Johannesburg – It is difficult to lampoon the DA more effectively than it does itself.
Whether it is the tired stare of the flag wavers behind an overzealous John Steenhuisen shouting at us to pledge our political allegiance in its direction – or the predictably contrarian responses to every single thing the government does and announces – the official opposition seems determined to remain in opposition until the third coming of the Lord.
In fact, so contrarian is Steenhuisen that if the government were to release a statement saying, “one plus one equals two”, Steenhuisen would immediately call lawyers to file legal papers in disagreement with what we all took to be a truism.
They simply do not seem to have a strategic nor a tactical clue how best to respond to a government that is a shambles. You would have thought that a morally bankrupt ANC-led government in charge of a state that is not delivering even the most basic of services to millions of citizens is a political gift to the DA.
Bizarrely, that is not the case. All of this raises the question “what the hell is wrong with the DA?” A report written by former party leader Tony Leon, with the assistance of Michiel le Roux and Ryan Coetzee, after the DA only managed to obtain 21% in the last general election, was correct in its basic diagnosis.
The DA is confused. It suffers an identity crisis. And, so the report opined further, the only thing worse than a political identity and signature policies that turn off most voters, is an incoherent political identity and unclear policy offerings.
In other words, it should be abundantly clear in politics who you are and what you stand for.
Without elementary differentiation from one’s political opponents, voters would have little reason to vote for you, not least because it would not be clear what they might be in for the morning after voting you into government.
I think that is right. It is only for very long-running historic reasons that the ANC has successfully branded itself “a broad church”.
Because the main reason for its existence as a liberation movement was to topple the apartheid regime, people with vastly different backgrounds were able to rally around one major issue – fighting apartheid. Thus, the liberation movement comprised a diverse range of ideologies and personalities, but not at the cost of political incoherence.
The impulse for strategic cooperation was very clear – getting rid of the Nats.
The movement dragged this “broad church” narrative into post-apartheid South Africa with some success.
The DA does not have that kind of history to draw on and so cannot pretend to be an umbrella political party. The DA is a distinctively post-apartheid creation even if some strands of the party have deeper roots in history.
It is forced, unlike the ANC, to offer a more explicitly contemporary political identity and policy set to voters. However, the mistake Leon and his pals made in their report, lies in their recommendations for how to deal with the incoherent identity of the party.
This is a classic case of the wrong solution for the correct problem. Abandoning race-based policies aimed at achieving a more just and equal South Africa is a massive mistake.
In essence, flirting with right wing or libertarian ideals and policies in a country with gigantic structural injustices on naked display everywhere is an excellent way to guarantee that you will never beat the ANC at the polls.
There is no point in offering voters a clear alternative to the ANC if that alternative will turn them off, and rightly so.
The thinking of Leon, Le Roux and Coetzee will re-inscribe inequity into every part of South Africa.
What we need is a social democratic offering that recognises and confronts the enduring legacies of colonialism and apartheid.
It goes without saying that the opportunity cost of post-apartheid ANC-sponsored corruption is incalculable.
But that does not entail that colour-blind and ahistorical approaches to our most challenges are sensible.
The DA must reckon with our shameful history.
By Eusebius McKaiser.
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