Who really runs the DA

April 7 - Delegates at the DA's federal congress at the Tshwane Events Centre in Pretoria. Photo: ANA/Brenda Masilela

In one of her interviews Mama Nozamo Madikizela-Mandela tells the story of how a young Zinzi came rushing through the front door one day to ask her mother about her father’s whereabouts.  “You said he was in prison, right,” enquired the young Zinzi. “Yes”, replied her mother slowly. “You said he was in prison because of fighting for our people to have rights,” prodded Zinzi further. “That is correct,” replied her now inquisitive mother. “Then how come the family next door still has their father with them?” ended Zinzi.

Mama Winnie continued in that interview to indicate how this deeply struck her. How is it possible, she thought to herself, that a black man, living in apartheid South Africa could not find himself in jail? How is it possible that a man could not be alive to the sufferings of his people and the injustices perpetrated against them? There must be something wrong then with that black man she observed. There must be something seriously wrong that he could suffer from such deep unconsciousness.  

Anyone in South Africa alive and conscious to the plight of the majority of our people who witnessed the Democratic Alliance’s show over the weekend of 7 to 8 April would know that the amendment to the DA’s constitution should not be termed the “De Lille clause” but should rather have actually been termed the Helen Zille clause. It should have been the clause designed to recall Helen Zille who has hitherto been a complete embarrassment to her party and the South African body politic.

Instead the clause is unofficially named after a black woman. It was designed to deal with a feisty black woman. The liberals who purport to believe in the rule of law and in individuals’ rights to dignity have decided that the only way in which they would subvert De Lille’s rights would be to introduce this clause. They have treated her with anything but fairness, even more so they will now treat her with no justice.

The context within which this clause in the party’s constitution was introduced sums up their weekend show. To South Africa and the media, amidst the glitz and the glamour, the DA has tried to portray themselves as a party that is diverse and united. Yet this clause, given its deep racial connotations and who it is meant for and who it is not meant for, illustrates the continued racial and ideological differences that continue to plague the party.

The leadership elected is anything but diverse despite their trying to dance around the issue of race. No-one in the party, no white person in particular dared to have challenged Mmusi Maimane for the leadership. A defeat for Mmusi would have been an embarrassment to the DA. They could not afford Helen Zille to contest him and even today the party old guard knows that they dare not take action against her precisely because she is more popular than Maimane.

Maimane had this to say at the congress: “They even say that I am a puppet of white people and if we win an election I will be replaced by a white person. The truth is that I will never be black enough for them because they don’t want black people to think for themselves.”

If only he was contested by Athol Trollip. If only Maimane realized that he is just the right shade of black for the DA and therefore they do not need Solly Msimanga to be elected as federal chairperson. They’ve ticked the black box already. Maimane’s party remains overwhelmingly white and therefore he was not even able to secure his diversity clause into the party’s constitution. 

Instead the true colours of the party were able to emerge through the uncontested election of James Selfe as federal council chairperson again but even more so the election of Athol Trollip into the position of federal chairperson. Black people in the DA must know that they do not stand a chance against a white person in a DA election hence Maimane went uncontested.

The rumblings and mutterings about race started even before the congress took place. Black branches, termed “township branches” by the DA and their allies in the media were kept well away from congress. When one watched who the delegates were the overwhelming were white yet the show was directed in such a way that people of colour were made to make the announcements and were on the stage.

In other words, the DA old guard gave the blacks space to make a show and to portray to South Africa how diverse they were yet when the decisions had to be made and voting took place, by delegates, these were in the main white and from the suburbs. 

The others elected to top positions included the three deputy federal chairpersons: Ivan Meyer, Mike Waters and Refiloe Ntsekhe while the portfolio of finance remained in the white hands of Dion George. Thomas Walters was elected as Selfe’s deputy.

As in Mama Winnie’s story, one is not sure what is worse: the father not being in prison or his unconsciousness. So too one is not sure what is worse: the DA’s portrayal as a diverse party when it is not or its downright disregard for race as a factor in South African politics. The fact that the DA continues to disregard race brings sharply into question their ability to make policies for South Africa and the Western Cape based on the precepts of the Constitution of the Republic: to correct the injustices of the past.

In fact their “equal opportunities” philosophy is precisely one that denies that race continues to haunt South Africa. The majority of black i.e. African, Coloured and Indian people simply do not enjoy the same opportunities as that of their white compatriots. To deny this is to be like the black father who denies the injustices perpetrated against his people.

Mmusi Maimane also had this to say: “At the end of my life I will be judged on whether I was a good husband, a loving father, a loyal son, a patriotic South African, someone who contributed to society. None of those questions will be defined by my race.”

Indeed he sounds like the father in Mama Winnie’s story. As black South Africans we know what will be asked of us: whether we were good to our entire extended family, whether we were good to our community and whether we uplifted the most marginalised of our society. 

Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the ANC Youth League Western Cape Provincial Chairperson and Portia Ngeno is the Young Communist League Western Cape Provincial Coordinator