Opinionista Solly Malatsi 4 November 2019

The DA’s project at the liberal centre of SA confounds the critics again

Those who criticise the DA don’t understand the party’s commitment to building a better future for all South Africans, regardless of race. They also don’t understand that our party was built on internal institutions and policies that work, and are quite different to the ANC’s approach of looking at our country’s challenges through the prism of race and ethnicity.

For the umpteenth time, political commentators have been kept busy over the past two weeks, predicting the DA’s imminent implosion and an end to our cause.

They clearly remain undeterred by the fact that time and time again, in predicting a DA downfall, they have inevitably been embarrassingly wrong. Despite this, they go on each time to live to fail another day, because theirs is one of the few jobs where failure is never held accountable.

These commentators claim to speak truth to power and hold power to account, but they often get it wrong without any form of reckoning. As such, it’s nice work if you can get it.

Being in the daily arena of South African politics is very different to the life of a commentator. Our politics requires strong institutions of actual accountability and this applies equally to all political parties. One of the major reasons for the failure of democratic transitions worldwide (especially in Africa), is the failure of accountability mechanisms.

This is where the DA stands out. The DA is different, factually, and that is why we always prove our critics wrong. And that is also why we will continue building the moderate, inclusive middle ground of South African politics, and will continue to ignore the political obituaries.

During the months ahead, we will elect a new interim leadership, hold a policy conference and then a federal congress where we will pass a raft of policy resolutions, and elect our leadership.

These events will happen according to our rules and constitution. They will be free, fair, open and accountable. Candidates will not be murdered or assaulted, chairs will not be thrown. Our internal institutions actually work.

Moreover, most of our critics simply cannot understand a diverse, inclusive, robustly democratic, liberal party that is passionate about redressing the legacy of the past and beating poverty. They have bought into the ANC’s paradigm of looking at South Africa’s challenges through the prism of race and ethnicity fueled by groupthink.

To them, a party whose mission is to be truly diverse without putting people into racial boxes, is simply confounding.

Daily Maverick columnist Ismail Lagardien is one such example. He thinks diverse leadership in the DA means some people have “window seats” while others are flying the plane. He thinks black leaders can’t have meaningful roles in the DA. That is a racist insult directed at 80% of our federal executive, and at eight out of nine of our provincial leaders.

Political leadership in the DA is democratically elected to all structures, from local branches to the federal executive. We are proud of our internal processes, which mean that the candidate the delegates think is the best for the job is the one who emerges victorious. As people increasingly acknowledge that this is the only successful way to run an organisation or a country, the DA grows more diverse every day. This does not happen through the bizarre notion of allocating “window seats”, Mr Lagardien. Yours is an extraordinarily racist sentiment which we reject outright.

Our roots have always been solidly in the fight against apartheid and the oppressive, racist nationalist governments of the past. Today, we are led by people of every race, and across our federal and provincial leadership by a majority of black South Africans. These are South Africans who have joined our cause because we share a common commitment to making our future better than our past and our present by working together for a liberal, rights-based, constitutional order, where we beat poverty through economic inclusion.

We are passionate about achieving a just social order in which everyone can live a decent life and we have the best policies to do so.

People join the DA because they believe in these values and objectives, and the party is a voluntary association coalescing on that basis. So Lagardien’s argument that the DA wasn’t ready to be liberal is simply inexplicable.

For almost 60 years, this growing group of people has come together around core values, which have sought to advance personal freedoms, economic prosperity, the rule of law, a fair society and less government intervention in people’s lives.

Lagardien’s analysis is based on a caricature of what he thinks the DA is, not on what we really are. If he understood that, his analysis would fail entirely.

No one in South Africa can deny or overlook the grinding poverty that accompanies growing unemployment (now at a staggering 11-million people). The ANC has presided over our country for 25 years, during which, it has used the rhetoric of race to beat poverty, only to enrich a small coterie of the politically connected, while quadrupling the unemployment rate since 1994.

It is time for South Africans who are really committed to beating poverty, to see through the ANC’s racial fig leaf and start implementing the only empowerment policies that will work for all: And these are the DA’s.

At our forthcoming policy conference, we will again interrogate and improve these policies, and then put them before a congress for debate, amendment and adoption, If analysts wish to understand them, they will have to get out of the ANC’s laager.

In his determination to trash the DA, Lagardien fails to distinguish between liberalism with libertarianism. The DA is NOT a libertarian party. We believe that a capable state has a crucial role to play in securing economic inclusion.

On the contrary, one of the ANC’s biggest failures is that its obsession with race has destroyed state capacity, making it impossible for the state to play the crucial role this society requires. Eskom is a classic case study of how the overriding obsession with racial transformation is rapidly destroying the economy and devastating the lives of the poor, who are losing their jobs.

The recent internal DA intrigue is certainly regrettable, but it is part of the political terrain everywhere. The amazing thing about the DA is that we are strong enough to weather it and that integrity still matters.

Our project remains firmly on track to deliver a better future for South Africa and for all those who live in this country, which was founded on human rights and equality for all people. DM

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