James Selfe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
James Selfe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Gauteng and Eastern Cape provincial leaders of the DA say they are unhappy with the party’s stance on empowerment and are set to challenge it at a federal executive committee meeting next week.

This followed a statement released on Monday by the party to clarify its stance on BEE after confusing and contradictory positions were uttered by its leaders over the weekend.

In a joint statement released by DA federal council chairman James Selfe and head of policy Gwen Ngwenya on Monday, they said the party acknowledged the legacy of apartheid and its impact on society, saying redress was both a "moral and economic imperative".

"Crucially, we have always said that we aim to achieve a society in which race is not a determinant of opportunity. We have argued that empowerment policies need to become less race-focused over time, as the policies begin to do their work in redressing the legacy of apartheid," they said in the statement.

The announcement was lauded by the liberal grouping within the party. The broad argument by those in support of the change was that disadvantage could be measured, and black and poor South Africans would still be the major beneficiaries of empowerment.

The provinces have generally put up a united front on policy.

Gauteng’s John Moodey told Business Day he would raise the issue as he believed the announcement was premature. He said the debate around the matter was not yet concluded.

Eastern Cape DA leader Nqaba Bhanga said his understanding was that the framework presented by Ngwenya at the recent federal council meeting was still up for discussion by party structures.

He said he would raise the issue of the announcement that the DA rejected the ANC’s BEE policy as well as the narrow broad-based BEE.

"The DA will be making a very serious mistake," he said.

Bhanga said the DA had moved 100 steps forward by recognising that inequality cannot be separated from race.

If the DA wanted to be in government, it should acknowledge that race was used to oppress and deny blacks opportunities, he said.

Apartheid was race-based oppression and it should be addressed "in that fashion".

He said: "It would be naive by the DA to downplay that fact. I feel that [the new] policy seeks to take us 100 steps back from a party that, in Helen Zille’s point of view, was an open-opportunity society which acknowledged the importance of redress of the imbalances of the past."