The new rise of liberalism

IRR analyst Hermann Pretorius refused to take credit for Mmusi Maimanes resignation but insisted that this was a good move for the future of the DA. Picture:Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)

Commentaries on the developments taking place in the DA have largely been pedestrian. Commentators have focused on accounts of racism and the party’s lack of confidence in its black leadership. This is hardly breaking news.

Lindiwe Mazibuko spoke of a culture within the party that alienates black members. Former black DA leaders echoed the same sentiment. Zille herself has expressed her disquiet about black leadership in the DA including “her” Maimane. Focusing on the party’s disregard for, and treatment of, black leadership needs no belabouring.

The real story is not to be found in the optics of apparent DA unrest or reconfiguration. It is to be found in understanding the nature and complexity of ideological interests. First, Zille’s “second coming” has long been in the making. Under Maimane the DA swayed away from its defining DNA of liberalism to an unfamiliar pulse of populism.

Attempts to manufacture a DA alignment with Mandela, the incongruency of Mmusi Maimane’s citing of Biko, and leadership attendance at Marikana commemorative events were out of synch stunts. There was a time when the DA’s pronouncements were indistinguishable from those of the ANC, and vice versa. This is the stuff one gets punished for.

Second, the DA under Maimane had become fixated with former president Jacob Zuma instead of advancing the cause of liberalism. This occasioned former leader Tony Leon, whose acquaintance donated R30million to Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign, to opine that under Maimane, the DA had lost its crucial liberal fibre.

Leon asked at the time: “What inspires the average DA MP? Is it job security for the next four years? A yearning to change things? A dislike of the ANC or the president? Perhaps all these things. But what great causes today does the DA stand for?”

With Zuma out of the picture, there is a sense that Maimane has lost his appeal. Third, Zille’s victory cannot be delinked from the developments taking place within the ANC. Under Ramaphosa, the ANC has increasingly shifted from the politics of liberation and black self-determination to those of liberalism. This is not unexpected.

After all, the ANC is a broad church. And broad church is just a euphemism for saying the ANC is contested terrain. Liberalism constitutes one of the ANC’s strands. Ramaphosa represents this strand. It explains why Ramaphosa enjoys support within the liberal camps in and outside the ANC.

Seen from this angle, Zille’s re-entry into the political limelight represents a fuller recalibration of South Africa’s ideological landscape. Maimane clearly upset many a master and madam when he asked the public protector to investigate Ramaphosa on the funding of his presidential campaign. In doing so, he was disrupting the liberal agenda. He was chastised by Leon and Zille, among others.

Fourth, with Zille, the DA could not be in a better place. It does not need Maimane or the mandate of South Africa’s people. It has the South African president vested in its cause of liberalism. That is enough.The DA can dictate the country’s agenda without taking the responsibility for its failures. It can do so without diluting its agenda with race-related pronouncements.

Fifth, Zille’s assumption of the powerful position in the DA is perfect timing. It comes at a time when the ANC is thoroughly ideologically unanchored. There is no better time for the ANC to be led from the opposition benches. Despite Ramaphosa’s victory the party is gradually collapsing under the weight of its internal contradictions. This is the best time to engineer the collapse with precision and purpose by external liberal forces.

For the liberals, there is no need to bank on Maimane. They can achieve better results with Ramaphosa, who they consider to be “the Maimane of the ANC”. The crowning of both Ramaphosa and Zille is part of a game of thrones, monopolised by and in the play of white power. Zille’s victory was greeted with the same exuberant triumphalism as Ramaphosa’s razor-thin victory of the ANC’s presidency.

With the ANC blinded by lack of ideological clarity and internal battles, the DA may win the war for power. Liberalism is on the rise. For now, liberation is not in sight. Liberalism is in safe hands in the ANC and the DA.

Sipho Seepe is an author and political analyst; Heller a socio-political commentator.