The DA and Dalindyebo: No Need to Fuss

2013-07-28 22:52

King Dalindyebo’s decision to have ditched the ANC for the DA has caused nothing short of an apoplectic commentariat uproar over the last few weeks. It really shouldn’t have.

Firstly, many have accused the DA of being disingenuous and/or hypocritical in accepting Dalindyebo. Commisars have quoted, with delight, the following passage from the DA’s Constitution:

“A member of the DA automatically ceases to be a member if he or she is “found guilty of any offence listed in Schedule 1, 2, 5, 6 or 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act.”

The coup de grace is that Dalindyebo has been found guilty by a High Court of culpable homicide. Recent reports indicate that, in the judge’s own words, Dalindyebo escaped a murder conviction by a hair’s breadth.

Critics have latched onto this and accused the DA of the worst kind of political expediency and hypocrisy. So the argument goes, the DA’s acceptance of Dalindyebo shows that there is no limit to how low the DA will sink in order to attract black voters.

But many of the DA’s critics fail to understand, or even acknowledge, that the King is awaiting an appeal against both his conviction and sentence. Generally, the effect of an appeal is to hold a conviction and sentence in abeyance until it is finalised (hence, despite the High Court ruling, he is wondering around a free man).

The broad principle pertaining to appeals is that leave to appeal is only granted where a judge believes that the appeal court may arrive at a different conclusion. Constructed differently, one may argue that leave to appeal is only granted where there is a reasonable prospect of success (for the appeal).

In damning the DA’s actions, this crucial detail has been overlooked. The fact that Dalindyebo was granted leave to appeal may mean that he is innocent.

If he is innocent, then the true hypocrisy would be that the DA, which has an unwavering commitment to the rule of law, would have prejudged him and expelled him – on grounds that did not stand up in a court of law. Let’s not even get into what those same critics will say if an innocent black man were excluded from a supposedly white party despite being innocent.

The best legal position is for the DA to accept Dalindyebo’s membership and take disciplinary action against him pending the finalisation of the appeal. If he is eventually found and the party does nothing, then all the accusations of hypocrisy and expediency deserve to stick.

Some argue that the DA should have been more strategically nuanced. It should have either exercised its discretion to refuse his membership pending the outcome of the appeal or kept this whole saga as quiet as possible. Both situations smack of hypocrisy and expediency – gimmicks for the DA to save face in the case of possible guilt.

Secondly – and this, to some extent, is the DA’s own doing – Dalindyebo’s decision has been portrayed as a “breakthrough moment”. Objectively, I cannot agree.

Dalindyebo is the King of a relatively small clan. His influence, especially in traditional networks amongst black voters that the DA wants to attract, is thus limited.

Further, notwithstanding Dalindyebo’s formal leadership of the abaThembu, it is questionable whether his subjects share his new political outlook. Considering that the abaThembu count Nelson Mandela as one of their famous sons, loyalty to the ANC runs deeper than Dalindyebo and his decisions.

So what is the value of Dalindyebo joining the DA? Short answer: I don’t see much.

Revelations that Dalindyebo has been having long standing battles with the government over his treatment in comparison to the Zulu King, for example, make one more inclined to believe that his decision is self-interested. Maybe he believes that in joining the DA, he can embarrass the ANC enough to treat him better. I doubt whether, judging by how the ANC has treated malcontents who tried similar, Dalindyebo will get his way.

Further, the DA’s ideological standpoint relative to traditional, indigenous South Africa, illustrated by its opposition to the Traditional Courts Bill, seems to be at odds with Dalindyebo. Liberalism may as well be in demotic if Dalindyebo’s trial record is anything to go by.

More so, the DA’s target market, young (black) born-frees, are a constituency that probably doesn’t care about Dalindyebo or parochial traditional leadership structures. Why the DA would risk isolating their support for the sake of this one man is not clear

But what the DA can take solace from, and this is something it is trenchant about, is that Dalindyebo’s decision does indicate it has some broader appeal beyond well-heeled, white suburbia it is often, ignorantly, said to represent. The realignment project is a difficult one. The Dalindyebo incident is one but many of the difficult choices that the DA will have to make it trying to expand its base so that it can grow substantially in 2014 and win in 2019. Moral hazards and political poisoned chalices aside, Dalindyebo and his decision, if anything, shows that the DA is now able to access places it would have never been able to do so under Helen Zille’s predecessors. Whatever the chatterati may think about how the DA does so, extended political competition is not only good for the DA, but for the ANC and South Africa too.

Perhaps what commentators should have done is taken a deep breath before tripping over each other to comment on this, and peddle their own beliefs and prejudices as public opinion. Some perspective and some balance would have, as always, been nice.

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