A group of Democratic Alliance supporters. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY
A group of Democratic Alliance supporters. Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY

The DA has taken another step to solve the question of race that has vexed the party, proposing a policy to reject quotas based on race and gender. The party is expecting to make a call on its stance at its policy conference in April.

Some of the divisions in the party among senior leaders have been along issues of race and race-based redress. One faction has argued that race is a proxy for disadvantage, while another believes disadvantage can be objectively measured and race should not be used. The issue is particularly thorny, given that redress in SA is targeted at righting the wrongs of apartheid, which was a system of racial oppression.

Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and former leader Mmusi Maimane resigned last year in the wake of Helen Zille being elected DA federal council chair. Zille has nailed her colours to the mast, telling the Cape Town Press Club in October that the party should unashamedly reject BEE and affirmative action based on race.

Mashaba said in his resignation speech that he could not reconcile himself “with a group of people who believe that race is irrelevant in the discussion of inequality and poverty in SA”.

Maimane said in his speech that a grouping in the DA did not see eye-to-eye with him advocating for more “black South Africans, more women, and for greater language and cultural diversity”. 

On Monday the DA’s head of policy, Gwen Ngwenya, who resigned from the same post early in 2019 but returned after Zille’s election last year, said the document detailing the party’s values and principles would set the tone for the rest of the party’s policy documents, which would be released at a later stage. Ngwenya emphasised that the document was merely a draft and would be finalised at the policy conference.

The DA’s federal council resolved to have its first policy conference and go to an early congress as a result of the first review of the party’s structures and processes after loss of support in the general elections in May last year.

In the document, the DA’s policy unit sets out what meaning it ascribes to different concepts, such as nonracialism, redress and diversity.

“Diversity” was added to the DA’s values in its national congress in 2018 and this led to controversy, as it was criticised of being an attempt to bring in rigid racial categories through the back door. The party then did not make any reference to the rejection of quotas in the diversity clause itself but entrenched it in the party’s constitution.

In the document discussed by Ngwenya on Monday, it argues that “the DA unequivocally stands for nonracialism, not multi-racialism”.  Nonracialism is defined by the party as the rejection of race as a way to categorise people, particularly in legislation.

“The assumption that one’s ‘race’ represents people who think, feel or have the same experience of shared events, based on their physical appearance, is false,” the document said.

The policy unit added that while there was scientific consensus that race did not exist, racialism and racism did exist and had a “profound and damaging impact on the lives of individuals and society”.

While the draft document does not acknowledge race as a category, it does say that social groups based on cultural, religious, political and linguistic factors do exist. “However, people who identify with each other on this basis should not be squeezed into narrow racial boxes inherited from our segregated past,” it said.

The document added that nonracialism was therefore a commitment not to reject racialism and racism but to fight for the deconstruction of race and the reconstruction of a non-racial future.

In terms of diversity, the document said that its value lies in the potential to broaden “learning, debate and healthy competition”. Each individual is unique, it added, and not a “racial or gender envoy”. Diversity was not about demographic representation.

“The DA therefore opposes race, gender or other quotas,” the document said.

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