Voices

The DA emulates Trumpism

2018-11-20 22:45

For votes, Trump and the SA opposition party, the DA, will do whatever it takes, writes Ntuthuko Makhombothi

The DA has fashioned itself as a South African version of the infamous Donald Trump administration of the US.

The central theme of Trump’s presidency is the elevation of fear, hatred and racialised prejudice as legitimate political campaign messaging.

The approach is to “trump up” anxiety among the American working and middle classes (who are mainly white) about immigration and shift blame for all problems to poor immigration policy.

The result of this fear mongering is hatred and prejudice against migrants by the locals and the increase of protectionist policies.

For a party like the DA, which claims to be on the liberal axis of the ideological paradigm, it is interesting to note that it has picked up its political notes from the right wing conservative school of Trumpism.

But for those of us in South Africa who know the DA, this is no real surprise. Trying to identify the DA’s liberal political traditions is equal to searching for a needle in a haystack.

In 1999 the DA’s predecessor, the Democratic Party (DP) led by Tony Leon, ran its campaign under the theme Fight Back.

This was the first election after the democratic will of the people had delivered Nelson Mandela as the first black president of South Africa.

The DP slogan was clearly positioned to “trump up” white anxieties, create fear and mobilise the white sections of our population to fight back against a black government, against the democratic victory of 1994 and to defend the consolidation of white privilege which was the hallmark of colonialism and apartheid.

This clearly positioned the DP as a right wing party that sought to divide South Africans along racial lines.

The strategy worked because the DP recorded significant electoral gains, for which Leon is still celebrated within the DA.

Their support quadrupled and the DP became the official opposition, having taken most of its support from National Party strongholds.

During the preceding local government elections, their campaign slogan became Take Your City Back. This was directed at Cape Town which was under an ANC-led coalition.

There is no guessing that this campaign message was borrowed from the old right wing Swart Gevaar slogan. A rally call to make Cape Town and the Western Cape a haven of white privilege.

It is no coincidence that the Cape was the first colony and had to be protected from the broader programme of change.

This project finally succeeded, hence the prevailing reality of the Western Cape.

Subsequent electoral and policy positions of the DA have maintained the same theme of fear mongering, liberal chauvinism and preservation of white minority interests.

There are many nuances that have characterised the DA’s politics in light of its project to attract white votes.

These are mainly cosmetic tactical considerations that include putting forward black faces while maintaining white control of decision making in the party.

This has resulted in a number of embarrassing fallouts within the DA and some of its “black leaders”.

The recent events involving former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille and the party have served as the latest episode of the “Dramatic Alliance” soup opera.

On the policy front, the DA’s opposition and flip-flopping on matters such as affirmative action, employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment demonstrate the true extent of its right wing flirtations at worst and liberal chauvinism at best.

The party has been seized with an identity crisis, which is to be expected when votes at all costs trump principle and ideological discipline.

But is the DA really as bad as Trump? A party that claims to support a values-based South Africa centred on fairness, freedom and opportunity?

What united the DA and Trump is their lack of commitment to principle and their indifference to the dividend of the impact of their fear mongering message to social cohesion and national unity.

If it brings votes, Trump and the DA will do whatever it takes.

Trump and the DA have demonstrated their irritation with those who criticise or disagree with them, although the DA is more subtle in its public messaging than the no-filter Trump who is abusive.

But the politics are the same: close the borders, harass migrants, stop the “invasion” of our country.

Vote for us to stop the “aliens” from steeling our economy, taking jobs and destroying social order.

It’s their way or the highway; they view political opponents as legitimate targets for vicious personalised attacks, regardless of facts and due process.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has fashioned himself as the most potent version of Trump, both being businessmen-turned-politicians, right wing in orientation and boastful in their arrogance.

The DA’s Gauteng premier candidate Solly Msimang has also taken up immigration as the cornerstone of his campaign.

Unlike Mashaba, he has very little in common with Trump, except for their fetish for beauty pageants.

The danger with the DA’s Trumpism is that it promotes division that results in fear and hatred.

This narrow protectionist political project exploits the genuine economic and social realities of citizens – high levels of unemployment, crime and poverty, and general lack of opportunity.

These constitute the objective reality of our people, and cause great anxiety and disgruntlement.

Trumpism seeks to surmise that our economic crisis is due to the presence of African migrants, suggesting that without them we would not have unacceptably high levels of unemployment and poverty.

Its propositions are ahistorical because they fail to locate the migration question within our colonial context.

The economy was built on the back of cheap migrant labour in the mineral and energy industries.

This is a historical fact and is deliberately ignored for a narrow nationalist narrative of weak border control.

Our migration question must be located within the broader socioeconomic framework rather than a mere law enforcement and sometimes xenophobic discourse.

The solution does not lie in stricter border control and building of walls, but in appreciating the centrality of integrated African development.

This is not the time for division, fear and hate where we look at migrants as enemies.

It is now more necessary for us to develop our economy by working together with our partners within the African continent.

Makhombothi is a former student activist and a member of the ANC Youth League

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December 9 2018