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From the Inside: The DA and the ANC took a knock — both require some soul-searching

Helen Zille is Premier of the Western Cape. See her Wikipedia profile.

The journey away from racial nationalism is a tortuous and difficult one. But I hold on to the belief, encouraged by the result in the Western Cape, that it is possible. It will take longer than we hoped. But we must keep on keeping on because there is no other hope for South Africa.

As the dust settles on the 2019 election, a new storm is brewing: The interpretation of the results.

Inevitably, party strategists will rationalise the result in order to validate their analysis (or hold on to their jobs). This applies, in particular, to the two biggest parties, the ANC and the DA.

Both took a knock at the polls on Wednesday, and both require some serious soul-searching.

As always, amid the spin, truth is elusive. The best we can do is to get as close to reality as possible and face (often uncomfortable) facts. This column seeks to contribute to that debate.

The DA’s decline can be attributed primarily to its loss of well above 200,000 votes to the FF+ and about 50,000 votes to the African Christian Democratic Party. We (like the ANC) were also hard hit by the comparatively low turnout — reflecting voter disenchantment. However, the turnout differential was strongly in the DA’s favour. This means a far higher percentage of DA voters went to the polls compared to ANC voters.

There have, so far, been two dominant (and contradictory) interpretations of the results. The one (which was a far smaller factor than anticipated) was that the DA lost supporters to the ANC as a result of Ramaphoria. This was so limited that it requires no major retrospective analysis.

The second interpretation, which warrants far more attention, is the temptation to attribute the DA’s decline to the fact that we lost white voters because we actively courted black voters. In fact, this analysis has already been trotted out as “self-evident”. In a radio interview, I conducted the day after the election, the interviewer’s point of departure was that the DA had paid the price for being “pro-black” in the election, which automatically meant being “anti-white”.

That is certainly a widespread perception and is even propagated by some members of the DA. It is, in fact, the polar opposite of what we stand for. It contradicts our core principles to be “pro” or “anti” any racial category of people. We want “One South Africa for All” where everyone can use their freedom to improve their lives.

To describe the voters who abandoned the DA as “racial nationalists” who are not interested in building one nation with one future would be a great mistake. It is a superficial and dangerous reading of the situation. The DA is certainly not “better off without them” as some have suggested. And the result was not a “winning loss”, as an internal DA analyst has self-servingly opined (whatever that may mean).

Schweizer-Reneke, located in the Mamusa municipality of the North West Province, is instructive. Here the DA lost every single voting district we once comfortably held. This was undoubtedly because of the DA’s ill-considered racial posturing in targeting a young white teacher at the local school, based on a single social-media photo, without establishing the facts of the matter. If anything was racist, it was the DA’s assumptions about the circumstances of the photo and our intervention. It was certainly not in the interests of the black children.

The DA voters of Schweizer-Reneke used their vote to send a clear message about jumping to race-based conclusions without first getting the facts. These voters are not lost to us forever. But they do want us to live up to our non-racial values.

The DA’s message of an inclusive South Africa was not new in this election. We have always stood for “One Nation, One Future” — exactly the same message as “One South Africa for All”. We have always urged people to “vote their hopes and not their fears”.

Indeed, one of the truly extraordinary features of post-apartheid South Africa is that the vast majority of whites have shown, through their support of the DA, that they want to become part of a common society, and that they believe in one South Africa for all.

The capacity of most whites to abandon the racial nationalism of apartheid has been a crucial component of SA’s transition to democracy, and it warrants far greater attention from historians than it has received thus far.

The same can be said of all minorities, who over the past 15 years moved away from their ethnic nationalist parties and consolidated behind the DA. This is an enormous testament to our capacity for nation-building in a complex, plural society.

In the 2019 election, we hit a bump in the road.

It would, in my view, also be wrong to attribute this to international trends in order to exonerate ourselves from taking responsibility.

Many analysts are already making erroneous conclusions about South Africa’s 2019 election, based on the Trump phenomenon in America. South African whites, they argue, are going the same way.

In my view the huge swing to Trump in the US was, in large measure, a reaction to the extreme form of left-wing “identity politics” that spread like a malignant tumour from American campuses into society as a whole, seeking to blame “whiteness” and “white privilege” for all the problems of minorities.

The shift has been so pronounced that analysts have called it a major transition of “moral cultures”. It is a shift to a culture of “victimhood” where people are constantly searching for signs of racism wherever possible, where feelings override facts, and people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offence with injured outrage. Whites are assumed racist unless they accept this racist philosophy unquestioningly.

This is the philosophy underlying the targeting of the Schweizer-Reneke teacher. The DA dare not jump on to this racist bandwagon.

Who can blame people for rejecting a political philosophy that defines their colour (which they can’t change) as the core problem in society?

As the cancer of identity politics metastasises from Humanities faculties, primarily at English-speaking South African universities, into the media and society more broadly, SA’s shrinking white minority is increasingly targeted as “the problem”.

This is not “progressive” discourse. It is, in fact, highly retrogressive.

The first lesson of this election, for the DA, is the importance of rejecting politics that elevates racial identity in any shape or form above the shared interests of the country. Our job is to build a new majority on the basis of a common set of values, among people who genuinely want one South Africa for all (unlike — for example — the EFF that wants South Africa for one race only).

We are a party for people who are committed to addressing the real problems preventing economic growth, improved education, and social progress, without seeking to scapegoat minorities.

It is fallacious to present the key issue in SA as a dichotomy between “black poverty” and “white privilege”. The face of privilege has been transformed by a predatory ANC/EFF elite that has looted the country and set us on the road to ruin. The DA should not pander to this analysis.

The DA must volubly promote non-racialism (even though this important value is now regarded as “conservative” by the racial nationalist adherents of identity politics). We cannot remain silent when there is often a clear double standard on issues relating to race.

We must stop seeking support from racial nationalists. And, contrary to what some analysts think, most minorities do not want South Africa exclusively for themselves. This would be an absolutely senseless endeavour. Whites who want their own country have already moved to Orania.

Our political brand and unique selling point must be inclusion and good governance, that offers real opportunities to everyone to improve their lives. That has been our mission in the Western Cape. Our support among black voters also rose by 50% — and was double the DA support from black voters in the Eastern Cape, which is where most black people now living in the Western Cape, originally hail from.

To be sure, the numbers are still small (although a far higher proportion of black people vote for the DA than white people who vote for the ANC).

We have (at a conservative estimate) 6.1% black support in the Western Cape (where we had a white premier candidate) compared with 3.1% black support in the Eastern Cape (where we had a black premier candidate). In this context, it is important to note that it has always been most difficult for the DA to win support among Nguni (Xhosa and Zulu) South Africans.

The journey away from racial nationalism is a tortuous and difficult one. But I hold on to the belief, encouraged by the result in the Western Cape, that it is possible. It will take longer than we hoped. But we must keep on keeping on, because there is no other hope for South Africa.

The DA can self-correct. But only if we honestly face the real issues underlying the 2019 election result. DM

This column was first published in Rapport.

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