What is going on in the Democratic Alliance? The centre is not holding.
This was the retort hurled at President Jacob Zuma from the leader of the DA during the State of the Nation address. Maimane was suggesting that the national legislature (Parliament) is broken, that Zuma’s ANC is broken, that the Executive generally is broken.
What then do we make of the recent spats coming from within the DA and indeed beginning to affect governance in the Western Cape government and some of the recently gained metros?
The recent announcement by the leader of the DA in the Western Cape, Patricia De Lille, that she is resigning, had everyone abuzz as to the reasons for this sudden move. And just as we were getting our heads around this bombshell, we heard the screaming of “incoming!”.
As we dove for cover, we were hit by another announcement, this time from the Beaufort West area, that the DA mayor there was resigning too. Reasons, please, was the plea from all quarters, including the media, but we are still in the dark. Then it moved to the Eastern Cape Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where we are informed of problems between the leader, Athol Trollip, and his deputy.
What is going on? Gauteng came in from the dark and we were informed that the DA leader in Soweto was raising serious concerns of how black members in the DA are being treated as opposed to their white counterparts. In fact, he retorted that they are being treated like boys. And to top it off, the two most senior figures in the DA are having a stand-off as we speak. It seems the former leader, Helen Zille, had a brain fart recently and tweeted some outrageous tweets, insulting black people and their collective suffering under colonialism and apartheid.
The centre is not holding.
Has the time finally come when the race question is coming to the fore in the DA? Are the scales perhaps tilting towards there being more of a voice for black members in the DA leadership and hence they are beginning to set the agenda? Are Helen and others realising that some see the DA as a fast-track to political relevance, in other words, political opportunists? Or is it time to self-correct as far as the white members are concerned? Has the liberal retort – I don’t see race or colour – come home to roost?
Perhaps you should take some lessons from Zuma’s party as to how not to get into factional politics. Remember, united we stand, divided we fall.
Take heed, good sir, for it starts with the senior members, then it moves to your coalition partners and finally to your wider membership. After that is gone, it’s tickets, and you will be remembered as the cause for the capitulation of the DA. A black man! Go figure, I hear some of your compatriots whisper.
Does it mean your house too, Mr Maimane, is broken?
Or perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree; perhaps all is well in the DA and what we are witnessing is nothing more than some administrative hiccups. Nothing Mmusi and the DA leadership can’t handle.
What does fascinate me, though, is that through it all, the black members of the party remain ever faithful. They still can and certainly will find justification for remaining in a party where blacks are treated as tokens or worse, like boys, and indeed are told that you should be happy about your sufferings under colonialism and apartheid because white European settlers liberated you from the bondage of your own backwardness.
The so-called coloured people in the Western Cape remain ardent supporters of the DA, because they too remain racists. They, too, like years before, regardless of their own sufferings under apartheid, had at least one racist retort, but I am not a k*****. Even when there are two of you jostling for sleeping space under the bridge, the homeless coloured person will say I don’t sleep next to a k*****.
And so, due to the changing times, they yearn to still be treated special, to still have a tricameral system, to throw their lot in with the white people, denying their own blackness and their black history. “I am brown,” I hear some of them say, because to be black is to be a k***** and to be a k***** is to be the lowest form of a citizen one can be in this our country. As if they are not poor, as if they are not suffering, as if they don’t have black pain, just as long as they are not k*****s. How sad that the DA can still use this racist tactic among the coloured people and some of them actually fall for it.
Whenever I’m home in the Western Cape I’m told of the so-called service delivery by the DA government, but what my fellow Mitchell’s Plain citizens don’t realise is that due to Apartheid Spatial Morphology, their inherent racist past and attitudes have prevented them from going to Gugulethu, Langa, Crossroads and Khayelitsha. For they, too, like their white counterparts, make sure to avoid those areas. They rather drive around, take the long way, for crime is rife in those areas, you know, they would whisper. They don’t go there to socialise, they don’t go there to visit friends, or the clinics, their children are not in the schools in those neglected areas.
No, all the DA does is maintain the status quo. Fix the roads, maintain the infrastructure, but there will be no plans in their armoury to lift people out of poverty in any meaningful way. To ensure that some can move to the more affluent areas and enjoy the benefits distributed there. Building a deliberate black middle class of millionaires is not the mission. Building a more equitable society, taking into consideration our past, and hence the need for affirmative action interventions, is not part of their vocabulary. You advance only based on merit, regardless of your deprived past, where you will not have inherited anything, because your great grandparents’ land was stolen from them, they could not own private businesses, they were second-rate citizens, whether coloured or not. But we must be thankful for colonialism, it was not all negative – seriously, Helen?
Now that there are blacks in the DA, it seems the reality of Mzansi is finding expression in the party. The largely white members of the past can no longer sit and blame blacks for all the problems in the country; on the contrary, racism, poverty and inequality remain challenges for all black people in the country and in the DA.
You find yourself at a crossroads again, Mr Maimane. You were here twice before and on both the previous occasions you opted for the wrong strategy. First, it was luring the votes of the Conservative Party and the disgruntled National Party white voters, in order to swell your ranks. Thriving on the swartgevaar campaign strategy, the same strategy I might add which still works today in order to lure your “so-called” coloured voters in the Western Cape. The second faux pas was merging with the National Party in order to cement your white base. Realising that this is not a very helpful strategy, it was only then that your party decided it was time to lure black voters.
The point here is that you have always opted for race to be the determining factor for your party’s survival. Now, you are at a crossroads again and the decision you take over the coming weeks will no doubt make or break your party.
Opt for your default position of the comfort of your white members, your traditional base and the white capital protecting the party, and you will die a slow death I’m afraid. Opt for your newfound black base with all their demands for more power and benefits and the whites will walk away in droves. Tough one if you ask me.
Is your house broken, Mr Maimane? You tell me. Because from where I’m sitting, it sure as hell looks like it. DM
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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation
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