DA diversity debate offensive to black people

The DA flag is waving. (Nelius Rademan, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)
The DA flag is waving. (Nelius Rademan, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

My name is Mondli Zondo, I am the Head of Research for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Parliament.  

I am 29 years old and I was born to an 18-year-old girl during apartheid and raised by my great-grandmother and other relatives after she passed on. My childhood was filled with all kinds of experiences – both joys and tragedies. I was on a foster care grant but was also fortunate to have an aunt who enrolled me in good schools.

In the DA, I manage a team of eight highly talented individuals who each have their own unique experiences in our country: some of them are white, some are gay, and some were the first in their families to attend multi-racial schools. Some come from poor backgrounds while others have been more privileged. I could go on.  

Like each of them, I bring my entire identity to the office each day and who I am is informed by a number of things including my life experiences. However, I am not just one of these identities or experiences. I am not just a former foster care child and I am not just black.

First, I need to provide a disclaimer: no white person told me to write this piece, I am quite capable of thinking independently and I do not have a master. If for a second you thought otherwise, then perhaps you need to examine your own prejudices about black people in positions of leadership. 

The DA held its federal congress over the past weekend and a heated debate over 'diversity' has since ensued which I believe is healthy for our party and the country. The trouble, however, is that the narrative is narrow as it's limited to race. This is a curious notion considering the meaning of the word 'diversity'. To be clear, racial diversity is important, but I cannot accept reducing the value black people add to a bean counting exercise. We must also guard against confusing representivity with diversity. 

Representivity essentially means ticking off boxes and engineering outcomes. So, for example, if the composition of a country is 60% female and 40% male, an approach based on representivity would require that the leadership of an organisation mirror these figures. This is not diversity. 

To understand what diversity is we first need to appreciate why it is important for any organisation. I understand diversity to mean the active promotion of different views around the table. Our views are informed by any number of things including our race, particularly in our country. The danger with the current discourse is that the yardstick to measure diversity is seemingly how black an organisation is. There are problems with this approach.

The most obvious is that black people are not a homogeneous group and there is no one way to be black. We are more than our skin. It is this difference in experiences and other aspects of our identities that create diversity and not our skin colour alone. We should therefore resist the urge to view people through the lens of their race and instead look at everything an individual has to offer.

The other problem with using race as a yardstick is that someone will have to police and determine when there are 'sufficient' people of a particular race group in an organisation. This would be reminiscent of Verwoerdian policies to disadvantaged black people. Why should there be a cap on the number of blacks in leadership positions? This would be the consequence of representivity.

Reducing diversity to race also aides the racist idea that a person has only been appointed or elected because of their skin colour and that they are merely filling a quota. This is offensive to black people and we must reject it. It is possible to be both black and competent at the same time.

It is important that the DA and other political organisations take active steps to achieve diversity and this is a path the DA has been on for some time now. I am a product of the party’s Young Leaders Programme which aims to groom emerging young talent from all backgrounds and to prepare these youth for political careers.

Diversity is however not a destination and more can always be done to ensure a variety of views have place in an organisation. It is in this context that we should welcome the commitments taken at the party’s federal congress to deliberately promote diversity. It is this approach that will ensure that children from similar and more disadvantaged backgrounds than mine can go as far as their talents will take them.

- Mondli Zondo is the manager of the Issue Driving Unit for the Democratic Alliance in Parliament.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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