Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

After a period of being at sea and suffering strategic and policy drift, the DA has finally nailed its colours to the mast. And they carry no tint of the ANC’s black, green and gold. 

For many commentators who are still trapped in the ANC’s hegemonic way of thinking, or who lack the imagination or courage to conceive of a government that will demolish the ANC’s racial shibboleths, this amounts to political heresy and possibly even suicide.

At the DA’s policy conference earlier in 2020 the party recommitted itself to nonracialism. We adopted a policy on economic justice that differentiated the DA from the ANC. We jettisoned our earlier equivocations on the ANC’s failed policy of BEE.

All of this opened the sluice gates to a torrent of condemnation from the commentariat. What flowed onto the oped pages was some seriously sloppy and soggy analysis. The DA was tone-deaf. The DA was in denial about the country’s past. And all manner of other vacuities.

Yet nonracialism — as contested as that term may be — is one of the values on which our constitution and democratic state are founded. The outcomes of the policy conference should have been relatively uncontroversial. So too should be the deliberations and decisions of the DA’s recent federal congress, the country’s largest-ever virtual political convention.

Despite the party navigating virgin territory, the meeting proceeded seamlessly. It was a triumph of slick professionalism. Most analysts writing about the congress have grudgingly conceded that it was an impressive production. But they can’t help cavilling and carping and reaching conclusions about the party’s trajectory that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

One such example was the piece on these pages authored by Ivor Sarakinsky, who chose some weak examples to justify his lazy slur that the DA has made a “jump to the right” (“Focus on farm attacks and insults to Mbali Ntuli blight DA conference,” November 3).

The defeat of Mbali Ntuli’s proposal to create a new deputy leadership position was submitted as proof of the DA’s rightward turn. Yet this was an old, reheated idea, which had been shot down at a previous congress when Mmusi Maimane was still party leader. Its renewed rejection didn’t signify much, other than that most delegates agreed it is never a good idea to try to develop institutions by creating positions for their own sake or with specific individuals in mind.

The deliberations on the motion were spirited but civil. Sarakinsky’s claim that they indicated a “hostility to inclusive change” is pure overreach. On the second day, Ntuli proposed progressive resolutions on ending childhood stunting and preventing and combating hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community, both of which were overwhelmingly endorsed by the congress. Hardly evidence of the reactionary trend Sarakinsky purports to detect. Likewise, the debate on rent control in metros where the DA governs was robust, but terribly tame when compared, for example, with the sort of chair-throwing discord that tends to characterise ANC conferences.

There is a range of political opinion within the DA, extending from the broadly social-democratic to the more classically liberal. Along the continuum lie a healthy segment of nonideological pragmatists who subscribe to the party’s core values of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity.

Municipal rent control, it is fair to say, is nowadays a cause championed by organisations somewhat to the left of that spectrum. It is scarcely surprising then, given the party’s conception of the proper role of the state, that it chose not to pass the resolution. But its rejection is certainly not inconsistent with the DA’s approach to redress, as Sarakinsky avers. And it is far from proof of the DA’s supposed libertarianism, or Trumpism, or whatever other banal smear is now favoured by the party’s detractors.

Sarakinsky’s insinuation that property developers might have influenced the discussion on the resolution, or, more fancifully, that they might have paid for the congress, is conspiracy mongering unbecoming of a serious analyst.

Where he is on stronger ground is the DA’s decision to highlight the scourge of farm attacks in the opening ceremony of the congress. Farm murders have indeed been weaponised by ultraconservative groupings to claim fallaciously that a “white genocide” is under way. Yet that does not, or should not, detract from the fact that these brutal killings are a matter of national urgency.

They threaten our social fabric. They affect every single South African reliant on farmers and farmworkers for national food security. To suggest the DA should have foregrounded gender-based violence or gang warfare in the same way is gratuitous whataboutery, as critical as those issues are.

Of course, the DA’s decisive statement and policy resolution on farm murders will have resonated among sections of its constituency, both black and white. There is no shame in that, for politicians are in the business of representing their voters.

The DA must grow significantly among black voters if it is to build its electoral base, bring the ANC below 50% and safeguard constitutional democracy. But the party’s recent history has shown that we won’t achieve it by offering a watered-down version of the governing party’s policy platform, or by pandering to a variant of racial nationalism that masquerades as progressivism. Maybe one day political analysts will recognise it too.

• Cardo is an MP and DA shadow labour & employment minister.

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