The DA federal executive has decided to launch an all-out campaign to get the party’s members and elected representatives to sign voluntarily the pledge against racism party leader Mmusi Maimane announced on Tuesday.
Meeting in Johannesburg on Friday, the party’s top leadership rallied behind the pledge, although some reservations were expressed about its wording.
Saturday was taken up mainly by election planning, and by a report from the party’s federal legal commission on several matters, including the Dianne Kohler Barnard social media gaffe.
Maimane has a mountain to climb if he wants the party’s overwhelmingly white parliamentary representatives and senior staff to become more representative.
The DA’s representatives in parliament and its top management are very white, figures obtained this week show.
The parliamentary caucus is 66% white, 21% black, 8% Coloured and 5% Indian, while the DA’s senior staff complement comprises a total 31 people, of whom 21 (68%) are white.
Of the seven executive management team members, six are white (86%) and one is Indian (14%).
Although an exact racial breakdown of voting patterns is impossible because race is not indicated on the ballot, the DA estimates that:
• DA support among black South Africans grew from 0.8% in 2009 to about 6% in 2014. Roughly 760,000 black South Africans voted for the DA in 2014.
• DA support among Indian South Africans grew from 53.7% in 2009 to 61% in 2014; among Coloureds from 55.5% to 67.7%; and among whites from 83.9% to 92.8%.
Speaking in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Maimane said he would require DA structures — at constituency, regional and provincial levels — to set targets for the recruitment and development of candidates for public office.
“These targets, and the progress made towards achieving them, will be reviewed regularly by the DA federal executive,” Maimane promised.
He set the aim “to ensure that, by 2019, DA parliamentary and legislature caucuses, and DA decision-making structures at all levels, reflect the diversity of our complex society”.
Maimane said this would be done without “resorting to dehumanising quotas that reduce human beings to statistics”, but did not explain how this would be done.
Prominent DA members have largely backed his call, although some reservations have been expressed on how he would achieve this.
His predecessor as DA parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, called this an “outstanding initiative” in her column in Business Day, but was critical of how the party dealt with race internally.
Mazibuko listed the racial labelling of black public representatives, the questioning of black liberal credentials, a narrative of white competence versus black incompetence and “the almost exclusive dominance of white males within the party’s “brains trust”.
This is “something that is beginning to come through in its communications and harm its external image as these highly disconnected men callously strut about social media like a law unto themselves”.
Asked on Friday to elaborate on the nature of and solution to the problem, Mazibuko refused to comment.
The DA MPs whom the Sunday Times spoke to were largely supportive of Maimane’s call, though some, speaking on condition of anonymity, argued that it could unleash racial bean-counting — and were unhappy that structures had not been consulted.
DA federal executive chairman James Selfe said Maimane’s requirement must still be operationalised and this would happen at the federal executive during the weekend.
Selfe said that, for a variety of historical reasons, the party’s public representatives and office-bearers have disproportionately been drawn from people of similar social and economic demographics.
“This has changed over time as we have purposefully sought to recruit and develop talented individuals from a wider spectrum of our society. We now wish to challenge the party to accelerate this process by inviting constituencies, regions and provinces to cast the net ... wider, and to set such targets for themselves.
“The process of candidate selection for the municipal election has already commenced. The candidate selection regulations provide that the relevant executive may promote or introduce candidates in order to promote diversity of the lists [or] to correct gender, racial or skills imbalances. We expect the relevant executives to exercise their prerogative in this regard,” said Selfe.
He would not be drawn on the racial composition of caucuses, calling it “virtually impossible and distasteful”, pointing out that diversity also includes youth, gender, sexual orientation, geographic spread, religion and language.
Regarding staff composition, Selfe said the operational component of the DA represents the diversity of South Africa and the party was on track to achieve the targets contained in its formal employment equity plan, submitted to the Department of Labour.
“The majority of our employees are African, Coloured and Indian. Our training initiatives have been incredibly successful in helping to attract and retain world-class staff, who represent the diversity of South Africa,” said Selfe.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the party intended setting broad targets of diversity, not racial quotas, and agreed with several MPs that this has been happening for some time.
“Any South African must realise something of him or herself in the DA,” said Steenhuisen, who explained that targets were broad, whereas quotas were specific and restrictive.
“A quota means without a threshold of, say, 50% women, a structure is not allowed to function. We are not, for instance, saying whites should not apply. We say grow the size of the party so that there is room for everybody,” said Steenhuisen.
He said the party was grappling with the racial composition of its top staff, but that there was much goodwill and determination to change it.
DA MP Makashule Gana welcomed Maimane’s speech as a bold step.
“I see a role for myself in recruiting candidates for the 2019 elections so that the vision can become a reality,” Gana said.
He pointed out that the final decision on the matter resided with the DA’s federal executive and with the federal council, which next meets from February 12 in Cape Town.
Federal deputy chairman Ivan Meyer said Maimane’s speech showed that he was prepared to lead within his overwhelming mandate to make the DA a political home for all.
DA MP Haniff Hoosen said he had firm views on the speech and that he would raise them within the party.