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Rainbow nation liberalism and single-track focus on EFF will spell disaster for the DA

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Wiseman Zondi is a writer and analyst. He is a 2022 Rhodes Scholar, and writes about political language, sexuality and mental health.

The best way to compete with the EFF is not to insinuate that EFF supporters are gullible anarchists who thirst for the blood of white people. Instead, the DA could actually show all of us that liberalism is more than capable of co-existing with the pursuit of justice and redress.

The DA’s ideological position of toothless Rainbow Nation liberalism is now more evident than ever before, especially when parties like the EFF have given a voice to many black South Africans’ frustrations at the state of the country.

If, indeed, we find ourselves on a crash course between the DA and the EFF for the country, then the DA needs to start doing what it backed away from after the 2019 elections – place competent young black people in key positions within the party and allow them to fully take control of the political vehicle that is the Democratic Alliance.

I thought this as I considered the DA’s core messaging as the 2024 national elections edge nearer. From John Steenhuisen’s re-election as DA leader in April onwards, the party has amped up its new political direction as strictly being anti-EFF.

Aside from the seeds being planted for the Multi-Party Coalition, Steenhuisen infamously noted in his re-election victory speech that the EFF was “public enemy number one” for the DA.

This was further confirmed when Steenhuisen lambasted the EFF for chanting “Kill the Boer” at the 10th birthday celebration at the FNB stadium. And at the DA Gauteng congress a few weeks ago, Federal Council Chairperson Helen Zille was incredibly transparent about how she predicted that the future of South African electoral politics was eventually going to be an ideological battle between the DA and the EFF.

The DA is ill-equipped for such a battle. The kind of liberalism employed by the DA makes them unfit for purpose in the current sociopolitical moment, which is far more critical of the negotiated settlement of the early 1990s than almost any other time in the country’s history. Julius Malema, and by proxy, the EFF, understand this.

People love and support Julius Malema, because in him, they found a conduit from which to politically express black anger. Black anger has always been a part of our body politic, from the PAC and Azapo boycotting the Codesa negotiations to the vocal opposition to the entire idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to even, more recently, the conversation around Nelson Mandela possibly being a “sell-out” towards black South Africans for his personal enrichment.

And what overarching message does the DA have in response to that? It’s Rainbow Nation liberalism, of course – the idea that forgiveness and reconciliation on the part of black South Africans created a melting pot of diversity and multiculturalism, and that this feel-good spirit is threatened whenever people start talking about race as a perennial proxy for disadvantage.

Instead of confronting the ills of apartheid head-on, Rainbow Nation liberalism looks away, and instead tries to refocus our attention towards some words uttered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela in the 1990s that, while heartwarming, are incredibly unhelpful to explain and understand today’s politics.

From listening to Steenhuisen or Zille speak, one would think that the 1994 national elections acted as a healing moment where all South Africans lived happily ever after, akin to a movie straight out of Tinseltown.

‘Perfect narrative’ of DA not true for black majority

This “perfect narrative” of racial harmony embodied by black and white children sharing classroom space as well as peanut-butter sandwiches is a cute idea. However, the majority of black South Africans have not had the luxury of this narrative being true for them.

The DA of 2023 either does not get this, or does not care to get it. For them, Julius Malema represents this demonic figure in a children’s movie that the great white knight – and white, he is – will vanquish to send everybody home happy.

If, indeed, the DA will be in direct competition with the EFF, then the blue party will find itself unable to compete with the more forthright political parties of the day. Because, quite frankly, the mythology of the 1990s was not true back then, and it certainly is not true today.

Julius Malema would not be talking about racism – both interpersonal and structural – if it was not still an extremely potent force in the lived realities of so many people. The best way to compete with the EFF is not to insinuate that EFF supporters are gullible anarchists who thirst for the blood of white people. Instead, the DA could actually show all of us that liberalism is more than capable of co-existing with the pursuit of justice and redress.

The sad thing is that the DA has a history of getting the political temperature right. For the majority of the 2010s, there was a noticeable shift within the Democratic Alliance. They had Mmusi Maimane. They had Phumzile van Damme. They had Mbali Ntuli. They had Makashule Gana, and many more leaders equipped, both in mind and in body, to expand what a liberal can do and say in South African politics.

That is not the DA we currently have.

The DA of 2023 has Helen Zille posting extremely homophobic and transphobic drivel without any disciplinary action whatsoever.

The DA of 2023 has John Steenhuisen target the third-biggest party in the country rather than campaign against an ANC that has zero credibility with the electorate.

