The Employment Equity Debacle shows what the DA is all about. But unfortunately, that was only the beginning – the sad truth is that it’s not a viable opposition to the ANC.
To be honest, I’ve been itching to write to you for a while. But as per protocol, I needed to share some hypocrisy notes with your madam leader in the Western Cape, and then, more recently, your esteemed leader in Gauteng – he of the belief formula – first. Now, here I am, ready to commend you on how you have risen through the ranks, from being the intern in your madam’s office to meeting her as an equal around the DA’s federal table. This is a dizzy feat for anyone, regardless of party political persuasion. Very few people can claim your kind of success in politics. I truly admire you for your courage and for being a real trail blazer. No other MP in this fourth democratic Parliament can claim to have started off as an intern to be where they are today. Many tried the trenches, though. But I digress before I have even started.
Your dramatic toppling of your fellow liberal Trollip was way overdue, and it alone is a full-on argument for the support of political in-service training. I am told that you made a good ‘winds of change’ speech ahead of tipping him off his perch, and your election had nothing to do with the fact that you were groomed and campaigned for by the madam. For that I take off my hat. I know you have suffered at the hands of Bhuti Manamela’s fashion and health police – and Blade Nzimande’s cultural attaches. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered that you have not yet graced Parliament with any Zulu outfit so far. I would rather pay attention to your usually DA cogent arguments for or against true empowerment. It’s not important whether you sound black or white to me. You have so far led your caucus with distinction, being able to make the necessary model c noises against the President – something that does not require much practice. But madam, now come: let’s talk frankly…
I am quite certain that you secretly acknowledge that the DA is party with a terrible identity crisis. I am all for political diversity, so this letter to you is not about the correctness of otherwise of having opposition parties. I would be the last one to argue that they are not necessary. However, such existence does not mean that these parties need not be contested by all in society when they show themselves to be worse that the party they seek to oppose. It is with that context of a need for a real alternative to the ANC that I am saddened somewhat that the DA is daily failing to portray itself as such an alternative; however, this is no reflection on you at all, madam. Let us for a moment forget about all the own goals of the ANC and focus on you as the official opposition. What are the key areas in which the DA wants to take on the ANC? Let’s talk about them frankly.
1] Respect for democracy. One of the loudest noises the DA often makes is the so called protection of the constitution and freedom of association. I can hear your shrill voice on this from the gardens of Parliament. This is a party that has expelled an MP for having a dissenting view. I don’t know all the facts and am happy to be educated about what this expulsion was about. But from where I am sitting, it smells exactly like the intolerance for dissent characterising all political parties. Madam, please tell me how you are different?
2] Historical lineage and importance. One of the worst things the DA has tried to do was to try to compete with the ANC on history. What I termed in my letter to your Madam Zille – fighting for a better past. Can you imagine the republicans using the photo of Martin Luther King or Bill Clinton to campaign, saying ‘Know your Republicans!’? Horrendous. This ill-advised campaign showed what the Sunday Times’ Hogarth calls the ‘desperate alternative’ that the DA is. To use Mandela, a member of the ANC, as a symbol you can simply annex for cheap votes is so low – there are no words to capture such naked opportunism. Mandela is indeed a citizen of the world, so one would assume that he can’t be used for cheap politicking- he has never denounced his membership of the ANC and I am sure he will be quite disgusted at what is going on in his name from those whose predecessors incarcerated him for three decades.
3] Multiracialism or non-racialism. The issue of race and gender has been given a thumping by the appointment of an all-male cabinet by Madam Zille as well as your recent humiliation as leader of DA in Parliament recently. The flip-flop on BEE and Affirmative Action is simply one of the marks of the usual hypocrisy we have come to expect of politicians. Saying one thing one second and blustering something else the next. You are no different. Show me an alternative where I have something solid to believe. I am terribly sorry about what Zille has done to you, though. There is nothing worse than being contradicted by your boss in public. You don’t deserve such treatment after you have done so much to bring the DA the black vote.
4] Anti-corruption. Should we listen if the DA makes noises about party political funding anymore? Must we listen when they criticise the ANC on their relationship with the Guptas? Must we listen after the leader of the DA was found dining at the complex – delicious meals followed by the exchange of cheques? What exactly did she think this meal was about? Has she heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch? Corruption is often about perceptions, while we are still none the wiser about what really happened in the appointment of service providers in the premier’s office. (Hush…)
5] Competence and the bane of deployment. I want your party to show me one senior employee of yours in any of the municipalities or provinces where you are in charge who is a member of the ANC. I am not talking about sweepers and handymen; I am talking about heads of departments and Chief Directors. If you can’t show me this kind of DA civil servant, then I guess you will also have to shut up about cadre deployment. The reality is any hiring of people who don’t believe the DA philosophy will be tokenistic – it will never be where it matters. Any argument to the contrary blatant lying.
6] Pro-poor polices or so-called opportunity society: The unashamed public spectacle over the BEE and AA policies showed the DA’s true colours. By placing great people like you and the affable Maimane in front, your party thought they would have us fooled about their real intentions. By failing to come to terms with Mamphele Ramphele so that you could unite the opposition, you have proved that you are not ready to abandon your image [let alone reality] as a party that wishes to hold on just a little more to the past. I have debated often with your chairman in the media about BEE, and have been shocked at his assertion and yours that black millionaires must be limited to 20 million deals or some pittance like that. You, madam, have never once argued that the current JSE-listed billionaires must be limited in their trade. So it’s ok for blacks to be given a wealth ceiling, but it is not OK for this to apply for white people who have benefited from Apartheid and used that advantage to get ahead, seeing them owning just about everything on the JSE. Nothing is said about the fact that over the last twenty years affirmative action has in fact benefited whites way more than black people, a situation that has seen over 60% of white people in the workplace being promoted or newly appointed, for that matter. [For more, read the KPMG report of 2009]
7] Respect for the law and the Constitution. The e-tolls have been signed into law. Is the DA at some point going to stop and comply? Or the law is only good enough if it favours them? On this you have shown that you can go into the gutter like all other parties. Your billboard gimmick and your million rand gimmick – all on e-tolls – leaves you as just another political party playing in the mud.
On all of these fronts, the DA has shown itself to be no better than the ANC, but simply restrained by its minimum access to state resources. So in the few municipalities that the DA is in charge what do we find? We find that these municipalities did not escape the adverse findings of the auditor general as downright corrupt. Your DA has therefore failed to show me how they can be an alternative if they were handed another province to run. If anything, you have branded people who come to the Western Cape as refugees – the ultimate insult to citizens of any country – and you have not reprimanded your leader for this terrible sentiment.
One thing is for sure: you, madam, are making a difference in our political discourse, but the jury is still out on whether you could ever bring this country a new kind of politics. Madam, frankly, your illiberal slide is showing. Like all other political parties in our midst… to the gutter! Viva ANC. Viva DA. Yes and no.
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africas leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE , Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.
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