Racism in the Democratic Alliance (DA)

2016-01-29 10:00

The most perilously chronic condition that all political parties tend to suffer from is denialism over blatant truths told through an analysis of their wellbeing. Lindiwe Mazibuko, the former Democratic Alliance’s (DA) parliamentary leader, wrote frankly about the state of internal racism within the DA much to the annoyance of the incumbent leadership. Unwittingly, this leadership viewed Mazibuko as one who had chosen to leave the DA and thus – in their not so intellectually crafty thoughts – she had disavowed her right to share her opinions publicly about the DA. Some party members went on to question the motives and timing of her reflections. This very stance somewhat does not reflect praxis of an organisation that claims to be liberal in ideological orientation.

Mazibuko’s sin was a very simple one. She implored Maimane to look within while congratulating his attempt to provide leadership in a country sailing tricky racial seas of this country. She said, “Maimane has put a bold challenge to the South African people; that challenge should be mirrored within the organisation he leads.” Simply put, she was saying that charity begins at home.

The DA can no longer bury its head and pretend that it is without members (that comprise a significant block) who are heirs of white privilege and institutional superiority complexes. These manifest in various ways; having the funds to contribute the most donations to the party – often translated by some donors as buying their way to the decision making table to influence the party’s agenda. At times they manifest through viewing black colleagues and members as ideologically inept and needing to be babysat in order to be the kind of liberal the party desires – often translated to indoctrinating the black members and tampering with their instinctive and common good beliefs of proposing robust policies that deal with historic injustices.

These injustices continue to manifest in our society and any political party that wants to govern South Africa must have clear – unambiguous – policies that are easily comprehensible and alienate explicitly those who oppose the path towards the destination such policies propose. The DA remains very timid in producing the boldness that is needed. And the real people that stand in the future path the DA should travel are part of the ‘brains trust’ of the organisation, captured so well by Mazibuko.

Lindiwe Mazibuko's words have been twisted (by Phumzile van Damme, one of the national spokespeople) so badly, so wrongly, so as to serve some agenda to protect Maimane, if the report is true. Lindiwe did not say the DA is dominated by white males, she said, “The DA should interrogate the almost exclusive dominance of white males within the party’s "brains trust", something that is beginning to come through in its communications and harm its external image as these highly disconnected men callously strut about social media like a law unto themselves.”

We know who these men are. They are the same men that Maimane seems unable to host a press briefing without them by his side. The same men that believe they know how to code and detail the path that the organisation should take. They are the same men that view themselves as a shield and armour that sets the pace on how the DA should behave in parliament. These men are a clique that wishes to become indispensable and yet, in today’s language, they must fall for the DA to rise to the challenge of clearly defining a path that will go beyond convincing black people to vote, but would actually transform the lives of black people.

What the DA misses is that you can be the most diverse party (whatever that means) in composition but it is not automatic that the composition of what is often an elite group - the party's 'brains trust' - will be as diverse as membership. The problem is to not appreciate the importance of that group and how it determines the agenda for the party at a content level. Successively even the CEOs of the party have been white males. Holding a successful march with majority (or almost exclusively) of participants being black people marching for jobs, does not mean automatically the DA is biased to addressing the destitution of black people in the country.

Maimane made and emphatic statement when addressing the nation on racism, saying, “Apartheid may be history, but the racism that nurtured and sustained it continues to this day. South Africans racism demeans us, all of us, black and white.” He further went on to say that racists have no place in the DA and they should not vote for the party. Yet, a councillor in the Nelson Mandela Metro (Port Elizabeth) who had called a UDM councillor a baboon was only fined R10 000 by the party and still made to represent the very same DA that, according to Maimane, has no place for racists. Maimane had said, “…No DA member must ever turn a blind eye to racism, no matter how subtle or coded it may be.” But it is the leadership that is turning a blind eye to racism and will continue to do so because the elite ‘brains trust’ of the party is controlled by individuals with constrained understandings of how racism is structurally embedded.

The DA’s wishy-washy approach to race and redress was clearly demonstrated by Herman Mashaba’s (DA’s Johannesburg Metro Mayoral candidate) flip-flopping on how he views racial terms that are reflected in redress legislation and the legislation itself. Mashaba wanted to stand as this individual who sees no colour anymore. Upon realising this was alienating the black middle class the DA wishes to attract as voters in that metro, Mashaba retracted and pleaded to have been misunderstood – much like ANC politicians when their unwitty and less thought out comments backfire.

The risk that the DA faces is not having a central driving approach on how to tackle racism and most importantly redress needs in the country. As a result the DA risks pandering to the ‘popular’ demands of the public as and when they occur. This would mean a DA unable to be predicted on how it would react to issues related to race because it has no laid out thinking that is to deal significantly with the structural violence of racism faced by the majority of the country.

Instead of being in denial about the inherent ‘subtle and coded’ white male privilege within the party, the DA should be bold enough to phase in a new leadership collective and ‘brains trust’ that reflects genuinely and without doubt the demographics of our country. This can only happen if a strong leader, able to give the necessary direction is at the helm. It is not speeches that will change people’s perceptions about the DA being a haven for white privilege to thrive. Changed perceptions will come after an open recasting of the composition of the party’s ‘brains trust’ and its ideological trajectory that influences formulated and articulated policies of the party.


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