove voters away from the DA during the recent general elections was the complete lack of coherence in the way the party’s leaders were communicating with South Africans.
While Maimane was busy telling voters that the DA is the only party that can bring about a united and prosperous South Africa, other DA party leaders were implicitly telling white voters that Maimane cannot be trusted because he is black.
In the final analysis, the internal battles eating away the DA have absolutely nothing to do with issues of ideological differences.
Very much to the contrary, the DA’s internal battles have everything to do with the politics of personalities, where aspirant leaders use whatever weapon they can lay their hands on to discredit their rival.
Unfortunately for the DA, the internal battles have defocused the party from its main task of replacing the ANC as the country’s governing party.
Whatever comes out of what appears to be a bruising DA internal contest pitting the party’s reformist camp against the conservatives, the question is whether there will be any energy left to take on rival political parties.
Irrespective of which faction within the DA emerges victorious during next week’s internal elections for the party’s federal chairperson position, the DA will no longer be guaranteed the political future that its founders envisioned two decades ago.