As a party, the DA is a master of reinvention. But examine its history and you will find that nothing has really changed over the past 20 years – it’s all the same empty rhetoric, and it’s every bit as insincere.
Congratulations on making it as the first black premier candidate for the Democratic Alliance in Gauteng Province. I hear nowadays you are crisscrossing the streets of Johannesburg in a blue minibus taxi. I must say, a picture of a mini-Obama in a blue taxi in the streets of Soweto is remarkably innovative stuff. That should inspire many black folks in Gauteng townships who identify with a taxi as a daily means of transport to vote for you, hey? I suppose they should also be inspired to vote for your boss, Helen Zille, as president of the country, for posing in a picture as an African makoti – complete with a doek, big wooden spoon and giant black pots. These are the kinds of things that should excite black folks – you guys really have it figured out.
I suppose being DA premier candidate should be another personal accomplishment as a young 30-something black man in a historically white party. All of us observed with fascination in 2010 when a young black Sowetan popped out from nowhere to become the DA’s Joburg mayoral candidate ahead of more experienced white leaders in the party. Zille would call this ‘fit for purpose’, which means certain roles for certain races. We have seen how this ‘fit for purpose’ strategy pans out, where blacks become the faces of certain party campaigns, particularly those that have little or no chance of succeeding. We have seen black faces used in a march to Luthuli House recently, while the core constituency of the party watched this on TV from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices and Twitter spaces.
No offence, but you know as well as I do that if Zille knew the DA stood any chance of winning the City and the province, a black candidate would have been out of the question. Dr Mamphela Ramphele would not have been made a ‘presidential candidate’ if the DA stood a chance of winning the national election. We have seen this ‘fit for purpose’ strategy even in the 2009 election, where faces of black women were fit for parading on lamp posts, only for white males to take over the Western Cape provincial executive after the election. In this election, the DA hopes that the majority of its vote will come from blacks. However, 70% of its election candidates are white. As you can see, this policy clearly defines specific purposes that blacks and whites are fit for.
I’m reminded of your party’s ‘Know Your DA’ campaign, which was based on the distorted history that the DA, through Helen Suzman’s Progressive Party, fought for the liberation of the oppressed South African people. Despite its impressive publicity strategy, the campaign lost its steam, eventually collapsed and is now buried under the rubble of its lies and fabrication. None, even amongst the party’s richest accents and well-heeled neoliberals of yesteryear, could dispute the real facts regarding the Progs’ historical role: they legitimised the disgraced and iniquitous system by serving in it, agreed with the National Party on Madiba’s conditional release – prompting some to label it ‘stooge of the Nats’, advocated limited voting rights for Blacks, and opposed disinvestment and sanctions against Apartheid SA. The simple reminder of these simple historical facts spelled the collapse of the farce that was the propaganda of the DA’s role in history.
After failing to sell its sanitised history, your party did not waste time coming up with another phoney historical analogy. The new propaganda campaign, which has all the elements of desperation as its precursor, sought to have South Africans believe that this country was well managed only up until President Thabo Mbeki’s term of office. This DA version of history has a couple of objectives. Firstly, it is a desperate attempt designed to isolate President Jacob Zuma’s term and him personally with a hope to discredit the ANC in general in the election. Secondly, it is a divide-and-rule tactic similar to that deployed by the democratic movements by planting divisive stories pertaining to struggle leaders. In this regard, the fallacy you and your party are peddling to the electorate is that the DA was generally supportive of the ANC’s government under the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. I find myself wondering if you and your party strategists have ever once paused and pondered just how patronising and insulting such campaigns are to the intelligence of South Africans.
We in the ANC, and this is the view shared by the majority of South Africans, know that – several challenges notwithstanding – this country has been well-governed under all ANC presidents in the last 20 years. Indeed the good management of this country will continue as long as the ANC is in power.
I wish to remind you and the DA that, despite what you would have us believe today through your deceitful campaign, the DA has never believed that SA was better under presidents Mandela and Mbeki. Since the dawn of democracy, the DA (which was then called the Democratic Party) – like the rest of white parties still hankering for the minority rule – used mostly the same issues it is using today to paint a grim picture of a failed black majority rule.
