The DA is still struggling to shed the stigma of being called a white-led political party. Will it learn any lessons from South Africa’s victory in the Rugby World Cup in Japan, won on merit on a nonracial basis?
It is very damaging for the DA that Herman Mashaba, the outgoing mayor of Johannesburg, left his post and the DA, saying: “I cannot reconcile myself with people who believe that race is not important in their discussion of inequalities.”
It is hypocrisy to pretend that whites never benefited because of their skin colour and there is no need to address this historical injustice because it never existed, according to some white DA leaders.
This year marks a dramatic reversal of the transformation of the DA back to white laager politics. Was this all done to recover the white voters who voted for the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) in the last general elections? The DA’s decline is rightfully attributed to Mmusi Maimane, but for the wrong reasons.
Maimane and the DA were ill-prepared for Cyril Ramaphosa when he replaced Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC and the country. Like other opposition parties, the DA anchored its electoral support on the misfortunes of the ANC under Zuma. They hoped and prayed that he remained the ANC president for longer.
The ANC under Zuma was rotten to the core. The Guptas and Watsons were running government and the state, and controlling the party’s members of Parliament. The few ANC MPs who were not yet captured, and who still had a modicum of integrity, were scared to challenge the wrongs taking place under their noses in the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) and government.
This was affirmed by Fikile Mbalula when he said that the Guptas offered him the post of deputy police minister at an NEC meeting. His disclosure was met with stern silence, except for a rogue NEC member who shouted at him, trying to show his unflinching loyalty to his boss, Zuma.
The ANC under Zuma would have lost the last general elections. The DA would have gained a lot more votes, despite its current white leadership.
The governing party under Ramaphosa reduced the votes of the DA, United Democratic Movement and African Christian Democratic Party. But the votes for the EFF increased at the expense of the ANC, while votes for the FF Plus increased at the expense of the DA. At the same time votes for the Inkatha Freedom Party increased for tribal reasons because the president of the ANC and government was no longer from KwaZulu-Natal.
Should Maimane be blamed for the DA’s votes decline? Yes and no. Yes, because as the party leader he must carry the blame for the defeats. When the political conditions changed he should have adapted to the new conditions immediately.
When Ramaphosa became president, Maimane and the DA needed to change their campaign strategy and their focus. The strategy should have been about ending corruption and state capture, and no longer about the personality of Zuma. But Maimane was trying to appeal to black voters, aware that as the great majority their votes were essential for any successful elections.
The DA can never win national elections without a great proportion of black votes. Maimane was aware of the need to get the black votes, but in the process he lost the white right-wing votes to the FF Plus. The white DA leaders have not yet reached proper acceptance of the need for high-quality black leaders.
The DA can learn a few lessons from the history of the SA Communist Party (SACP). As the Communist Party of SA, it started in 1921 as a party of whites but by 1929 it had its first black secretary-general, Albert Nzula.
Despite having marched under the slogan “Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa” during the violent white miners’ strike in 1922, the Communist Party of SA accepted that in colonial Africa it could only achieve socialism when it was anchored by black leaders. The DA must acknowledge that in Africa, their liberalism can only succeed when championed by black leaders and black voters, and not white leaders and white voters who will always be in the minority.
The reluctance of the DA’s white leaders to acknowledge the heritage of apartheid within their own party can only be detrimental to its future success in national elections and for strengthening the influence of liberalism in the country.
This a serious historical problem, given that the former nonracial Liberal Party was only formed in 1953 – 24 years after Nzula became secretary-general of the Communist Party of SA. And even so it was only after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 that the Liberal Party of SA adopted the principle of universal franchise, in place of its previous policy of qualified franchise.
Around the same time, leaders of the banned SACP – formed illegally after the nonracial Communist Party of SA, was banned by the apartheid regime in 1950. Among them were Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Duma Nokwe who held dual membership of the SACP and ANC, whose armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe was fully nonracial from its foundation in 1960/61.
The Liberal Party then dissolved itself in 1968 under threat of prosecution by the apartheid regime, and it never re-appeared. The Progressive Party, bravely led in the apartheid Parliament by Helen Suzman, was always only a qualified franchise party.
By comparison, the ANC became a party with full nonracial membership at its Morogoro conference in 1969 in Tanzania, with a nonracial NEC from 1985. The necessity for the DA is not racial politics. This is the ABC of political reality in South Africa, just as the Springboks have proved for eminence in sport in Yokohama.
Omry Makgoale is a member of the ANC