For the DA to stand any chance of winning the elections in 2019, it needs to honestly engage black people on what it plans to do to address inequality, writes SIYA KHUMALO
Most opposition parties argued against the DA’s motion to dissolve Parliament on politic-pragmatic grounds. But the motion was a philosophical-principle extension of what those parties had previously said. By claiming politic-pragmatic reservations, they were imitating the ANC’s defense of its leader.
If I understand the Constitution, the only party whose MPs’ votes and resignations could dissolve parliament would be the ANC’s. The other opposition parties would have lost nothing by voting to hold fresh elections. Instead, they took a Pyrrhic victory on a moot argument.
The UDM’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said the DA, like ANC, disrespects the “mechanisms of the Constitution” and suggested the ANC be given “enough rope to hang themselves”. Of course, nothing could be more constitutional than passing constitutional motions to take down a party that disregards that Constitution, and if the ANC is given enough rope it won’t hang itself but the people.
The DA’s John Steenhuisen pointed out that the cost of letting Zuma finish his term will exceed that of holding fresh elections. There’s no political way we can do either, but neither is there a morally coherent universe in which we may not unseat the ANC. The DA’s innermost circles foresaw the embarrassment that would come with the proposal counterbalanced by the moral comeuppance of having been first to take the ethical need seriously. And whatever the cost to taxpayers when the DA proposes “frivolous” motions, they’re a drop in and mitigations against the costs of running an ANC-led parliament.
This means the other parties’ issue was the unfair distribution of chances to “waste” parliament’s time, owing to the DA’s pre-eminence in the opposition — which they’ve now helped enhance. Francois de La Rochefoucauld called hypocrisy the tribute that vice pays to virtue: describing the DA’s motion as grandstanding without suggesting an alternative is refusing pay the tribute while lacking opportunity to demonstrate the virtue; an observer could think you also lack the intent.
The cost of refusing to “bend the knee” and pay this tribute will be collected by “DAny” from prospective coalition partners in future campaigns. Just as House Targaryen can’t defeat the Army of the Dead without the others, the DA can’t unseat braindead ANC deployees except through a joint opposition campaign for 2019.
Because this is politics, that won’t stop the DA using the September 5, 2017 humiliation to suppress the other parties’ growth in the 2021 local government elections, Red Wedding-style. Game of Thrones watchers will understand — “like father, like daughter”.
The principles-versus-pragmatics catch-22 only appears an obstacle to fresh elections because like Lady Olenna, our prize mistake is a failure of imagination. As long as a Zupta sits on the Iron Throne, any postponement of fresh elections until we are “ready” will, through the routine “capture” of “independent” institutions, be leveraged to ensure it’s the ANC that wins those elections. Ask Kenya: when elections look too peaceful, it’s all too good to be true.
Even then, black South Africans would vote ANC to assert their autonomy, only to get trapped in that autonomy and need “the oppressor” to liberate them. One of my friends complained, “White people have been going to courts and fighting our battles, and now we’re in an embarrassing situation where if we agree with them on anything, everything is undone.”
This is self-fulfilment. If “the whites” want to bring back white rule, they need only suggest the obvious joint ventures we must undertake to rescue ourselves, which we’ll refuse until we have no power left to refuse anything. “Hawu! There are lots of black people who vote DA. As a non-racist party, the DA never defined ‘right versus wrong’ as ‘white versus black’,” you may say.
Shift your gaze to the Bell Pottinger saga, however, and you’ll see the effects of apartheid glossed over and minimised. What’s then read back on everything else the DA does is that while the they care to have black voters, they don’t care for black people.
Why shift from ANC, then?
For a hundred things on why Bell Pottinger’s PR was “unethical”, from sources describing the DA’s role, there’s barely a whisper saying, “Bell Pottinger’s PR strategy was dangerous not only because it broke rules, but because it had a grain of truth to it”. The celebrations amongst many of my white friends about Bell Pottinger’s fall at the DA’s hand should have been stayed until the fall of the inequality that Bell Pottinger exploited.
The DA could have framed this victory within that narrative — a first step towards the implementation of its strategy to resolve the inequality Bell Pottinger exploited, once DA receives the electoral mandate. Not explicitly connecting it to the cause of racial justice Bell Pottinger’s clients (the Guptas) claim to stand for through those campaigns, posthumously serves Bell Pottinger’s campaign.
The DA’s argument to dissolve parliament is sound whether it’s grandstanding; likewise, Bell Pottinger’s clients’ description of inequality has some truth even if there was money involved. By failing to take this seriously in the latter victory, the DA is overthrown with what it used to overthrow Bell Pottinger and it, too, inflicts a Pyrrhic victory on itself.
As I wrote during the Zille colonialism saga, the DA must grow in 2019. It absolutely must. But that will take a commitment to legitimate, ongoing engagement with black voices, not just scoring black voters.
Khumalo is a blogger and keen observer of current affairs.