Opinionista Siya Khumalo 25 October 2019

Mmusi Maimane as Guinea Pig and Scapegoat: The DA’s tactical withdrawal

Mmusi Maimane’s real purpose in the DA was being a canary in the mineshaft of a dilemma: choosing between voter confidence and funder confidence. The priorities of the majority of black voters aren’t quite those of the wealthy.

In Mmusi Maimane, the DA was answering these questions: “How far can the pretence that the interests of the two groups overlap be taken? Who can be sent to attempt the Mission Impossible — a suicide mission, really — of delivering a message that’s bound to reach a maximal number of agreeing listeners before having a detrimental effect on stakeholder numbers due to its sheer incoherence?” So, the leadership position was a poisoned chalice.

The DA’s problem isn’t with black people but with black consciousness on the capitalist nature of structural racism. That there’s no leader, CEO or confirmed parliamentary chief whip is a small price for the DA to pay as it keeps the monetary ecosystem as is. It won’t take long to consolidate a compact voter base that will be attuned to classical liberalism sans race-based affirmative action. And since the DA is a business lobby group disguised as a political party, it won’t need greater numbers; it’ll need those numbers to be clearly, neatly concentrated in metros where its funders will have unimpeded access to its contract-allocation powers without EFF coalitions. So, after the May 2019 elections, Helen Zille began writing a series of reflective pieces about the mistakes and victories of her legacy. I said these weren’t reflections but political moves, dog-whistle messaging.

Wrote the author of Not Without A Fight, “I did not fight hard enough to prevent the DA from entering the ANC/EFF’s ‘race narrative’ arena. What’s more, I actually sometimes facilitated our entry and (even worse) proceeded to play their game.” Implicit in this is the premise that the “race narrative” is more narrative than substance.

So how, exactly, did I set off down the treacherous path of trying to satisfy our ANC opponents on the issue of race?” she wondered, further solidifying the association of the inexhaustibility of South Africa’s race problem with everything in the ANC word cloud — corruption, incompetence — and putting a mea culpa on it all. She said diversity is different “from representivity in that it does not seek to reflect the precise demographic composition of society in the make-up of an organisation. It requires genuine opportunities and real support for people from all backgrounds.”

Zille’s insertion of a bad-faith dichotomy between diversity and representativity (corrupting the meaning of both by bringing them into proximity with everything in the ANC word cloud) is disingenuously neoliberal — and tired. There are plenty of talented black people in the DA, but the party’s curve of black promotion and discarding can be predicted by those black people’s initial pliability, and then the rate at which it gives way to that to which it’s inversely proportional: their awareness of the intractability of race from oppressions and privileges.

The DA’s only remaining obstacle is codifying into policy the promise that it can bring about social justice without using race as proxy for historic disadvantage. Here, there are two kinds of South Africans: those who believe this can’t be done (and therefore know that the DA isn’t in any kind of crisis) and those who believe it can (and don’t realise the DA has a strategy for rising from its own ashes). And the ANC helps the DA by using the word “transformation” as a euphemism for its corruption; in exchange, it keeps voter numbers and taxes. It’s a perfect ecosystem.

In You Have To Be Gay To Know God (Kwela Books, 2018), I argued that this spares the DA from having to dismantle the unspoken myth that its advantaged stakeholders priorities’ (and its corresponding efficiency at delivering on those ahistorical, apolitical measurables) have nothing to do with the legacy of apartheid or its beneficiaries’ entitlement. With that myth comes the unspoken belief that the DA has, not “better values”, but a meritocratic recruitment process that attracts better people.

Professor Steve Friedman raised the interesting possibility that imposter syndrome may have contributed to Mmusi Maimane resigning. “Key for ‘imposter syndrome’ is the judgement the panel passed on Maimane. He was, they said, ‘indecisive’ and ‘conflict averse’.” Friedman then wondered whether, in his reticence and approachability, Maimane wasn’t being more judicious than he’s been given credit for. He also questioned why any organisation would want leaders who aren’t “conflict-averse” and thoughtful.

Racists will weaponise your imposter syndrome by using patronising, condescending voices, among other tactics. Predators play cat-and-mouse games, and Zille is an apex predator. With all the undermining calculatedness behind her colonialism tweets, she’s also tweeted a screenshot of a poem by Charles Mackay. “You have no enemies, you say? Alas! my friend, the boast is poor.” Except, at the press briefing, she was remarkably chipper on Wednesday. And while I have yet to listen to the podcast of Eusebius Mckaiser’s interview with John Steenhuisen, he apparently responded to a question on whether he’d run for party leader with a comment about waiting “for the bodies to cool”.

The DA? In a crisis? Don’t believe a word of it. This is tactical withdrawal by a party in its element. DM

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