Policy conference: DA leaves race out of redress equation

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(Gallo Images)
(Gallo Images)
  • The DA adopted a redress policy that doesn't include race. 
  • The policy also says redress must be coupled with reconciliation. 
  • It also rejects demographic representativity as a measure for diversity. 

The DA on Saturday broke from the policy of its former leader, Mmusi Maimane, in adopting a position on redress that does not have "race as proxy for disadvantage", as Maimane put it.

In February 2019, a buoyant Maimane, then still comfortably in the party's driving seat, announced that the Federal Council adopted the party's manifesto for the 2019 election. The manifesto had redress as a pillar and stated that race was a proxy for disadvantage in South Africa.

READ | DA adopts principle of 'non-racialism' at its policy conference

"We believe race is a proxy for disadvantage and an accurate reflection of who is still excluded from opportunity. The party has not decided to move away from race-based redress policies, however we unequivocally reject the ANC's version of redress, which operates to enrich and re-enrich the connected elite," he said.

At the time, this could be viewed as a victory for Maimane in the party's internal ideological tug-of-war.

democratic alliance,south africa
Mmusi Maimane during the Democratic Alliance (DA) manifesto launch at the Rand Stadium on February 23, 2019 in Johannesburg. (Gallo Images, Netwerk, Deaan Vivier)

About 18 months later and, in the chilly, early spring in the year of Covid-19, the DA is far removed from where it was on that sunny, late summer Sunday afternoon in February 2019.

After a dismal performance in the 2019 elections, the ideological battle flared up, with Maimane targeted by the grouping calling itself the "classic liberals".

It saw the re-emergence of former leader Helen Zille in the party's top-structure as a figurehead for the "classical liberal" grouping, and Maimane departed, along with others.

On Saturday, it adopted a redress clause as part of its values and principles at its virtual policy conference, which departs from the February 2019 position.

Having earlier in the day adopted a principle of "non-racialism", in its redress position, the party removes race from the equation and states that redress "must couple a firm commitment to reconciliation".

It also adopted a diversity position, which states that "diversity is not demographic representivity", and it rejects quotas - be they based on race or gender.

The DA's position on redress:

1 Redress refers to the need to remedy or correct an unfair or unjust situation.

2 Our past is littered with myriad injustices, arising from past conflicts and the racial segregation policy of apartheid. These include: forced removals, job reservation, detention without trial, disparities in education and concentration camps. The consequences of these injustices remain, compounded by poor governance, and are reflected in high rates of poverty, unemployment, and general inequality of opportunity.

3 Redress must couple a firm commitment to reconciliation, with a commitment to ensuring that inequality of opportunity, which has been the hallmark of our past, is not a feature of the present or the future.

4 Policies which tackle inequality of opportunity - including interventions in education, healthcare, the economy, and safety and security - will always be central pillars of our programme of action.

5 So profound is this commitment to equality of opportunity that it is reflected in our vision of an 'open, opportunity society for all'.

6 The DA will strive to overcome our past and create a just and equitable future.

The adoption of these principles suggests that the grouping calling themselves the "classic liberals" holds sway at the conference.

It is believed that this group generally supports the candidature of current interim leader, John Steenhuisen, to lead the party after its elective conference at the end of October.

Steenhuisen will contest the position against former youth leader and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli.

The other candidate, John Moodey, this past week left the party amid claims and counterclaims of skulduggery.  

The position on diversity the DA adopted on Saturday:

1 The value of diversity, in other words, the existence of difference, lies in its potential to broaden learning, debate and healthy competition. The value of the whole of our diverse experiences is greater than the sum of the parts.

2 Were it not for the difference of experiences, thoughts, talents and knowledge that people bring, our understanding of the world would be limited, compassionless and without empathy.

3 Each individual is unique and not a racial or gender envoy; thus, diversity is not demographic representivity.

4 Individuals, when free to make their own decisions, will not be represented in any and every organisation, sector, company or level of management, according to a pre-determined proportion.

5 The DA, therefore, opposes quotas - be they race, gender, or other. 

6 When embraced, diversity acts as a potential bulwark against discrimination, uniformity of thought and closed thinking.

7 The DA will strive to maximise the potential value of diversity.

The DA also adopted a clause on opportunity, which states that "that every individual is presented with choices, and the reasonable ability to act on them, in order to create a life of their choosing," and that the government must not arbitrarily restrict the opportunities.

The conference's about 200 participants also adopted unanimously the principle of separation of state and party, separation of powers, federalism, and constitutionalism and the rule of law.

These are longstanding principles of the DA, and hardly the source of disagreement in the party.

It also adopted clauses on integrity, fairness, resilience, excellence, compassion, evidence-based decision-making, accountability, openness and freedom.

In a video clip shared with the media, the DA's interim federal chairperson, Ivan Meyer, described the virtual policy conference as a "historic moment".

"This is significantly important as we embark next year on the local government elections," he said.

He said many of the positions adopted are "foundational" to the DA and aims to "give people hope and take people out of poverty".

"It is key policy principles that will shape the future of South Africa."

The conference will continue on Sunday.

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