Opinionista

What have you done for me lately? Despite its outstanding delivery record, the DA is its own worst enemy

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

According to the Auditor-General’s reports, the DA’s record at municipal level is only slightly short of outstanding. Voters in affluent districts probably have little reason to complain. However, the DA has not served the people of the Cape Flats or Khayamandi very well at all.

So much of politics is about perception to the extent that it’s often difficult to separate the two. One of my favourite writers of the last century once wrote that there is no truth, only perception. I’m not sure I entirely agree, nonetheless.

Perception may be the biggest problem with the Democratic Alliance (DA). They are perceived to be an exclusively white party that looks after white interests (most of whom vote for the DA) and are blamed for everything that goes wrong in Cape Town, or wherever they govern. Imagine the misogynist driving around a city of six million cars, he sees a woman making a right turn without indicating – and that is sufficient evidence to “prove” that women are bad drivers. The DA may quite well be their own worst enemy; one small misstep for the DA, and all the zombies of racism rise.

Without sounding like an appeal for Sympathy for the Devil, (the removal, banning or harassment of homeless people in Cape Town’s City Bowl was not a matter of perception, it verged on inhumane and stripping the poorest of the poor of what dignity they have left) the DA have generally had the cleanest municipal records in the country. In some ways, however, the DA cannot do right for doing wrong.

With local government elections (LGE21) a few weeks away, the DA should get a sense of the collective impact of the body blows it has taken over the past couple of years. The loss of credible black leaders — Mmusi Maimane, Phumzile van Damme — and much much earlier, Lindiwe Mazibuko — Helen Zille’s adoption of Trump-esque fear of a black planet (okay, I mean to say Critical Race Theory), and John Steenhuisen’s use of flag-waving black people as props during his (cringeworthy) sophomoric special announcement.

The DA has also been accused of using black members as token blacks. Personally, I have some problem with that claim in that it strips people like Van Damme and Maimane of agency. I also disagree with Modidima Mannya’s claim that the DA is the “direct descendant of the National Party”. It draws attention away from the Freedom Front Plus and the knuckle-dragging mouth breathers of AfriForum. The DA has presented itself as liberal — which we will get to below. It may be more accurate to say the DA are the descendants of the Progressive Federal Party which eventually lost its way when Tony Leon became leader in 1999. That was when the DA drifted to where the Institute of Race Relations finds itself today. So, do read intertextually what I wrote over the past two weeks (here and here). The LGE21 is about municipal matters and the provision of local public goods and services.

The game is not played on paper

There’s a phrase in football (please don’t refer to it as soccer) which goes something like this: “They are a great team on paper, but the game is not played on paper, it’s played on the pitch.” And so on paper — and one should not traduce these results – the DA has received the cleanest audits in almost every municipality where it governs. The George Herald reported last month that:

“All 25 DA-run municipalities in the Western Cape province have received unqualified audit outcomes. This was revealed at the Auditor-General’s 2019/20 Local Government (MFMA) Audit Outcomes.”

We should probably accept the following as propaganda or public relations (though it’s accurate) – the DA’s Anton Bredell “praised municipalities in the province for their efforts”.

“Despite the ongoing Covid challenges, Western Cape municipalities have improved their performance, last year we had 13 clean audits. The outcomes provide further assurance to citizens of the province that their money is going where it should and not into the pockets of corrupt politicians and officials. Good service delivery from municipalities goes hand in hand with quality financial performance. The one is impossible without the other,” he said.

There is no getting away from what the Sunday Times reported in April this year: “The Western Cape continues to be the shining light of financial accountability among the country’s nine provinces. This has once again become the case following the release of the auditor-general’s audit outcomes for provinces and national government for the 2019-20 financial year.”

What we can say then, with confidence, is that the DA’s record at municipal level is only slightly short of outstanding. If we take Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard, the Mink and Manure belt down Newlands and Constantia way, and pockets in Somerset West, Strand and Stellenbosch voters probably have no reason to complain. But this is key to understanding municipal elections. Voters elect people who will provide public goods and services (trash collection, clean streets, community safety etc), and the DA has served its loyal voters in the above-mentioned areas rather well. Just so we “balance things out” we have to assume that people who voted for the ANC around the country have been well served by the ruling party… We do, however, need to insert a heavy caveat here.

At the level of perception and propaganda (that misogynist who sees a woman not using the car’s indicators and generalises from that), the DA has not served the people of Khayelitsha and the greater Cape Flats area or Khayamandi very well at all. Intellectual honesty compels us to accept that the sprawl and spread of informal settlements, the destruction of infrastructure (especially railway lines, train stations and rolling stock) are a national problem.

Our ideological (racial) blinkers can blame the DA for the problems of the squalor, poverty and precarity in the Western Cape — as if the province is somehow a different country. For LGE21, though, the party has appealed to voters to keep the province DA. This brings us to the question that may emanate from the Cape Flats or Khayelitsha: what has the DA done for us lately? The voters will answer that question on 1 November.

Liberalism and its discontents

Apart from the fact that the DA is a predominantly white party, and elected by predominantly white people, one of the party’s bigger “problems” is that it is liberal — which in South African politics has become a pejorative term, never mind the fact that most people enjoy the historical gains of liberalism like freedom from want, freedom of speech and association, freedom from fear, freedom of conscience and freedom from discrimination.

Yet liberal parties have transmogrified over the years to the extent that in countries like Australia, the Liberal Party tends towards the right. Under these conditions, in liberal societies charity tends to replace justice, while liberal parties focus extensively on serving commercial interests and hoping that “the market” would allocate resources efficiently. Bertrand Russell once described liberalism as a culture “most naturally associated with commerce” and, as a belief system, its “central” principle for the organisation of capitalist society is the promotion of economic and individual liberty coupled with belief in Darwinian competition.

If then you want to understand why the DA may want to build buildings for large corporations instead of affordable housing, this should help provide an answer. Corporations and liberal politicians follow the money, the poor vote for better lives, social justice and human dignity — almost all of which pervades the black community, while the DA does not see race.

Enter the DA’s tryst with the SA Institute of Race Relations. In the Open Letter to the SAIRR written by a group of leading South African figures, the claim is made that the “IRR fosters a ‘free-market, small state’ agenda while representing itself as a human rights research organisation devoted to impartial fact-based analysis. This testifies to its open association with Northern libertarian groups such as the Atlas Network and the Heritage Foundation, the latter supporting Trump’s presidential campaigns.”

Based on its performance on paper, it doesn’t take much to state that the DA will probably win most of what is up for grabs in the Western Cape. The people who might feel aggrieved that they have been in the DA’s blindspot for the past decade or so may want to bear in mind a statement attributed to Elie Wiesel: We might not have justice anytime soon, but that does not mean we should stop fighting for it.

As voters go to the polls on 1 November the choice of who to elect is theirs. They have to look at what politicians have done for them lately, and whether they can expect anything better in the coming years. DM

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    • Do you know what critical theory is? It has a long history and there are many social benefits that could be associated with it. Of course, to prove these with empirical evidence is a complex task that would take extensive research and analysis.

      However, I think you realise that. One thing, though, why not ask for the same empirical evidence to justify neo-liberal economics? Comes across pretty cynical…

      • Critical theory, as I see it, has top sliced and caters for a razor thin section of humanity: academia, the workplace (as in the few able to find work), and/or with elite sensibilities that constellate around identity. History has shown, on the whole, that to provide individual rights, food, shelter and actual real security look to liberalism and, ironically, conservativism. There are exceptions of course but it’s the author who set up the dialectic by pitting what he calls justice (three times) against what he calls charity. You can’t eat justice. Vide: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      • An excellent analysis of some of the problems with CRT can be found on medium dot com under the title “the real problem with critical race theory” by Darren Zook.
        There are some valid points to CRT, but there are also some major issues with it, especially some of the resulting “work” by people like Ibram Kendi.
        It is CRT that forbids any rational debate, positing that even arguing against CRT as a white person is in itself a form of oppression. Science, logic and truth are less important that lived individual experiences of minority groups, while bunching all white people, no matter context, culture or history into one big amorphous group of oppressors.
        I urge you to read the article and then come back to this thread. I for one would gladly have a discussion, but pls without the default accusations of racism.

  • That crumbling infrastructure you mention is national government (ie ANC). The DA has been begging to take control of the trains for years. A cynic might argue that it is the interests of the ANC to neglect this infrastructure as the perception is that it is the DA’s neglect. Though I don’t support succession from the rest of the country, an absent government in a distant province should not be allowed to retard delivery here.

  • Imagine clean national government and growth friendly policies and what could then be done for the people of Khayamandi? Interesting that Coloured and Indian senior DA leaders are not mentioned.
    Liberal economic policies are the only proven way to reduce inequality, whilst social engineering always has poor outcomes – however well motivated.

  • And the prize for most biased one sided opinion, dripping with hate, association fallacies and oversimplifications goes to…

    I think you can do better DM…criticism is fine, but this is not it.

  • I vote for the DA because I believe in Democracy. We all know what the 1 party ANC have done to this country.
    They have completely diminished every aspect of life for everyone, poor and rich.
    This is why we need to vote differently on mass, to change the direction from the destructive ANC.
    What has the ANC done for the poorest in the country ? Our vote only lasts 5 years, so we can change it every 5 years, depending on who is doing the job well. A well run municipality is essential for economic equilibrium that actually benefits all in the end.
    More jobs equals more opportunity, equals more experience, equals more entrepreneurs who spy the gap in the economy. Finally, economic growth happens, as it has in the provincial areas of the Western Cape through agricultural opportunities. Go DA.

    • Thank you for using the word equilibrium instead of equality. Equilibrium implies so much more nuance that lends itself beautifully to an understanding of free market principles. Equality, on the other hand, has become the moniker for the delusions of entitlement and violent zealotry that is so pernicious in society today.

