Opinionista Ghaleb Cachalia 19 November 2019

DA’s foundational values: still strong, still worth fighting for

Politics is a long game; expediency and unseemly haste will simply repeat the mistakes of the past.

There’s a tendency for politicians to keep transparency opaque. Swimming against the tide of these muddy waters, the Democratic Alliance has been singularly open about the recalibration process that is underway in the organisation. The level of disclosure is unprecedented in South African politics.

The post-election review, occasioned by the less-than-stellar showing in the 2019 national elections, and commissioned by the erstwhile leader, Mmusi Maimane, has been made public — in pretty much-unredacted form. The events it set in motion have been the subject of much scrutiny. The results are plain for all to see.

Fast forward: an interim leadership has been elected in the run-up to the next Federal Congress, scheduled for April 2020. Sadly, the media, with few exceptions, has sought to portray the developments through a binary racial lens.

Those who sought to revert to aspects of the DA’s foundational values and principles have been painted as overwhelmingly white, right-wing and out of step with the need for historical redress.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The review took into consideration all submissions on a party-wide basis, its recommendations were accepted in principle by the Federal Council of the party. Interim elections were held, with reasonably clear, if not wholly unambiguous offerings by the candidates, and the results of the elections have been resounding.

The “electoral college” was the 150-strong, duly elected and representative body of Federal Council. It is highly diverse in its make up, and in the absence of a sitting of a full Federal Congress, it is the highest decision-making body of the party.

The successful candidates have been clear about their offering and the imperative for responsible redress, evincing a focus on growing the economy to address poverty and the need to build a united consensus in the party that addresses disadvantage, among other issues, in a measurable and non-racial manner. This, unity and a workmanlike attention to rebuilding was the order of the day.

They presented their agenda, lobbied the voters and won the day based on their manifestoes, their fitness for purpose, and as always, some predilection for the cut of their jib. In line with DA principles and tradition, no regard was given to the circumstances of their birth, the colour of their skin nor any consideration of quota and racial affirmation of any kind. This is the way it should be.

All subsequent procedures regarding the establishment of a policy review, as well as any associated appointments have punctiliously been adhered to — as is Helen Zille’s wont — with due regard to the party’s constitution and precepts.

The policies that will be debated and affirmed in the course of the review will constitute the offering of the DA to the electorate. All members will abide by this, as is the democratic norm.

Those who chose to pre-empt the policy deliberations because they foresaw the changing tide as not buoying and supporting their vision and vehicle, have elected to leave. This was their choice. No one was forced to resign their membership. The history of politics is littered with such shifts and many, by way of contrast, have stayed the course to debate and champion their views within party structures. That’s how policies are forged.

At the end of the day, the fortunes of the party in coming elections will be the acid test of the wisdom of such policies and the calibration of these against foundational values. The message will be fashioned accordingly, and the vision tested. This is the stuff of politics. It also highlights the paucity, perhaps, of robust and unambiguous policy under the watch of the former leadership.

The resonance of policies with the electorate must be predicated on a clear stance that the party agrees upon, and on a differential brand driven by an ideological position that sets it apart from others. In the absence of such differentiation, there is little justification for a party that has a raison d’etre barely distinguishable from the governing one. Clear policies maketh the party and politicians will be tasked with articulation and implementation.

The slew of clearly articulated policies will make clear this distinction. They need, however, to be rooted in the organic authenticity and foundational values of the DA. Politics is a long game; expediency, and unseemly haste will simply repeat the mistakes of the past.

So what are these foundational values? Specifically:

Freedom — conducive to freedom of society, and individual choices in life.

Freedom of speech — the right to express any ideas and opinions without fear, censorship or restraint. Free speech is foundational to an open society.

An open society — one which encourages free debate and reasoned dialogue, in the pursuit of “truth”, “in which individuals are confronted with personal decisions” as opposed to a “magical or tribal, or collectivist society”.

Economic liberalism — an economic system organised on individual lines, meaning that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by individuals rather than by collective institutions or organisations.

Non-racialism — the belief that people should be evaluated on the basis of their personal attributes and character, not the colour of their skin.

Constitutionalism — constitutionalism comprises a combination of ideas, attitudes and behaviour patterns rooted in the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law, which is called a constitution.

The rule of law — the idea that the exercise of public power is framed and limited by laws, passed in accordance with agreed and enforceable procedures and standards laid down by the Constitution — the supreme law of the country.

Tolerance — the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.

Accountability — being answerable for decisions, statements and actions within a framework of just laws.

Equality of opportunity — all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms, underscored by the belief that all should have the opportunity and the agency to live a life they value and achieve their full potential, no matter the circumstances of their birth.

There you have it. It’s as clear as mud and the commentariat would do well to take note, and guard against wilful invention driven by a dubious racial agenda. DM

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