ANALYSIS

DA’s policy conference is over – unlike its internal battles

By Rebecca Davis 6 September 2020
Caption
The DA’s federal council chair Helen Zille. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais)

The DA’s online policy conference ended on Sunday, with leaders hailing it as a triumphant success. But it took place against the backdrop of a bloody weekend for the party, with newspapers spelling out further details of the investigations and charges pending against a number of high-profile DA figures.

A “clear alternative”.

Those were the two words used repeatedly by DA leaders when summing up the outcome of the party’s policy conference: that the policies adopted allow for a distinct differentiation between the DA and the ANC.

The headline resolution to emerge from the conference was the adoption of the DA’s economic justice policy, which proposes doing away with race-based empowerment programmes.

At a post-conference media briefing on Monday, the party is expected to spell out the details. At this stage, it is unclear what amendments, if any, were made to the draft policy previously analysed by Daily Maverick.

DA’s bold new economic policies may be out of step with SA realities

Judging by a statement by DA federal chairperson Ivan Meyer, however, the gist of the policy appears to adhere closely to the draft proposal. That document calls for the abolition of BBBEE and quotas for race and gender, to be replaced with an alternative metric for measuring the social or economic contributions of businesses based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs range from reducing inequality to promoting greener ways of doing business. The practical implications of replacing BBEE with meeting the SDGs are still unclear.

As we previously asked, would it be acceptable for a South African company to employ an all-male or all-white workforce if it made a contribution to climate action? And how would one measure and compare such contributions?

Meyer stated that the economic justice policy was adopted “with overwhelming support from delegates”.

From leaders like John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille, the report-back painted the conference as a triumph for robust discussion and democracy in action.

Yet, there was an unfortunate consonance between the victory of the anti-BBBEE faction of the party in the same weekend as newspapers carried ongoing reports of the internal targeting of senior DA figures, many of whom are black.

A Sunday Times report carried details of the DA’s Federal Legal Commission’s investigation into MP Phumzile van Damme over an altercation at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront last year, prompting Van Damme to tweet that “not Fedex [the party’s federal executive] nor FLC [Federal Legal Commission] has had the decency to inform me” of the details printed in the media.

Van Damme suggested in her tweets that the leaking of this information might be strategic, writing: “The same strategy of leaks was used to hound Mmusi [Maimane] out of the party.”

Three separate weekend papers carried reports focusing on disciplinary processes against black DA leaders, with the tabloid Sunday World splashing the headline: “DA FLUSHES OUT DARKIES”.

The suspicion among some DA insiders is that the detailed nature of the information leaked over the weekend is part of a co-ordinated campaign to paint these DA figures as ill-disciplined and raise pressure to push them out of the party.

One told Daily Maverick that even members of the party’s federal executive only receive brief summaries of the disciplinary cases, with “very few people” having access to the level of information reported in the weekend press.

In response to tweets suggesting she should leave the DA, Van Damme replied: “That would be the easy way out. It’s simply not how I roll. I don’t run from fights, I jump in. So, let’s fight.”

Fighting is likely to be the order of the day in the lead-up to the party’s October leadership election, to be contested only by interim leader Steenhuisen and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli after candidate John Moodey resigned from the party last week.

Such contests always reveal factional divides within political parties, but in the DA currently, there is a sense that more than usual is at stake. Among the issues bubbling to the surface in the party are the alleged abuse of the internal disciplinary system, accusations that the Federal Legal Commission has become politicised, and the allegation – vehemently denied by Steenhuisen – that supporters of former leader Mmusi Maimane are increasingly being sidelined.

The spectre of federal council chairperson Helen Zille hangs over much of this, with the last three senior black leaders to leave the party – John Moodey, Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba – all citing Zille’s return to the DA and ongoing influence over the party as more or less directly contributing to their decisions to resign.

In the context of such internal turbulence, political analyst Ralph Mathekga was quoted in a weekend paper as suggesting that, “Policy discussion is an indulgence they [the DA] don’t have.”

Many would disagree. But although the outcome of the policy conference confirms an ideological direction that Zille is known to have been set on for the best part of a decade, the adoption of the economic justice policy should not be mistaken for a new spirit of concord within the party.

There is a sense that the fiercest battles may be yet to come. DM

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All Comments 5

  • A rather vapid report, darkly (pun not intended) echoing rumours and tropes about the DA. It would be much more interesting to have more precise information about which DA members are targets of investigations and about what the associated charges are. Why would such a purge happen if it could be avoided? There does not seem to be any electoral advantage. Or is the intention to paint the DA leadership as a collection of irredeemably racist Whites who cannot bear to collaborate with Black folk?

  • The whole circus is a self congratulory echo chamber. A political party may be able to bolster its core support with nuanced and esoteric policy details but elections are not won on policy, they are won on sentiment and emotion. So with the present leadership and its image the DA is not going to gain anything from the ANC’s unraveling. Moodey is probably right that, consiously or unconsciously, the DA is destined to be a provincial party.

  • I think it’s a very good idea to lay out clear policies, whatever they are, so that voters know what they are voting for. The DA had been trying to be “ANC Lite”, that’s why they lost support. With clear policies, which they adhere to, they will either sink or swim.

  • If the anc had dumped it’s dumb Marxist and racist ideologies and greatly improved education for the black majority there would by now be many more well educated and competent blacks than there are whites; it follows that more blacks would then be absorbed into the job market, and rise in it, than whites. Similarly total skills would have been expanded and been optimally deployed with economic growth rates higher?

  • The problem for the DA is that a significant number of journalists concentrate on its internal squabbles rather than analyze the policy that it proclaims.

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