South Africa


Fear and loathing in DA – gonzo journalism does the party a disservice

Stephen Grootes and Rebecca Davis have recently given vent to their opinions on the DA in Daily Maverick. These are the views of senior journalists who apparently have no qualms about the blurring of the lines between news and opinion.

The US elections have thrown into sharp relief the bias – across the board – of competing news networks. Fox News, CNN, RT, CCTV, Al Jazeera and more have all traded news for views and what was once the rarified preserve of an editor is now the currency of every news anchor. Even the BBC, which was my go-to station for impartiality, has been compromised of late. Print journalists are hardly exempt either – from the Murdoch stable through The New York Times.

Gonzo journalism – a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity – pioneered by the independent journalist and writer, Hunter S Thompson as a maverick departure in the 1970s, has become mainstream and is now pretty much the norm.

South African media has long been swept up in this evolving trend and the relentless commentary on and criticism of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the run-up to its elective congress and thereafter is a case in point.

Stephen Grootes and Rebecca Davis have recently given vent to their opinions on the DA in Daily Maverick and while Daily Maverick’s Opinionistas are often worth reading, these are the views of senior journalists who apparently have no qualms about the blurring between news and opinion.

It is therefore incumbent and desirable for those who value news to disassemble the constructs of journalists who muddy the waters of news in the vain hope that the opacity generated by their opinion will somehow make up for the absence of clarity simple news reportage would ordinarily deliver and allow the reader to make up his or her mind.

Of course, the fate of the DA, as Grootes opines, matters, but whether it speaks as a party for all South Africans needs to emerge from an interrogation of its policies, its elective procedures, its values and principles and its overarching proposition to the South African voter who will – one hopes – make decisions on the facts and not on the fiction and views of the fashionistas of news.

So, what are the facts?

The recent clarification of DA policies has affirmed the party as an unambiguous alliance of liberal opposition to the big government of the ANC which is predicated on increasing state control, affecting the outcome of opportunities as opposed to simply enabling access. It has moreover made clear its position on the need for labour flexibility, the imperative to address public sector market failure by opening up to the private sector, the importance of a growth-driven economy among other policies – underpinned by precepts of economic justice and responsible redress that are not racially driven but based instead on measurable criteria to ameliorate, as required, the inequities of the past.

Like it or not, this is where the DA is now after some years of drifting towards the whirlpool of ANC orthodoxy that is defined by an adherence to democratic centralism – the ostensible broadness of the views within the post-liberation party that Grootes refers notwithstanding. This was not necessarily the case under Mmusi Maimane and the previous cohort of leaders who have made way for a new clarity. That the elected representatives are white, blue or black is of little concern – they were elected, as it happens, by overwhelmingly black delegates. What should matter is the colour of the goods on offer in the stall the DA sets out, not the hue of the elected stallholder.

While Davis laments that the newly clarified DA policies are positions that are closer to the (US) Republicans, not the Democrats; the (UK) Tories, not Labour, she sees the healthy contestation of ideas in the party as “fundamentally confused” and is unable or unwilling to see that it draws – as the appellation “alliance” indicates – from many of the abovementioned political stands, as long as they are underpinned by and affirmed on a commitment to non-racialism, a market economy, and a capable state that empowers citizens and cares for the vulnerable. Clearly, these principles find adherents in all of the parties to which Davis refers, but one can’t help discern her wish for more of what she categorises as “leftie” and “progressive” policies.

Of course, there is debate within the DA and unlike the modus operandi of the ruling party, where the received wisdom is fashioned centrally by the Tripartite Alliance and adhered to “democratically” by congress, the discussion around various views is often robust as was the case at the most recent congress. It must come as no surprise that some in the youth structures of the party posit a view which is often more strident. It is also hardly surprising that a call to be informed by data and to be subject to responsible analysis of the impact of such putative policy proposals was suggested and heeded by the majority, guided by the principles and values of the party.

What Red Rebecca fails to grasp among a host of issues is that the DA’s championing of the plight of farmers and farmworkers of all colours who face regular and disproportionately brutal attacks is noble, supportive of a crucial industry and a community that is gainfully employed in huge and sustainable numbers and that highlights a broader malaise in the general safety and security of our nation.

What Gonzo Grootes fails to grasp is that while the views of Helen Zille may not sit well with him and the commentariat, elected representatives and voters have historically thought otherwise. Both would be wise to additionally understand the different motivations for voters in local elections as opposed to national choices.

That said, let’s see how it turns out and how the DA fares – in both local and national elections. I daresay, even if we post an improvement, the views of many will outweigh the news.

As a closing aside, while I waited at the airport to fly home, having attended an Ethics Committee meeting of Parliament at which only the DA showed up in numbers – few apologies, 12 required for a quorum, 15 out of 22 having accepted and only eight present – reflecting a massive waste of time and resources, I read an opinion piece in The Star by Siaybonga Hadebe, an independent political commentator, bemoaning the Supreme Court of Appeal’s setting aside of the Preferential Procurement Regulations of 2017.

