People walks past the Nelson Mandela graffiti in the City Bowl of Cape Town on Freedom Day during lockdown. PICTURE: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAYTIMES
People walks past the Nelson Mandela graffiti in the City Bowl of Cape Town on Freedom Day during lockdown. PICTURE: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAYTIMES

Last week, Justice Malala, Chris Roper and Paul Ash wrote separate pieces in the FM critiquing the role of the DA in the lockdown crisis.

Reasoned criticism is necessary. But these gentlemen could not let the opportunity slide to indulge in good old-fashioned DA-bashing — the national sport of armchair critics who remain, for now, insulated from the lockdown’s true effects.

Any honest assessment of the DA’s role should start with basic facts, unacknowledged by the commentariat: the DA is the only party that foresaw, and pushed back against, the economic collapse that would follow an extended hard lockdown.

On April 9, two weeks into the hard lockdown, the DA warned that extending it beyond the initial three weeks would "create an economic disaster". And yet the party was lambasted in the media for this warning — including in the FM.

We now know the DA was correct to warn that the authoritarian instincts revealed by the hot-food ban would lead to such things as bans on e-commerce, feeding the hungry, exercising during the day, or buying T-shirts and open-toed shoes, as well as the brutality meted out by security forces.

At the outset, the DA fought for a "smart" lockdown, as we feared the government had no plan to quickly end the hard lockdown by ramping up testing and health-care capacity. This was shouted down by commentators too busy doodling superhero cartoons of Cyril Ramaphosa.

The facts speak for themselves. Two months into hard lockdown, we see glimpses of the true cost

When the DA launched a raft of court cases out of concern for the potentially irreparable damage being done to civil liberties and the economy, the likes of Roper dismissed it as "petty politicking".

But the facts speak for themselves. Two months into hard lockdown, we now see glimpses of the true cost. Between 3-million and 7-million people will lose their jobs, likely pushing SA’s unemployment rate above 50%. ANC apparatchiks are openly discussing their desire for the "national command council" to permanently run SA.

Anyone who thinks the likes of Bheki Cele, Lindiwe Zulu and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will easily surrender the power they have grown accustomed to is delusional.

Consider the reality that lies ahead as a result of the refusal to honestly engage with the DA’s warnings: a devastating socioeconomic collapse, a continuous assault on civil liberties, and a spike in coronavirus cases.

The second striking aspect of the critiques in the FM is that the authors seem obsessed with the personalities of DA leaders, rather than judging them by what the party has done under their leadership. This includes the early fight for a smart lockdown, the efforts to keep the public informed with "Coronacast" broadcasts, the court actions and the victory against the ban on feeding the hungry.

In Malala’s hit piece on Helen Zille, for example, he says she came out of retirement "to oust" former leader Mmusi Maimane and run the party. Yet a cursory glance at her history shows Zille worked tirelessly to grow a coterie of young leaders in the DA and, when the time came, stepped aside as leader.

Alarmed by the damning findings of a review into the 2019 elections, Zille exercised her democratic right to run for the position of federal council chair. She won because the DA’s members wanted the person who had run a united party, managed a seven-party coalition in Cape Town and turned the Western Cape into the best-run administration in SA to bring stability to the party.

Fighting for the future

Roper first breathlessly complains that John Steenhuisen dared to conduct an interview with medical practitioners who hold dissenting views. Then he pokes fun at the fact that the DA’s website couldn’t cope with the number of donations from a public eager to fund legal action against the lockdown. And when this doesn’t stick, he flings in race bait: "The DA went the extra mile to make sure all five participants [on Coronacast] were white."

It culminates with him gleefully predicting that "the DA’s slide into irrelevance will continue".

Among the truths revealed by the lockdown crisis is that many commentators refuse to engage with the DA in a forthright way — even when the facts show the DA is the only party to consistently fight for civil liberties, uphold the constitution and protect lives and livelihoods during the lockdown.

Though these commentators hurl childish wisecracks, we’ll keep doing our best to ensure that, when this is over, there will be a constitutional democracy and economic future left for their children.

  • Schreiber is a DA MP