White leaders in the DA just don't get the black voter

The DA attacks people like Mugabe, Gaddafi and Chávez, never Bush, May or Trump, and it needs to liberalise itself before it will attract black voters

13 May 2018 - 00:00 By YUNUS MOMONIAT

The white leaders of the DA don't have a clue what black South Africans think about and how they perceive their reality and history, and if they do happen to get a faint glimmer, they are driven to apoplexy.
Black people who voted for the DA in recent elections, more than likely born after 1985, probably are not aware that the party's precursor, the Progressive Party, wanted only rich or educated black people to have the vote. It was only after Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert took over the leadership of the reincarnated Progressive Federal Party that it called for a universal franchise.
The DA is still the party of Tony Leon, not of Helen Suzman, and far from that of Slabbert. When Leon became the party's leader, he contested the 1999 election with a "fight back" campaign that was meant to appeal to supporters of the apartheid-era National Party. The campaign deliberately stopped just short of openly calling on white people to vote for a party that would fight against Nelson Mandela's ANC to secure the interests of white people.In parliament, the DA insisted it had to hold the ANC to account and embarked on a hyperbolic interpretation of opposition politics. It was abrasive, lacked decorum and introduced the kind of disrespect that was later practised with steroids by the EFF - although under very different circumstances.
Leon was replaced by Helen Zille so that the DA could try to woo black voters, but this attempt was doomed because the DA wanted to keep the NP voters it won in 1999 and 2004, the most significant bloc in its base.
The DA rejects all the elements of ANC policy that make the ruling party attractive to black voters. The ANC, when it is functioning well, cultivates relations with unions and workers. The DA has always had an antagonistic relation to the unions, especially Cosatu. It wants to discipline workers who trash the streets during strikes and make it more difficult for them to embark on work stoppages.
The DA sees affirmative action and BEE programmes as instances of state intervention in the economy, and is dead set against these.Instead it supports the most radical free trade policies, in the tradition of Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman - policies that led to the World Bank's structural adjustment programmes, the Washington Consensus and austerity.
The DA believes in "trickle-down" economics, wishing to "grow the cake" rather than diminish the size of the slices white people enjoy.
Always with an eye on its white voters, it does not support land redistribution or analogous policies, instead offering what it considers more pragmatic policies. Underlying its position is a fear that its white base will be adversely affected.
The party's take on the politics of the past two decades is instructive.
When it attacks world figures they are always leaders of developing countries - Muammar Gaddafi, Hugo Chávez, Robert Mugabe - and always on the basis of their undemocratic practices. But undemocratic moves by Western leaders never arouse its ire.
The DA has not come out against George W Bush, David Cameron or Theresa May's Windrush immigration policies, or Nicolas Sarkozy's far-right opportunism. Even Donald Trump does not arouse its indignation.
The DA has never weighed in on the side of anticolonial movements in global politics. Zille's pro-colonial sentiments were entirely consistent with this stance. She proclaimed that colonialism was the most efficient means for "technology transfers".Even today, she fails to recognise the racism inherent in her stance. She blamed the mood of the #FeesMustFall movement on ideas disseminated by post-colonial study programmes which focus on Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko.
Not only is she out of touch with the new generation of black students - who are rediscovering racism and deprivation two decades after the fall of apartheid - but she is horrified by their diagnoses of their own situation.
Consistently inconsistent, the DA's white leaders were unable to summon up outrage against Dianne Kohler Barnard when she was seen lauding PW Botha's regime. They could not share black South Africans' outrage at the racist antics of the Sparrows and Mombergs.
After Lindiwe Mazibuko quit the DA, and Phumzile van Damme and Mbali Ntuli quit their leadership positions in the party, they have now chucked out Patricia de Lille with dodgy, shifting explanations. One suspects they are unable to abide the far-from-white style of the pugnacious Cape Town mayor, whom Leon warned against when she joined the party. It seems his view has prevailed.Last week, the white leaders were appalled by Mmusi Maimane's comments about white privilege, again with an eye on their white base, but also because this was their visceral response, their socialised white instinct.
John Steenhuisen's unrelenting yapping in parliament, a habit acquired during the Jacob Zuma presidency, so irritated President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday that he told the DA chief whip to "shut up". Twitter was abuzz with the event, with many black people celebrating the put-down.
The DA, purportedly a liberal party, has never shared the liberalism of John Stuart Mill or of the UK's Liberal Democratic Party. Rather, it is closer to the neoliberalism of the US Republican Party.
This was the mindset shared by people such as John Kane-Berman and Anthea Jeffery of the Institute of Race Relations, both rabidly anti-ANC even in the 1980s. Jeffery went so far as to suggest, in her book The People's War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa, that PW Botha's policies were preferable to those of the verligtes in the National Party.
The DA needs to liberalise itself before it can attract black voters.
Momoniat is an author and political analyst..

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