The DA of 2023 has experienced a mass exodus of black leaders within the party, signalling a major problem with the way the Blue Brigade treats members who aren’t lily white.

The DA of 2023 has gotten into bed with Afrikaner nationalists and xenophobic zealots as part of a Multi-Party Coalition that obscures the fact that the DA, despite having all the political advantage in the world, simply cannot get the ANC below 50% on its own.

In short, the DA of 2023 is a political party that would rather stagnate into political communication best suited for the early 2000s, rather than adapt to the national moment and evolve as a centre-left party that can compete with new parties that seem to have a more organic bond with the black middle-class.

We are no longer living in an era where Rainbow Nation liberalism is a viable political product for most South Africans. We want political parties to point out the original sin of our country, and to create policies that target the freedom of black South Africans from hunger, poverty, and hopelessness. 

That’s why if the DA is going to answer the EFF’s critique of constitutionalism with platitudes about forgiveness and reconciliation straight from the Tutu and Mandela playbook, then the EFF is going to easily win the ideological debate.

And in such a situation, the DA will have nobody to blame but itself for being nostalgic for an imagined past rather than getting their hands dirty to create the society in which all South Africans deserve to live. DM

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  • Ben Harper says:

    Not terribly wise is he. A totally wasted scholarship.

  • Piet Scott says:

    If the white community has no one left to represent their interests, they will simply vote with their feet, and take their skills with them. Not that that it is problem, as everything under the sun can be fixed by slaughtering a goat or six for the Amadlozi

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    The DA’s lack of traction among the black population in the post-Maimane era certainly is a cause for grave concern, and I do take this message to heart. However, we’ve had just about 30-years of ANC rule; their penchant for corruption was made clear from the start and the last 14 has been absolutely disastrous, putting the country back 30 years. This blind loyalty by the ANC’s constituency and then the anger amongst the broader population should be a call for introspection and informed, logical consideration what will move the country forward. The EFF’s toxic populism and incessant race baiting (not to mention their compromised leadership) should not be legitimised by “black anger” and deserves more criticism from the likes of this writer – including the nonsense than Mandela was a sell-out. If the author is willing to measure with an even hand he’d at least get his message through to this audience; I now suspect most people will dismiss him out of hand. I might add the jab at Zille’s “homophobic/transphobic” remarks (greatly out of context) is telling, considering the EFF’s continued worship of an arch-homophobe like Mugabe, whose utterances were orders-of-magnitude worse.

    • Niek Joubert says:

      Well said.

    • Ivan van Heerden says:

      Doesn’t alter the fact that the DA has entirely lost the plot subsequent to 2019 and is now becoming a cult party along the lines of the EFF. If you don’t agree with the Gogo and her poodle (or Juju and Floyd in the EFF) you are out. Both parties have the same whatsapp group

  • Louise Louise says:

    “Instead of confronting the ills of apartheid head-on, Rainbow Nation liberalism looks away”
    Everyone knows about the ills of apartheid. But we can’t keep harping on about the past and expect to build a future!! What has the ANC done except destroy literally EVERYTHING about South Africa, instead of building a bright future for our children? The theft, the corruption, the total and utter disregard for justice and law – and it is now endemic in the government. Get rid of the immoral, the criminal and the psychopaths in government and we could build a beautiful, safe, comfortable country for everyone. But no, the ANC creates policies that keep the masses suppressed and poor, just so that they can be controlled. It has absolutely nothing to do with apartheid. As for the DA, they are by no means perfect and I detest their wokist, leftist, liberal leanings BUT they do create good structure that works. The EFF on the other hand – what have they built? What have they created? Absolutely nothing. Zero, zip, de nada. They deliberately spread hatred and division, just like the ANC acolytes that they are and the puppets of the “west” that they are.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    ” place competent young black people in key positions”

    Maimane was such a success.

    And VBS?

    • Mayibuye Magwaza says:

      You’ve also got Mazibuko and Van Damme and Makashule Gane.

      Personally I thought Maimane was OK but even if you think he needed to go the DA seems to struggle to retain black leaders.

      • Steve Davidson says:

        Or maybe they just aren’t good enough?

        Methinks the so-called ‘black’ people need to have a hard look at how well the Western Cape has been managed by a whole span of people – much like the Springbok rugby team – of all colours and ask themselves why they’re being so racist in refusing to accept that s0-called ‘white’ people can also do a good job. And so-called ‘coloured’ ones too. What they don’t need is a team of mainly-‘blacks’ – as in Bafana Bafana – who are useless as hell. Much like the mainly-‘black’ ANC crooks running this country into the ground.