He argues that “if there is a need to replace BEE with all its flaws, the government would need to put something in its place that can achieve four things: increased involvement of blacks in the economy, economic growth, increased employment and (the creation of ) a productive economy”.

It’s a pity that neither Hadebe nor Grootes nor Davies take the time to see that the DA’s newly formulated policies on Economic Justice do exactly that – without the tired, failed, unhelpful and divisive reference to race as the arbiter of all our woes. More’s the pity. DM


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 9

  • “What should matter is the colour of the goods on offer in the stall the DA sets out, not the hue of the elected stallholder.” This is the crux of the matter. You’re right, but ultimately, it’s not about what ‘should matter’, but what does matter. And although I wish it weren’t true, what does matter to the vast majority of voting public is the colour of the stallholder. It’s not even isolated to SA: the recent Biden/Harris ticket, with stories of young non-white girls (future voters) saying ‘wow, she looks like me’. Until the DA realises this, and the Zilles, Steenhuizens, and Windes in the party can sacrifice their own career ambitions for the ambitions of the party as a whole, the DA will be relegated to running only one province, a target onto which the ANC can deflect their failures, and an effigy for the EFF to torch.

    • Ridiculously naive to think that the colour of the stallholder shouldn’t matter. Like those wealthy sub-urbanites who ‘don’t see colour’. It is absurd for a white person to think they should be President of SA in 2020. Just by standing to lead the opposition Steenhuizens shows how little he understands. DA is quite rightly heading for electoral oblivion.

  • Excellent article – I am really, really bored by reading the same opinions trotted out by the huge raft of “reporters” who all buy into the fundamental socialist ANC message, whilst criticising the inevitable & predictable results which pursuing such political strategies impose on society every day. When a real alternative is ever proposed, they all smear it with the same anti-realist language used by everyone without an argument – i.e. it is going to be unfair (despite BBEEE proving to have been 100% unfair to 99% of the population) & I don’t like the feel of it because it is clearly “right-wing”.

  • Anton Louw is unfortunately right. And to be honest as a white South African my dream is to support a diverse party that has the best interests of the country at heart. Race does matter and that’s all there is to it.

  • Timeous letter. I have been a Maverick supporter since the days of the excellent magazine. Maverick you are doing a wonderful job but all the constant little digs (and some not so little!) against the DA somehow just don’t fit. Hardly ever any credit where credit is due – and as the sole beacon of competent governance in South Africa surely some credit is due.

  • You do realise the articles you are criticising because these two ‘senior political journalists’ are ‘blurring the line between news and opinion’ were headlined as being ANALYSIS pieces – that means exactly what you decry them for: it is a news piece informed by their understanding of the party, situation and political climate (so, you know, essentially their informed opinion) as – funnily enough – ‘senior political journalists’!

    Secondly, you point out that ‘What should matter is the colour of the goods on offer in the stall the DA sets out, not the hue of the elected stallholder’ and this is entirely true, but in a country riven by 350 years of racial oppression, expecting – just 25 years after the advent of true democracy – that the average voter will not consider the colour of the party’s leader is foolish and naïve in the extreme. this is particularly so when you are a party that either cannot get black leaders to join (Ramphele), to stay (Maimane, Mazibuko, Mashaba) or to lead (Ntuli). Is it any wonder the average voter (you know, the ones the DA needs to win over to actually grow beyond the Western Cape) refuses to vote for what they view as a ‘white party’ – heck, I’m white and I no longer want to vote for it for that reason!)

    ‘let’s see how it turns out and how the DA fares?’ — yes, let’s: I know for a fact you’ve lost my vote, and likely the same for a number of other white people I know, who have turned away from the DA since the last election, mainly due to the perfect storm created by Zille, the DA’s rightward lurch and the party’s inability to find a leader other than ‘yet another middle aged white guy’….
    I predict the DA will do even worse than last time in the next national election, though it may pick up some votes at local level, simply based on the fact that 75% of well-governed municipalities (not that there are very many in total) are run by the DA – at a local level though, people are more interested in service delivery than skin colour, but that’s not the way it works at national level.

    • Quite right Rodney- my sentiments exactly. I am white and could never vote for them, if i was black I’m absolutely sure i couldn’t. South Africa has too many middle aged white men who think they are relevant- I say that as a middle aged white man myself. What SA really needs is party to oppose the ANC that can draw together the centre and the left of all races. What we have is 2 white right wing parties (DA and FFP) and a there will be a black right wing party under Mashaba.

  • Caleb, we appreciate your point of view. I certainly wish that it was correct, that ignoring race was the way forward, but sadly it is naive and removed from reality in the loved experience of normal South Africans.
    Perhaps the thing that disturbs me most is how your confirm Stephen and Rebecca’s assertion that your are swinging more to the Republican approach with your epitaphs of “Red Rebecca” and “Gonzo Grootes”. Trump himself would be proud!
    It is sad to see the DA blue turning Republican red!

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted