As elections loom and coalitions appear to be increasingly likely, it would be useful to examine the five core principles under which the Democratic Alliance is prepared to countenance discussions with potential coalition partners. At a recent fund-raising dinner comprising a table of hitherto DA sceptics, party leader John Steenhuisen was asked to enunciate these.
He readily did so: non-racialism, respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, adherence to the precepts of a social market economy, building a capable state and zero tolerance for corruption.
Now, there can be little argument — except with fringe elements like the EFF — over principles such as respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.
Zero tolerance for corruption is similarly incontestable.
And the building of a capable state that seeks to establish — amidst severe hostility and lack of trust in government, within and between government departments, a lack of confidence in oversight bodies and the lack of accountability of the state — structures that build confidence and enable the building and bolstering of government to enable higher performance must be equally high on the list of principled priorities.
There does, however, seem to be some ambiguity that separates the DA’s adherence to the principle of non-racialism from nationalists and those who value race as a proxy for disadvantage and, as such, this aspect requires a clear elucidation — as does the allied question of the social market economy.
Hilda Bernstein, a founding member of the Federation of South African Women, the first non-racial women’s organisation in South Africa, organiser of the 1956 march, member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP) until 1946 and a Johannesburg city councillor from 1943 to 1946 (the only communist to be elected to public office on a “whites only” vote) said: “Fundamentally, non-racialism has to be learned and taught.
“The alternative is to assume that it is something innate, instinctive, a thread that has always been there — and is unbreakable. But non-racialism is not an intrinsic part of political consciousness… Each new generation must study it and learn it for themselves. It is a breakable thread. It does not arise naturally out of South African life, as does African nationalism. It has to be learned by teaching, by experience, by example.”
This noble, if fragile thread, in the face of racial discrimination by the apartheid government, is one that has in the past united South Africans: it delivered our democratic consensus in 1994.
It needs to be centre stage again.
Instead, a large number in the ANC, all of the EFF and every one of the smaller ANC-aligned acolyte parties appear to have forgotten non-racialism in an ostensible bid to extend racial intervention, resulting in the witting or unwitting enhancement of the interests of the privileged few.
In stark comparison, non-racialism is clearly and unambiguously a tenet of DA values and principles.
We cannot undo the past, but as a nation, we have a duty to redress any disadvantages caused by our past, so that all South Africans may make equal use of their opportunities.
A prosperous future for South Africa can only be assured when every South African child receives a quality education and when all adults, regardless of race, have sufficient skills and opportunities for dignified employment.
As Kgalema Motlanthe, member of the ANC, MK, SACP and Cosatu, deputy president of the ANC and third president of a democratic South Africa said in his 2010 address to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation: “When that visionary clause (of the Freedom Charter) that says: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white’, was penned, it manifested a historical momentum in the same way that it prefigured the 1994 democratic dispensation…
“Non-racialism is not an abstract philosophical undertaking; it is part of the historical account of our struggle for social justice. Because of this, we must not only continue to raise the flag of non-racialism but we must also constantly refine the definition so that the evolution of the nature of non-racialism is non-ending.”
With Motlanthe’s defence and caveat in mind, it is clear that non-racialism as a concept has a rich and contentious history in South African politics.
Fiona Anciano, in her paper, “Non-racialism and Political Parties in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, says: “For many it was a core feature of the struggle against apartheid, uniting a range of forces fighting for a society free from racial discrimination. Indeed it is a central tenet in South Africa’s Constitution, forming a core part of the ‘Founding Provisions’ of the country. However, there is widespread contestation over what the concept entails, both theoretically and in practical terms.”
While some have self-servingly fostered the process of internal erosion of this “core feature”, the DA has never been clearer about its support for the concept as a fundamental principle underpinning any coalition.
It goes without saying that any party or breakaway formation which accepts and adheres to the five core principles advanced by Steenhuisen, as pre-conditions for any coalition, would be welcome at the table.
The antecedents of this view on non-racialism aren’t new: Helen Zille is on record as saying in 2011 that “my perception of non-racialism is approaching each person as a unique individual and not merely as some kind of representative of the category. No race is one identity marker and obviously, given our history, it is an important identity marker but it is not the only identity marker…
“The common experience of a racial reality is certainly one identity, but it cannot be seen as the defining identity imposed on other people… In a free society, people don’t have an identity imposed upon them by virtue of racial category prescribed by others.”
In the context of a highly unequal society, chiming with a real need for proper redress, the DA as early as 2011 accepted that you can’t leave everything to the market and that the state needs to provide some form of welfare intervention; it needs to provide a credible role for the state in growing the economy and assisting people who cannot find an economic foothold on their own, based on poverty as a measure to ensure no one is left behind — the very tenets of a social market economy.
With a focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as opposed to BEE, this now forms the cornerstone of DA policy and, as such, rejects race as the litmus test for group identity that requires redress.
In view of this, how anyone can argue that the DA “will bring back apartheid” in the service of a party of and for whites, is beyond me.
The time has come to put that hoary old chestnut to rest and focus on the core principles of the DA’s coalition offering — each one unassailable from any rational, principled and practicable viewpoint. DM