    • Sihle Sigwebela says:

      But we cannot dismiss the fact that the DA currently struggles yo retain black leaders

      • Colin Braude says:

        The DA has retained plenty of black leaders and lost white leaders, which nobody seems to comment on.

        Politics in SA is tough, yet the DA remains the most diverse party in the country.

  • Louise Louise says:

    “The DA of 2023 has Helen Zille posting extremely homophobic and transphobic drivel without any disciplinary action whatsoever.”
    I do have to take you to ask over this. First of all, her post was asking extremely relevant questions and your reaction is typical of someone who has been indoctrinated to believe that asking questions or holding different opinions has to be labelled with pejorative insults.

    There is no such thing as a “transgender”. Men cannot become women and vice versa. A man putting on a frock does not make him a woman, and to suggest otherwise is sheer insanity, not to mention a disgusting insult to women. If I ever see a man entering a woman’s toilet I will kick him out.

    With regard to homosexual people, I say live and let live. It’s not something I agree with because no matter how much it gets shoved down my throat, it will always appear weird to me because I’m heterosexual. But I don’t hate or fear homosexuals – they are human beings and they must live their lives how they see fit (within the law of course). This ridiculous accusation of “xxxphobia” is misused and abused. A “phobia” is a fear of something. Didn’t they teach you that at your Rhodes university? It is sadly people with your ideology which continue to divide people along both racial and sexual lines. How can you solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the problem in the first place?! Answer? You can’t!!

    • Bob Dubery says:

      I remember a chance meeting I had with Ronnie Kasrils. We ended up talking about Ken Livingstone. Kasrils said that he’d never heard anything from Livingstone that he didn’t agree with, but he wondered why Livingstone felt it necessary to say those things in public.

      I also recall the late Max Mosley explaining to Ayrton Senna that an amateur does and says what they feel like because they feel like doing it, but a professional does and says only what is necessary given the position they are in.

      Zille is certainly entitled to her views and opinions, but she can’t separate what she blurts out on social media from her position. She doesn’t need to say those things, but they come from the mouth of a prominent DA leader, so it’s hard to not think that this is DA policy or at least the thinking behind their policy. She’s an amateur. And why anybody thinks she’s a capable politician is beyond me – there’s a long list of things she didn’t see coming.

      Generally, the DA are amateurs when it comes to messaging. They have good stories to tell, but instead of getting everybody singing from the same hymn sheet (“this is the good story, and we’re all going to tell that good story”) they allow their leaders to blurt out all sorts of nonsense and sneering, juvenile insults, thus creating questions about what, if anything, the party actually stands for.

      • Louise Louise says:

        Isn’t this the problem with party politics though? It restricts the party member from expressing their own opinions? True democracy is when everyone has the freedom to express their own thoughts so that the people can vote for them or not. Individuals in government should be held personally liable for their work and their policies, thereby making them responsible for their decisions.

  • Louise Wilkins says:

    The DA has done far more for South Africa than any other political party. Why not do an article on that.

  • John Cartwright says:

    A useful and provocative article. Too bad that the responses to it have been either evasively condescending or blatantly hostile.

    • Louise Louise says:

      That’s called expressing opinions and is the essential element for free discussion, especially in politics. Just because someone holds a different opinion from you doesn’t make them hostile or condescending.

      • Campbell Tyler says:

        Louise, you need to distinguish, as John does, between discussion and ranting. So many of the comments that appear on DM these days reflect a sad entrenchment in one-dimensional thinking, so few add to the debate. Take the comment just above the one by John. How does that wrestle with the issues raised by Wiseman – and as for the first comment, “not terribly wise “, easy to say, perhaps even a laugh, but doesnt continue the debate in any way whatsoever.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    This is bang on. It seems to me that the problem with the DA is that they think that racism was magically done away with in 1994 and so race is no longer an issue, when stats repeatedly show that race is a strong indicator of wealth, of access to education, of employment, of access to healthcare. So they think, it seems, that just because it SHOULDN’T matter (hence their quoting of Desmond Tutu) that it DOESN’T matter.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      But surely ‘racism’ is a two-way track?

      When you say ” when stats repeatedly show that race is a strong indicator of wealth, of access to education” isn’t that being racist? And anyway, what about the so-called ‘Black diamonds’ who seem to think that as long as they’ve got pots of money, their brothers and sisters in poverty can go to hell? Doesn’t work for me – I’m certainly not rich, and I’m getting poorer by the day because my rates and taxes are being used to support about 2.4 million economic refugees in Khayelitsha who’ve run away from thos BDs crookery and incompetence in the Easter Cape!