It was under the presidency of Mandela, the father of our democracy and a symbol of non-racialism, that the DP produced several racist pamphlets accusing the ANC and its government of reverse racism and of racially dividing South Africa through introductions of racial laws. One such pamphlet, ‘The Death of the Rainbow Nation: Unmasking the ANC’s programme of Re-racialisation’, published in 1997, alleged that since the ANC took over government in 1992, there had been “a creeping reintroduction of race policies justified by the need for ‘corrective action'”. “The Democratic Party believes that the ANC is taking South Africa down a road that will lead to increased racial tension, hostility and, possibly even conflict”, claimed the DP pamphlet. The “race policies” referred to here were pieces of legislation crucial to the democratic transformation programme. These were the type of laws your party has consistently rejected in Parliament for the past 20 years of democracy.
Long before educated black politicians in the DA such as yourself and Lindiwe Mazibuko could make their names out of attacking the ANC government and its president, the DA had similar black representatives who employed exactly the same rhetoric. The year before President Mandela retired from office, one Dr Bukelwa Mbulawa, DP MP in the National Assembly, charged that Madiba’s administration had done very little to change the quality of life of many South Africans. “The ANC had presided over a public service which is so inefficient and so unmotivated and so incompetent that pensioners living in poor black areas, which are largely black, cannot be sure of getting their pensions,” she claimed.
Even President Mbeki’s term of office was subjected to relentless and misguided political attacks to portray the ANC government as a failure, inefficient and incompetent. Under the stewardship of Tony Leon, the DA’s anti-ANC government rhetoric became so crass and downright frivolous that for years President Mbeki neither acknowledged nor responded to his (Leon’s) speeches during debates on the state of the nation addresses. As far as the DA was concerned, and this position was repeatedly made in countless public utterances including through Leon’s 2006 speech in Parliament, the ANC government had failed the people of South Africa. What Leon said about our government under President Mbeki then, eight years ago, unsurprisingly sounds like a cut-and-paste of what you would say today against President Zuma: “(South Africans) face several threats – some superficial and some far more fundamental. Our hope is threatened by corruption. It is threatened by crime and unemployment. It is threatened by failed service delivery. And it is threatened by the ANC’s assault on the Constitution”.
My reflections government under various presidencies in the last 20 years are intended neither to dignify nor legitimise them. Indeed those sentiments were as devoid of anything but mendacious rhetoric then as they are now. The intention here is to point to you, through real facts of history, that your campaign which attempts to convince us that your party believed South Africa was better under the first two presidents of our democracy, is based on lies, distortions and fabrication. The reality is that South Africa has been better under all of the four ANC presidents, including under President Zuma. This is the fact that the DA currently disagrees with, which comes as no surprise as historical facts shows the party never agreed that any of our presidents since 1994 did a better job anyway.
It is an interesting contradiction that your previous campaign, Know Your DA, claimed DA’s the place in our political history for over 50 years, yet the current campaign seeks to disown some of its past, including its very existence during the first 15 years of democracy. I have noticed that even historical information, including speeches and statements, before 2008 has been wiped off the party website – probably for fear that it would compromise the sanitised history as told today. Abraham Lincoln must have driven past your blue minibus taxi loaded with historical distortions and fabrications when he famously asserted:
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Despite your and the DA’s futile attempts to split and blemish our good record in government according to individual presidents, our good story of 20 years of unbroken service remains intact and appealing to our people. We will continue to tell this good story.
In his parliamentary response to similar criticism the DA is directing at the ANC government today, President Mandela remarked: “It is too natural that the opposition focuses so heavily, indeed most exclusively, on these issues, issues that they declare to be crises demanding new policies and measures. For it is not to be expected of those who lack any policies of their own to be restless in their demand for new policies and measures…and for those who have no alternative of their own to sit in the shade of their growing trees, waiting for the sound of a falling tree so that they can declare a crisis in its wake.”
This assertion rings true today as it did then. DM
Moloto Mothapo is senior manager for media and communication at the ANC parliamentary caucus. Previously he worked as information officer, and also acted as spokesperson, for the Congress of SA Trade Unions. He holds a degree in journalism. This letter contains strictly his personal views.