I am not a member of South Africa’s official opposition – the Democratic Alliance. Nor do I support all of its ideas or policies. But I do believe it deserves a fair hearing – after all, it wins the votes of more than one in five South Africans at elections!


Source: Daily Maverick

Contrary to the normal media trope, policy battles in the DA are not based on black versus white. On every issue, colleagues of different ‘races’ support (or oppose) ideas on the basis of their intrinsic content. That is something to celebrate, not denigrate, in South Africa.

By Solly Malatsi

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine what would happen if the ANC held one of its senior leaders to account on very serious charges, backed by verified recorded and documentary evidence? The media would trumpet it as proof that the Cyril Ramaphosa ANC was at last holding its leaders accountable.

When exactly this happens in the DA, most of the media buy into the departing leader’s allegation that his decision to jump ship before his disciplinary hearing is “proof” that the party is racist.

Here’s another example: imagine the ANC were able to hold a seamless policy conference online, overcoming Stage 4 load shedding, to enable every delegate to participate in civil debate, and recommitted itself to its founding value of non-racialism?

Political analysts would be ecstatic.

Now compare how the media in general, and Rebecca Davis in particular in her article, “DA’s policy conference is over – unlike its internal battles” (Daily Maverick, 6 September 2020), have interpreted the same developments in the DA.

The double standard is genuinely breathtaking.

Most political reporters and analysts are unable to approach and measure political differences in the DA without imposing their simplistic racial binary on to any development in the party.

Like so many other developments in the DA before, the media hyped up possible divisions in the lead-up to the policy conference. And when that didn’t happen, they sought to find any opportunistically available voice to affirm their mistaken predictions.

Policy discussions are nuanced. They are tough conversations, not the jovial banter of a tea party among friends. Despite this, throughout the entire weekend, there were no divisions or derogatory exchanges. We were focused on issues, not personalities.

Even on our path-breaking economic justice policy that many outsiders had predicted would cause deep divisions, delegates eventually found each other through rational analysis.

The DA takes policy very seriously and we like to know what we mean when we use certain words. We do not throw them around lightly in meaningless mantras.

When we debate these things, and reach conclusions, it is a sign of the party’s health, not its disintegration. 

It is even more remarkable that we could hold such a constructive conference a mere seven weeks before our elective congress — a time during which members of some other parties are usually engaged, not only in corrupt practices such as vote-buying, but even in disrupting meetings, assaulting each other and even assassination.

Of course, lobbying ahead of policy conferences and leadership contests is robust. It sometimes pits colleagues against each other in the battle of ideas, to determine which ones will prevail.

However, unlike the normal media trope, it is not black versus white. On every issue, colleagues of different “races” support (or oppose) ideas on the basis of their intrinsic content. That is something to celebrate, not denigrate, in South Africa. 

Our economic justice policy sets out our approach to economic redress. In a nutshell, it seeks redress for the disadvantaged, not for elites. 

But you will see none of this in media headlines because the truth dispels the false narrative that political differences are rooted in race. As tough as some of the robust lobbying can be, it is never a zero-sum game.

Collaboration and compromise tend to steer us towards consensus.

Many of us recall how, in the lead-up to the 2018 Federal Congress where Mmusi Maimane was re-elected unopposed, the media exuberantly claimed “DA race war rages”, based on the temperature of the lobbying for the draft diversity clause which was due to be debated for insertion into the party’s constitution.

Two DA MPs, Gavin Davis and Michael Cardo, felt that the draft was poorly formulated, arguing that it didn’t adequately capture the value of non-racialism which the DA has long stood for. They favoured an explicit rejection of quotas in the original text.

In support of the original version of the clause was Makashule Gana who strongly felt that the inclusion of the diversity clause was necessary to exhibit the party’s commitment to redress and reconciliation in pursuit of non-racialism but advocated for the rejection of quotas to be shifted to the founding principles of the party’s constitution.

In the media’s simplistic and lazy assessment, which portrays disagreements in the DA as binary and along racial lines, that Gana is black while Davis and Cardo are white, meant this was a “race war”. Nothing could be further from the truth! In a classic exhibition of artful political horse-trading between the trio, they jointly presented an amended version of the diversity clause which was unanimously adopted on the congress floor.

That combination remains one of my most cherished memories of the party. Not because the key players in this historic moment were one of my friends and favourite colleagues, but for the power of collaboration in reinforcing the benefits of diversity, as we try to forge a common nationhood where ideas, not skin colour, determine the debate on policy solutions to our country’s enormous challenges.

The credibility of Davis’s piece is seriously eroded by her reliance on anonymous “insiders” claiming that black DA leaders are being “targeted”. Even a superficial analysis demonstrates that this is not true. The policy conference adopted two major policy papers authored by a young black woman. And the party chairperson, who coordinates policy, as well as our two chief spokespeople (of which I am one) who addressed the media on the outcome of the conference, are all black.

Why is it that, despite the clear evidence, some journalists always seem to rely solely on their anonymous sources to reinforce their faulty analysis? They will do anything to avoid being held accountable by the reading public for their false predictions. 

The crux of our alternative solutions, as detailed in the economic justice policy, is based on the recognition that South Africa is still a deeply economically unjust society aggravated by the ANC’s failed “black economic empowerment policies”, which have become a licence for a politically connected elite to loot.  

The DA’s economic justice policy acknowledges the terrible injustices of the past and recognises that opportunity in South Africa is still deeply skewed. Furthermore, two decades of political freedom have failed to deliver meaningful socioeconomic progress for the vast majority, 97% of whom are black. 

Our economic justice policy sets out our approach to economic redress. In a nutshell, it seeks redress for the disadvantaged, not for elites. 

It offers an alternative analysis of the challenge: instead of scapegoating “white monopoly capital”, we recognise that economic exclusion is driven by several socioeconomic and governance challenges. These include an incapable state, poor education, lack of jobs, low savings and investments, inadequate public healthcare, high transport costs, lack of affordable housing, and unequal sharing of childcare responsibilities. The objective is to address the legacy of economic exclusion while freeing South Africans from race classification.

Political reporting must be uncompromising in its pursuit of the truth. This requires an understanding of substance and nuance rather than a relentless search for spectacle and innuendo. When this happens, we will be judged fairly on the content of our ideas. We hope Daily Maverick will rise to the occasion.