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      The DA’s focus on non-racialism isn’t because racism isn’t a thing – it’s because it’s not helpful to move the country forward. Want to fix economic inequality? Uplift the poor (who are mostly but not exclusively black). Don’t just make the criteria race-based, because that perpetuates the empowerment of a politically connected and already empowered elite. Measure the thing you are trying to address and target those people. It’s quite simple. Redress isn’t achieved by using discrimination to overcome past discrimination.

  • Hans Wendt says:

    Here we go again. Another article about the DA. From another “race” expert. YAWN.
    The DM just loves printing these one sided analyses….how incompetent John or Helen are, their underlying “racism’…. their whiteness., their sexism, blab, blab. Just do yourself a favour and compare how the WC is run against those gangsters who have and keep destroying the rest of SA…..those amazing brothers from the ANC and the EFF.

  • Rod Bulman says:

    Thank you for this considered article Mr Zondi. I long for the day when we who have been privileged by our whiteness acknowledge it and humbly accept that, while we all rejoiced in the euphoria of the 1994 elections, we have yet to undertake the hard and painful work of building a truly just and equitable society. I cannot take disguise my whiteness behind a starry-eyed rainbow-ism, nor can I ignore it. The contribution I can make is to take the painful daily steps to dismantle my privilege.
    I don’t see any parties offering me any support along that journey.

  • Brent Record says:

    Reply, Steve Davidson:
    Gosh, gee, golly! I thought the term “so-called ‘coloured’ ” had been killed and buried by Patricia De Lille somewhere way back in the 90’s. Just goes to show, some people do not always pay attention.
    Oom Louw Bettrie

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Erm, so you mean we aren’t going to have any racial distinction any more? Oh, great! Then we’re all ‘South Africans’, right? Then no more Affirmative Action? Great. No more BBEEE? Great. And no more discrimination against the First Nation ‘Coloureds’. Great. Or, more likely, no more consideration by people like you who presumably think it’s great how those poor, but really nice (generally) ‘coloured’ people have been shafted by the millions of Eastern Cape economic refugees that have swarmed in to the Western Cape and stolen their jobs, their clinics, their schools and so on. So, what would you call that, and them, for that matter?

  • . . says:

    This is a common thread among black commentators and voters, the DA needs to change their politics to appeal to young black voters. The DA under Musi was certainly moving in this direction but since then has strongly leaned in to its liberal identity. What is it then that makes people rant and bemoan the DA’s political views? To me it is obviously their administration and ability to govern. It’s also interesting, that no party successfully fills this liberal left or social liberal ideology. Good is perhaps the closest and ActionSA also cover some of the concerns, but can they capture this demographic? I think not.

    Ultimately there is a call for racial equality, that the DA believes is best achieved by a level of colour blindness that is not acceptable to the majority. Will they be given the opportunity to prove themselves right? Certainly the WC is a start in the right direction, and hopefully it can increasing show the benefits are to all races. The last 20 years of experience under the ANC clearly not enough to shift mindsets.

  • Jill Tyson Tyson says:

    These comments reveal a lot about the problems of the DA. It is increasingly more like the old United Party or the “I am not a Nat but…..” people of apartheid SA.

  • Colin Braude says:

    Daily Maverick must be desperate to scrape the barrel with this article.

    It’s one thing to have your own opinions, but resorting to Trumpian/Ramaphosian false facts is another. So much for DM’s credibility or influence.

  • Ivan van Heerden says:

    Wiseman, now there is a contradiction in terms and it is sad because what he wrote made perfect sense until he launched a racist attack on the FF+ and ActionSA. My guess is that “Wiseman” is a closet shill for the ANC.

    He is very right about one thing. The idiot DA with their Idiot Madwomen leader and her pet poodle have successfully scuppered any chance of unseating the ANC by driving the EFF into their arms instead of making the EFF side with the ANC out mantra for the next elections.

    The DA got greedy in 2019 and then blamed their demise on their black figurehead and in so doing created ASA, and the stupidity has just increased subsequently.

  • Gisela Wimberger says:

    I notice Mr Zondi had a Rhodes scholarship – he is obviously a person with a big chip on his shoulders but when it comes to money – the colonials will do.
    Mr Zondi – its not always about ideology but most important about economics – the EFF wants us to emulate Venzuela – that shows the ignorance of the EFF – also the ANC – they are all economically ignorant.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    I am more concerned about the DA holding the Western Cape and Cape Town, where the coloured community is the majority. Instead of fighting it out for the white vote with the FF+ they need to watch out for the PA and to a lesser degree, GOOD

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