Carol Paton states in the opening paragraph of her analysis of the DA policy conference that “the experiment of playing ANC-lite has been left in the trash heap of history; the DA will now be its own party” (“DA now a party for some, not all, as new race policy entrenches denialism”, September 8). If that was all you read of her piece, you’d likely conclude that she was describing a positive development in the party’s trajectory. But you’d be wrong. It turns out she thinks the DA blew it by not trying to become a better ANC.

After describing fairly accurately, for seven or eight paragraphs, the DA’s reasons for adopting the value of nonracialism along with our new policy on economic redress, Paton drops her big insight: “Black voters, who had been attracted to the DA because it had begun to look like it might evolve into a cleaner, more efficient version of the ANC, have already had that hope dashed by the events of the past year.”

Think about that for a moment. The DA, a liberal party committed to a social market economy, a capable state, nonracialism and the rule of law, is written off by a senior columnist and editor-at-large of a major daily newspaper because the party chose not to evolve into a slightly better version of a racial-nationalist party committed to state control of the economy, cadre deployment and wealth extraction for its elite.

Of all the poor analysis, wild assumptions and political bias in Paton’s columns — and there is plenty to choose from — it is this belief that the only viable alternative to the ANC is another, better ANC that is most deserving of dismantling. As long as SA, particularly the media voices who help shape our political landscape, remains trapped in the hegemony of the ANC, our country will remain trapped in its destructive cycle of low growth, unemployment, poverty and lawlessness.

If we want an alternative trajectory to the awful one we’re on, we have to be open to alternative solutions. But it seems many of the journalists and editors who have given us tens of thousands of words on state capture by the ANC in recent years have themselves been captured by the ANC. They cannot begin to imagine a SA not dominated by the liberation movement, even if its policies continue to drive us to the brink of a failed state and plunge millions into abject poverty.

There is no denying that the ANC’s policies have destroyed our economy and failed to deliver meaningful redress for excluded citizens. The shocking revelation this week of our 51% quarter-on-quarter annualised GDP decline — the third-worst in the world — should really come as no surprise. We’ve now gone four consecutive quarters with negative growth. Three of those were pre-Covid-19 and pre-lockdown, so don’t fall for the coronavirus scapegoat. This disaster is entirely the ANC’s doing.

Equally, the ANC’s policy of BEE has done absolutely nothing to empower 90% of black South Africans. In fact, it has done the exact opposite. By adding a layer of politically connected price gouging to every state contract, it has made life infinitely worse and more expensive for ordinary South Africans while enriching and re-enriching the same connected cadres. This is the truth about the ANC’s version of redress, and it is hard to understand how supposedly senior voices in the media continue to hold this up as a legitimate empowerment programme, when it is clearly nothing but a fig leaf for elite enrichment.

The DA’s alternative — our plan to redress the disadvantage caused by apartheid — is to remove race from the equation and target this disadvantage directly. If redress measures are aimed at individuals who meet a certain minimum threshold (in this case an income of less than R992 a month), and if well over 99% of these individuals are black, then we don’t have to resort to precisely the kind of racial classification that has enabled the plunder of the state by people who are already multimillionaires. The fallacy that one needs a “proxy” for disadvantage is the central pillar of the BEE scam. It allows for the obscene enrichment of a tiny handful of people simply because they are black.

The absurdity of Paton’s statement — that “the removal of race-based redress will affirm suspicions that the DA is a party whose real agenda is to defend white privilege by denying that it exists at all” — should be evident given the two-decade track record of BEE. It should be clear to all that those who still defend race-based BEE are in fact the defenders of privilege. Only, they’re defending the privilege of the governing elite.

We have to leave behind this destructive obsession with race so we can begin to judge policies and interventions on their actual impact. If the DA were to take over the running of SA — if we got to apply our values, our principles and our approach to redress right now — I assure you this country would look very different in a decade’s time. All three critical measures — poverty, unemployment and inequality — would be greatly reduced. And the number of people living below the poverty line of R992 a month would most likely be zero. Now, that would be empowerment.

If we want to have any chance of creating a more just society where economic exclusion is systematically reversed, we have to all become poverty-obsessed and not race-obsessed. The DA is already there. Perhaps one day people like Paton will join us.

• Steenhuisen is the DA’s interim leader.


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