It’s worth losing votes on the basis of principle, says Gwen Ngwenya
The DA's head of policy Gwen Ngwenya says losing votes is an acceptable price to pay for the party sticking to its core principles.
However, she added during a media briefing on Monday that there was no evidence that voters will not support the new policies the DA adopted during its first-ever policy conference at the weekend.
The party lost votes for the first time during the 2019 general elections, and has been on a path to determine its identity since then.
Last week, former Gauteng leader John Moodey, in a statement announcing his resignation from the party, said the leaders of the DA would be happy with receiving between 15% and 20% of the national votes. Interim leader John Steenhuisen has subsequently rubbished Moodey's claim.
While the DA over the past few years had faced an identity crisis in terms of what it stood for and what it is, the party this weekend took a clear stance on the direction it was taking, including on some of the most controversial issues that have divided the party, such as race and redress.
The party has rejected race as a criteria to categorise South Africans, taking a colour-blind approach to one of the most sensitive issues in the country, while simultaneously adopting redress as one of its principles.
While the party's policy was initially that race was a proxy for disadvantage, the DA now adopted a principle of non-racialism, which it defines as the “rejection of race as a way to categorise and treat people, particularly in legislation”.
There’s just zero evidence to say that South Africans would not support a policy which is both non-racial and achieves economic inclusion.Gwen Ngwenya
“Of course it’s worth losing votes on the basis of principle,” Ngwenya said on Monday, citing the death penalty as an example.
“But the question is: will we lose votes on the basis of principle? I think this question is asked as though the case has been established that large groups of South Africans are hostile to this policy, and nobody has made that case at all.”
She said policy should not be approached on the basis of what was popular, but rather on principles and evidence.
“I think we mustn't short-sell South Africans,” she said. “People do have the capacity to listen, to potentially be persuaded by good arguments.”
She emphasised that there were many South Africans who would like to move away from all legacies of apartheid and want to be included in the economy.
“There’s just zero evidence to say that South Africans would not support a policy which is both non-racial and achieves economic inclusion,” she said.
The crucial policy adopted over the weekend was the DA's answer to achieving economic inclusion.
The economic justice document states that it seeks to address both the legacy of economic exclusion, while simultaneously freeing South Africans from apartheid race classification.
“If there is a possibility that we can achieve both these noble goals, we must do so. We know what stands in the way of economic inclusion: there are long-standing inequalities which have their roots in an apartheid and colonial past, and which have been worsened by an incapable and corrupt state,” the policy states.
The document also focuses on what the DA classifies as the key drivers of inequality of opportunity, which include a failed state, poverty, unemployment and low quality of education outcomes.
Ngwenya said one can reject racial classification while also acknowledging racism, which the DA has done.