  • Ismail seems to still have a case of orange-man-bad syndrome. I suppose if one can’t find much wrong with something the only other option, if one is so determined to find wrongfulness, is to look at the _perception_ of wrongness with things connected only by association (no matter how arbitrary), so not a particularly solid argument in my view.

    This is also just an opinion piece so we shouldn’t consider it as journalism per se.

    One curious point, however, that I believe Ismail has missed entirely here. How difficult does he suppose service delivery would be in sections of a city that are riddled with crime and gangsterism? And who is responsible for dealing with said crime and gangsterism? The police maybe? Who then is responsible for the efficient functioning of the police force? Is it the DA? No? And yet here Ismail sees fit to criticise the DA for something it has no control over…

  • Eish, poor Ismail is so hung up on the successes of the DA and the crusading for right governance from the likes of Helen, the IRR, Agriforum. The country is on the brink of disaster, and Ismail still sees the imperfections of the DA through a race tinged lens, yet ignores how much poverty, decay and ineptitude the rest of the country is in
    As someone once said: “The only axe the DA has to grind is with the endemic levels of greed and corruption which plague this SA under the kleptocratic leadership of the ANC.”

    • The mere accusation of neoliberlism, especially from such a biased source, does not mean it is true. There are social policies the DA has (that are simply ignored by media it seems) that definitely are not neoliberal.

  • Voters can EITHER support the DA towards good local government, low corruption, liberalism, and a business friendly economy, OR topple the ANC.
    Why is this a forced choice, why can’t we have both? Because the non-negotiable demographic needed to topple the ANC is black, for reason of numbers. And the reasons you can’t have both are to be found in Ismail’s piece.

  • Ismail, I have a lot of respect for you and mostly if not always agree with your opinions. However, to refer to members of my tribe as “knuckle-dragging mouth breathers” is NOT on. I cannot stand Afriforum, but this comment of yours is just beyond the pale. Apologise!!

  • A well written article, with some very pertinent points on DA weaknesses, however, the thieving, lying and self gratification of the ANC, is not one of those weaknesses. Ismail, while trying to write a balanced and fair article unfortunately cannot disguise his racial bias, of which a small vein runs through the article. Unfortunate and disappointing, given the standard of many of his previous opinion pieces.

  • I see that many posters here have the knee jerk response that any article critising any aspect of the DA has an anti-DA motive. I am a DA voter and agree that their administration is exemplary, as the writer acknowledges, but am disappointed that even under the present favourable circumstance it can make no headway Against the ANC, either because of perception,
    policy or tactical shortcomings. The DA has to acknowledge that if the ANC is to be removed it can only be through the black vote Either that or stick to the WC and make sure it doesn’t lose that. The Steenhuisen “special announcment” was cryingworthy, and the problem is that he didn’t see that.

  • “the DA has not served the people of Khayelitsha and the greater Cape Flats area or Khayamandi very well at all”.

    As they say, the devil is in the details. The problems affecting these areas are not necessarily ones that the DA can easily solve. For example, when it comes to providing services, what is one to do when your workers go into these areas and are attacked? I mean, let’s look at this story:

    “City of Cape Town official shot, colleagues robbed by teenagers”

    “A City of Cape Town supervisor was shot by a group of teenagers while fixing a sewer pipe in Samora Machel. ”
    One of the major complaints by voters is that the DA doesn’t offer the same services to poor communities that they do to other areas.

    Well no s#$%. Is a repair team going to be shot at in Claremont, Seapoint, or Kalk Bay?

    So ya, criticize the DA where they need to be, but don’t do a slapgat job if you want people to respect the words you write.

  • I have tried very hard to conclude each article I read …er…begin to read, of Ismael Lagardien’s! However, there is something laggard in me which makes me give up – angry! I cannot prove he is sponsored by the mob-led ANC, I cannot measure whether he does or does not vote for the mob-led ANC, I cannot, for the life of me, endure his verbose use of the language, as if he alone has shares in its use, and…so much more!

    The simple position is, the DA in power is successful! Incontestably so!
    Simple, like…singing country [Maria Carl von Weber is my fav!]

    My gran, a fiesty Suffolk immigrant, escaping poverty post WW I, similar to the millions who have come here from within Africa! – told me once: ‘always be a little unsure of a man who does not drink a beer’ – SURELY he doesn’t!?
    DA: a luta continua Perhaps Lagardien might want to go somewhere and create children – I don’t know!!

  • Forget the theories and look at the practicalities —
    The Western Cape, and Cape Town in particular has 2 massive problems that are out of it’s hands to solve!
    The huge crime problems — drugs, extortion of businesses and torching of trains (probably by the taxi industry) with no assistance from SAPS at any level!
    The flood of migrants from the Eastern Cape desperate to escape the shocking lack of service delivery in the Eastern Cape !
    So ultimtely, the Western Cape has no real control over either of these major challenges, and that fact has nothing to do with CRT!