Ms Zille, ANC does diversity

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Helen Zille

Think what you may of Helen Zille, one thing is for sure. She is a formidable politician and a political obituary may be a bit premature. This feistiness came out in her latest reflections of where she went wrong. She reflects on her role in the Democratic Alliance’s race politics, the shift from liberalism to nationalism, from diversity to representativity and her tweets on colonialism. In South Africa, it is rare for a politician to take such responsibility.

What is evident is that Helen Zille cannot separate the DA’s identity from that of the ANC. She judges the orientation of the DA either moving towards ANC nationalist politics or away from it. The DA exists, at the sounds of it, either to mimic the ANC or to oppose it.

One wonders then what the ANC thinks of Helen Zille’s argument. It has never professed to be a liberal organisation and therefore has committed no sin when it did not leave addressing the injustices of the past, as envisaged by the Preamble of the Constitution of the Republic, to the vagaries of the market. The ANC has never professed that it supports a diversity that will merely happen by chance but has always sought the need to ensure that representativity takes place. 

The ANC has contended that while we are all equal, equity does not exist. Our past has privileged a few over others and therefore mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that the majority of the citizens of our country are brought into the mainstream of opportunities and empowerment. But inside the organisation, it is a different story.

We forget that the number of years in which the ANC’s membership was exclusive to Africans continues to outweigh the number of years in which its membership is open to all races. It took the ANC a whopping three decades, after adopting the Freedom Charter’s non-racialism as the organisation’s official dogma, to open its leadership to all races. Only a decade and a half after Kliptown was its membership opened up to all races. It is an organisation that continues to struggle with race.

Nelson Mandela, initially an African nationalist himself, was all too aware of these race challenges in the ANC. For example, at the 1994 National Conference he called for racial quotas for the NEC and this was struck down. 

Ironically, while Helen Zille points out that the DA was moving towards the ANC’s representativity, the ANC was going in the opposite direction. The ANC, under Madiba’s successors, began to hearken back to its African chauvinist days. This occurred simply because there was no deliberate effort to enforce representativity. The ANC let diversity, in Ms Zille’s understanding, reign and left leadership positions to the vagaries of conference. 

As a result, today only one of the top six of the ANC is a Coloured. Yet, one may argue, she is there primarily on the gender ticket. Noting, this is another result of where gender representation is left solely to the vagaries of the organisation. The top six not being subject to the gender quota. Two NWC members of the ANC are White while two are Coloured. The rest of the body, of twenty-six, are all African.  

There are eighty-six members of the NEC, including the top six, while four members are Coloured, three are White and one Indian. This means that Africans represent ninety-one percent of the leadership of the ANC while only accounting for eighty percent of the country’s population. Put differently, the ANC is not good either at reflecting representativity and this is simply because it has not prioritised representation as it did under Madiba. In fact, like the gender quota, it must have a constitutional clause allowing for minority groups to be co-opted but still this does not work.

Helen Zille therefore once again has the opportunity to learn from the ANC. The ANC has a history of being an Africanist organisation and has failed to ensure that it puts measures, maybe quotas, in place to ensure representativity. Instead in the last two decades, it has practiced diversity, left this simply to the chances of conferences and today sits with a less than diverse top leadership. 

The DA, a historically White party, will therefore go the same way as it did before if it adopted, as Zille now insists it must, a diverse approach. An approach the ANC has been practicing for the last two decades. If it leaves diversity to the chances of the DA market it will no doubt end up with a White chauvinist party. 

Apartheid was a sociological project more than necessarily just a political one. To apply just a political solution to a sociological problem, no matter how formidable a politician one is, would be foolish. Yet in the end, if anything, our iron lady has certainly proven that not even her party could get rid of her.


Wesley Seale taught South African politics at Rhodes University and UWC.