A leopard never changes its spots. Ironically, the leopard is also an apt racial metaphor of our official opposition, the DA. It is largely a White party, as evidenced in the recent Institute for Race Relations’ elections poll, with a few Black faces here and there. In the wake of Herman Mashaba’s praise for Donald Trump, the DA has set out its national campaign based on the thinking, or maybe lack thereof, of the American president. America First, says Trump. South Africans First, says Mmusi Maimane’s DA.
Notice, though, that the DA goes a step farther than Trump and adds the nationalist element (“South Africans”) rather than leaving it at a country level, as Trump did (America). In other words, what we can well see unravelling in this elections campaign, which is already happening in Gauteng, is an onslaught against foreigners. Black foreigners specifically and sadly.
Just as Trump blamed all of America’s woes on immigrants, the Mexicans, Asians, Africans, Arabs and other Latinos, so too the DA through #South Africans First will lay emphasis that it is our porous borders together with the Zimbabweans, the Malawians, the Somalians, Pakistanis and other Africans and Asians who are at the heart of South Africa’s problems.
This crass nationalism goes against the founding liberal principles of the DA. But then again, as the leopard who never changes its spots, the DA has used crass nationalism in the past, especially in the Western Cape, to stoke fear in national minorities and thus used Coloured and White nationalism to keep itself alive. But more about this later.
Given this contrast with liberal values, Gareth van Onselen, a DA hack now working for the Institute for Race Relations and who has evidently but recently dusted off his liberal conscience, wrote a few months ago on the liberal site, “Politicsweb”, that “…South Africa…is not a normal society. A dire economy, rampant poverty and desperation are augmented by much anger, fear and paranoia. Add to that mix so much prejudice – racial, ethnic and otherwise – and you have an environment in which people are often likely to turn violently on “the other” long before they turn to the law.”
In the same article, titled: “The DA’s unconscionable new slogan”, published on 20 July 2018, van Onselen takes serious issue with the DA’s slogan, #SouthAfricansFirst, and therefore their campaign. He states categorically that the slogan is xenophobic, questioning “who is second?” Well versed in the liberal tradition of the DA, for he hails from that faction within the party, van Onselen then goes on to point out a tweet from DA founder Tony Leon.
Yet a few in the van Onselen and Leon mould would insist that the DA has its foundations in the Liberal Party, then the Progs and then the DP. This may well be the case but what van Onselen conveniently omits in his piece is that the DP was only too happy to accommodate the verkramptesfrom the National Party into the DA while the verligtes went to the ANC.
Even more so, the success of the DA in its predominantly White constituency as well as the successes it has had in the Western Cape and minority communities across the country is based on this nationalist sentiments stoked by fear. Paranoia promoted by no one else but the DA. It is therefore surprising that van Onselen would dismiss the DA’s slogan as “unconscionable” and that “it cannot be tolerated” when it is the normal progression on the nationalist trajectory the DA has been one since its inception.
In 2000, when the DA incorporated the verkrampte Nats, with nationalists like Theuns Botha, Pieter Marais and Gerald Morkel, it inherited an election machinery that was well oiled in the notion of “the other”. In 1994, the National Party deliberately ran a swart gevaar campaign which among others employed distributing a little booklet to specifically Coloured and White communities. The period in the build-up to those elections were synonymous with a time when many Coloured, Indian and White families stocked up on tin foods, blankets and candles because, as National Party propaganda was pitching: South Africa was going to become like the rest of Africa. As if this was even a bad thing.
The Democratic Party, grabbing the opportunity in trying to fill the fear vacuum left by the ailing National Party, then released its Fight B(l)ack campaign in 1999. This campaign instilled in Whites and especially Coloureds that the Western Cape, a province with a unique history and demographic, was to be a place they could call home and that Africans, from the Eastern Cape specifically, had to be fought at all costs.
Who is “the other”, asks van Onselen in his article. It is refugees and immigrants, he correctly points out. Yet who was the first to call people from the Eastern Cape, African people more specially, “refugees”? As if this was not enough, the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, insists to this day that colonialism had positive aspects to it thereby making her incapable of seeing just how alienating and “othering” colonialism was. Zille, a so-called professed liberal, called Africans from the Eastern Cape “refugees” still while she was leader of the DA. She was never challenged nor taken to task for it.
For years, the now-confessed, Jan Jan Joubert, wrote stories in the Sunday Times and other publications strategically just before elections so as to tilt the electoral favours on the DA side. His headlines and articles were laden with propaganda which did nothing but stoke Coloured fear. Invariably he would have an article or two about affirmative action just before an election thereby stoking Coloured fears that they would lose their jobs.
Racism and xenophobia is based on fear. The DA manipulates race and perpetuates fear in order to stay alive. Why else does it insist that a Black man, Mmusi Maimane, with his African nationalism, must be its national leader but on the other Bongikhosi Madikizela is not good enough to be the premier candidate in the Western Cape but good enough to be the party’s provincial leader? Madikizela has as much experience as Alan Winde has.
Fear has kept the DA alive. Fear is what the DA is built on, what it has sown all these years. The xenophobia that van Onselen sees in the DA today is nothing new for this is what even the likes of Pieter Marais will testify to today. Like Trump and the ultra-right, fear is the currency that has kept the DA in power in the City of Cape Town and in the Western Cape. How else do you explain the people of Bonteheuwel, Mitchell’s Plan and Hanover Park still voting for the DA again, after a decade of DA rule and their lives being worse off than it was a decade ago.
Nomvula Mokonyane is a ANC NEC Member and the Minister of Communication.