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Analyses of DA conference stuck in a narrow groove of p...

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Analyses of DA conference stuck in a narrow groove of personalities over policies


Jordan Griffiths is the acting chief of staff in the mayor’s office in Tshwane; he writes in his personal capacity.

The adoption of non-racialism by the DA was just one of many principles the party has put forward. Yet commentators have largely abandoned even engaging on the other ideas that were adopted.

Over the past few days, there has been intense media scrutiny of the DA’s policy outcomes. Daily Maverick alone has published three separate articles on it; one each by Greg Nicolson, Stephen Grootes and Marianne Merten

It’s unfortunate that none of these articles has really attempted to engage with the depth of what the DA’s policy offering is to South Africans, or more so to envisage the type of country that South Africa could be if race did not dominate policy thought.

Nicolson has done some justice in engaging on the DA’s proposals regarding the use of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a better metric to grow the economy in terms of how the state engages with the business sector. However, neither Grootes nor Merten even bothered to make mention of this approach, or interrogate it thoroughly. 

In fact, it is clear that neither one of them has in fact read the DA policy documents themselves, based on the level of commentary that they have provided. Instead, they have opted for the seemingly predictable approach that is followed by many analysts in discussing the DA in that they focus on the people and not the policies. 

It’s all about the personalities rather than the content.

Grootes merely glosses over the policy discussions that took place, because what he really wants to discuss is the perceived factionalism he sees in the DA and partition the conference into winners and losers. At some point, even stating that the “liberal side of the DA have won the day” – and suggesting that race-based policy issues have split the party.

Merten does the same thing. Except she barely mentions the DA’s policy discussions and just focuses on the people and personalities – Gwen Ngwenya and Helen Zille, in particular, labelling the recent policy outcomes as a “rearguard take-over by the Institute of Race Relations”. 

As one reads the commentary further, it becomes almost conspiratorial, as if Zille and Ngwenya are the only two people who are in the DA and who make decisions. It’s clear Merten doesn’t actually understand how the DA works internally.

The process that led up to this past weekend was months in the making, where not only DA members but all members of the public were invited to comment on the DA’s policy proposals, all of which were available online, to help refine and structure a policy approach that would be best for the country. It resulted in two days of deliberations by more than 200 DA members from across the nation, and will still be subjected to further engagement at the party’s federal congress with hundreds of members.

Despite this, Nicolson, Grootes and Merten were fixated on the DA’s adoption of non-racialism as one of the principles that was adopted at the party’s policy conference. You would think, based purely on their commentaries, that this is all that was discussed for two days, or in the months leading up to the conference.

The official opposition has produced a comprehensive policy alternative that it wants to present to the country. Yet, despite the level of work that has gone into it, it has been met with commentary that is clearly slapdash, amateurish and quite frankly disappointing.

In fact, it reinforces why non-racialism is so important if South Africa is to grow and develop into the future. Their commentaries all emerge from a race-centred and race-driven analysis. They seemingly also cannot escape this approach in their writing. It controls and dominates their thinking and, when they do stray from it, they opt to merely focus on the personalities and people in the DA – blatantly ignoring all the other discussions that have taken place at the conference.

This is a fundamentally different policy approach to what is currently shaping South Africa’s development – and yet analysts are focused on race.

The DA has rejected race as the basis for making policy in South Africa and has embraced non-racialism. 

South Africa is witnessing growing inequality, which is entrenched by economic policies which seek to empower and protect an established elite. Race-based policies in South Africa are keeping the most vulnerable out of the economy and protecting those who have established political networks and resources.

The DA is presenting an alternative: a redress approach which focuses on assessing people’s circumstances. This is not controversial – poverty is a metric that can be measured by assessing an individual’s income level, quality of healthcare, access to education, the level of basic services in the area in which they live, along with various other socioeconomic variables. 

Assuming someone’s circumstance through race is not only an exceptionally crude tool, but it is ineffective and creates poor policy outcomes. The staggering inequality levels in South Africa are indicative of this.

However, the adoption of non-racialism by the DA was just one of many principles the party has put forward. Yet commentators have largely abandoned even engaging on the other ideas that were adopted.

Critically, the DA is promoting the use of the 17 SDGs as the way forward to guide South Africa’s policy thinking and growth. These are goals which include a drive to eradicate poverty and hunger, promote good health and wellbeing, and facilitate access to quality education, clean water and affordable electricity, among many others. 

This is a fundamentally different policy approach to what is currently shaping South Africa’s development – and yet analysts are focused on race.

The DA has further committed to federalism in terms of structuring the state, which would see the devolution of power from the national government to the lowest possible effective level of decision-making. 

The goal would be to ensure that the government is as close to the people as possible, and that they have more direct input into the decisions that affect their lives. This is in sharp contrast to how the South African state is currently structured, with a national government wielding at times overbearing power on the lives of citizens.

Yet, despite these and other novel options the DA has presented, they have largely been ignored by analysts. Instead, it is the same old regurgitated race-based discussions. There is no depth or substance to this commentary. 

You don’t necessarily have to embrace DA policy, but if you intend to critique it, at least have the courtesy to engage with all the ideas that were presented. DM


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All Comments 5

  • Thank you Jordan. Definitely needed saying. DA policies seem informed by successes in South Korea et al. Worked there. Why not here. But DM analyses cant comment positively about anything apparently.

    • Agree ++. I can not understand why political analysts can not be more discerning rather than showcasing their own political views. I agree that Helen Zille is a lightning conductor to all those who are seeking a reason to criticise the DA and would do the DA a great favour if she would just turn off her public address system a.k.a. Twitter.But please, analysts, just be honest with regard to the DA’s governance in the Western Cape, in particular with regard to its handling of Covid19 and financial management as confirmed by the Auditor General’s reports. Compare this governance with that in the other eight provinces yet the analysts continue to rubbish the DA.

  • Clearly, the DA has a marketing problem since the media has apparently chosen not to disclosed its policies. Consequently, the public has to access DA policies by reviewing its website.

    The sustainable development goals mentioned above come across as aspirations that are as uncontroversial as the benefits of mothers milk. They do not, per se, constitute policies. Policies presumably indicate how these goal are to be attained. Two have been mentioned to date. One is to pursue redress without reference to race. Another is the extension of federalism. Here we, the public, need to know more from the DA about why it thinks that devolving power would somehow improve things. The current evidence suggests that power devolved to local municipalities has resulted in chaos. Why would a Free State province with more power be less likely to start an Estonia diary scheme? It would indeed be interesting to have a more substantial interchange on such matters.

  • A link to the UN-SDGs ( would have been helpful along with a motivation to why the DA has introduced new policies around SDGs. I am 100% supportive of SDGs as overarching policies but many, potentially new and existing voters, are not aware of these goals and alignment within the National Development Plan and now DA policy. A missed opportunity to promote and inform.

  • The DA cannot just rely on the mainstream media to analyse its policies. I, for one, would be very interested in understanding the various resolutions so that I can decide for myself if they make sense for the future of the country or not.
    As you correctly state, even the Daily Maverick falls into the pit of narrow analysis from time to time.
    Other than social media, you might have to resort to paid adverts in the mainstream media to outline (at least in bullet point format) what your policies stand for.

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