On Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 April the DA held its 7th Federal Congress in Tshwane. Federal Congress happens every three years and it is the most important event in our party’s calendar. It is here that we choose our leaders, debate on and adopt our policies, and make decisions that affect the future of our party, including possible amendments to our own constitution.
I am extremely proud of how our Federal Congress was run. I am proud of how our vibrant delegates from all nine provinces embraced the occasion, I am proud of how our robust debate was handled with decorum and respect, and I am proud of the outcomes we achieved, both in terms of leadership elected and policy adopted. It was our largest and most diverse gathering yet, and we left on Sunday a stronger, more united party than ever before. This was the perfect way to head into what will undoubtedly be a very challenging election campaign.
The biggest talking point of this congress, certainly from a media perspective, has been our debate and adoption of a diversity clause in our party’s constitution. This was billed in certain media titles, in the build-up to the congress, as a wedge issue in the party. Some even went as far as describing a “race war” inside the DA. How disappointed they must have been when this war did not materialise. Instead, we held one of our most engaging, productive debates yet, and emerged with an addition to our constitution that not only affirmed our commitment to advancing diversity within the party, but also did so without resorting to the “demography as destiny” approach that has become synonymous with the ANC.
By explicitly rejecting the introduction of race quotas to engineer a demographic outcome, we not only rejected the ANC’s approach – which does little more than reduce people to symbolic representatives of their race – we also rejected the crude racial classification that dominated our society for centuries.
This “diversity clause” was something I had campaigned for before congress. Not because diversity was not previously a value – indeed, it has always been – but because sometimes it is important to affirm again, in our guiding documents, that which is important and sacred to us.
We have put in words in our constitution that which we have always lived: That we are the most diverse party in the country. The only party that is truly for all South Africans.
I often say our diversity as a party is our strength. This is not just a platitude. It is the truth – we are a far stronger party because we are a home to all South Africans.
When two of our MPs, Gavin Davis and Michael Cardo, raised concerns about what they considered problematic wording of the clause, the reaction from some sectors of the media was disappointing yet predictable. If two white men voiced a concern about a diversity clause in the DA’s constitution, it simply had to point to some sort of racial bias. The prism of our daily discourse in this country, still dominated by racial groupthink and identity politics, demands that this is the case.
However, this could not be further from the truth.
Their warning, along with the subsequent solution suggested by Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana, has given us a far stronger clause. One that commits us to broadening the diversity in our party even further, and sets out clearly our difference in approach. I could not be happier with this outcome, even if it disappoints those who were betting on a race fight.
But this was not the only business of the day, even if it dominated the media’s attention. We also spoke at length about issues that affect our country deeply. And we made commitments to address these issues in our policies.
We resolved that the top priority of our economic policy, and our foremost focus in government, will be to get South Africans into jobs. We adopted resolutions to set out how we intend to get South Africans onto the jobs ladder, how we intend to establish an environment conducive to creating new jobs, and how we will look out for those still at risk of being left behind.
Other policy adoptions included a resolution to help unemployed mothers to feed their children by increasing the child support grant, a resolution to make our neighbourhoods safe from criminals, gangs and drug dealers, a resolution to deal decisively and harshly with corruption and a resolution to protect our country’s borders and restore control over the way in which people can enter South Africa.
This was a hugely successful Federal Congress for the DA. Not only because we emerged united on all the key issues and united behind our new leadership, but also because we demonstrated to the country how a healthy, diverse party can function in a modern democracy. This congress offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a party that has rejected the suffocating constraints of identity politics and embraced a values-driven future.
That, as more and more people throughout the country will discover, is the future of South Africa. DM