In July, in an address to the prestigious Oxford Union, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Member of Parliament, Tim Farron, argued that in today’s increasingly polarised political climate, the need for an alternative voice advocating for a true and principled “centre ground” is more vital now that it has ever been.
He went on to say that “[a] real centre is therefore about much more than ideology, policy or economics. It’s about attitude, tone and conduct. It’s about how we think about one another, talk to one another, act toward one another and listen to one another. The centre ground is about being reasonable in our politics, our economics, our tone of debate, and it’s about being reasonable in terms of political realities”.
This approach accords with my own. The world and its fundamental challenges are far too complicated and nuanced to be solved by simplistic sloganeering underpinned by divisive “us vs them” rhetoric. In a discourse increasingly defined by identity and division, the centre ground remains our best hope for a progressive, fair, tolerant and prosperous future.
It seems that the more complicated the challenges become, the simpler our proposed political solutions are. In South Africa, we are no strangers to this new wave of extremism, in which radical, dangerous sound bites are presented as silver bullet solutions. They all share common similarities, including an irresistible reduction to race, an aggressive scapegoating for our social ills, and a simple-sounding yet far-reaching intervention that hands more power to the elite.
I have a different vision, one I am willing to fight for no matter how unpopular, and no matter how much resistance I face. For me, South Africa’s road to unity and prosperity lies in bringing together people of all races to right the wrongs of the past while simultaneously building a thriving, growing, diverse country for all. I am not oblivious to the enormity of the task; indeed, we are trying to do what has never been done in South Africa’s history. That is, bring together a fractured, divided society on the basis of shared values.
Yet somehow this view has become increasingly crowded out of the debate with the rise of divisive extremism on both the left and the right. This does not change the fact that it remains our best hope for the future. We need to make the case for the rational centre ground with renewed vigour. It is self-evident that most South Africans still desire a united, non-racial and prosperous nation that is a beacon of hope.
And it is for that reason that the DA’s is the only viable vision for the future of South Africa. Indeed, holding the torch for progress, liberty and tolerance in a time of division and extremism is in the DNA of the DA. As far back as Helen Suzman’s time in Parliament, when she broke away from a United Party that was snuggling up to the National Party in 1959 and stood as the lone voice in Parliament, she was fighting for the same principles and values we fight for today.
Without the DA, South Africa is in a race to the bottom – radicals pitted against each other for who can generate the most hate and division. The unofficial merger between the ANC and the EFF gathers momentum daily, and voters must not be fooled into believing there is a difference between the two parties. On policy, on race, on the economy, and on corruption, there exists no distinguishable difference between the two. They occupy the same ideological standpoint. A vote for the EFF is a vote for the ANC, and vice versa.
Race once again dominates the debate on any and every political issue. South Africans are then shoved back into the racial boxes which were imposed upon them by the pernicious social engineering during apartheid.
Now it would be foolish to argue that race plays no role in today’s society – particularly when it pertains to inequality, access and disadvantage. But we are shooting ourselves in the collective foot when – as often is the case – a complex and multifaceted debate is reduced to race and race alone. This has not helped the fight to reduce inequality, open up access to the economy to all, and address historical disadvantage.
The real alternative is for a consensus to be built around shared values; values which transcend race, class, gender, and so on. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we require a consensus that dispels myths which tell black South Africans that all white South Africans are racist and are against redress and empowerment – only concerned with preserving the status quo. We require a consensus that dispels myths which tell white South Africans that all black South Africans are using victimhood as a tool for personal gain. Such a future is only possible under the DA’s vision for the eventual achievement of a truly non-racial South Africa.
When it comes to corruption, the DA remains the only visible alternative to the ANC/EFF merger. Controlling all levers of state power is a product and a design of liberation movements turned political parties. State Capture through the deployment of loyal cadres to positions of power is the ANC/EFF plan and finds its roots in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). This is a blueprint for creating capacity for corruption. It operates as an entire ecosystem, benefiting politically connected people by design, not by chance. Today it is just another faction’s turn to take public money for themselves.
The DA’s alternative is to break down this ecosystem and replace it with strong, clean and capable governments that are corruption free, and are capacitated to deliver on their mandates. While the race obsessed left yells that DA governments operate to only benefit white people, year after year the DA’s model of governance is vindicated by the Auditor-General as clean, efficient, and citizen orientated.
While most South Africans are struggling to make ends meet, a small cabal of politically connected people are getting fat off the proceeds of patronage, nepotism and corruption. These cronies remain in power by dividing us against each other, and by selling us snake oil populist humdrum. Our nation is yearning for a real alternative, and in the DA, it has that alternative. DM
Mmusi Maimane MP is the DA Leader