Shortly after Barrack Obama's recent lecture in Johannesburg on the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth, the leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, wrote an article in which he warned against continuing to "corral" South Africans into race groups.
He also said that the greatest source of inequality was between those with jobs and those without. "The best way to tackle inequality and injustice ... is through job-creating economic growth that brings more people into the economy." This required a market-based economic system in which the government's role was to create conditions that foster growth and job creation: functional education, an enabling regulatory environment, affordable and reliable electricity, and a safe environment.
A month before that article appeared, Mr Maimane told the South African Property Owners Association that the best contribution government could make to growth and job creation was to "clear away obstacles". However, current labour legislation and the mining charter were "investment repellents". So were "the current BEE model" and talk of expropriating private property without compensation. He added, "It is poor, black South Africans desperate for work who will feel it the worst when investors pull the plug here."
As for Cyril Ramaphosa's recent announcement of a constitutional amendment to legalise expropriation without compensation, the DA leader denounced it as "reckless". It was, he said, quite remarkable that the ANC was playing "Russian roulette" with the economic future of the country on the same day that unemployment had risen to "levels of a humanitarian crisis".
Hardly a day now goes by without yet another report of the consequences of the rule, misrule, or absence of rule by the African National Congress (ANC). Skulduggery and incompetence cause organs of state to collapse like dominoes. Neither homicidal negligence nor a criminal record are bars to public office. If somebody compiled an international index of callousness on the part of government officials, South Africa would be placed in the top ten. We have some of the worst hospitals and schools in the world. Anarchic behaviour has become the norm all over the country.
All of this is a terrible tragedy. But it is also manna from heaven for any opposition party. The ANC does not care if children drown in pit latrines. It does not care about poor education or health care. It does not care about rampant crime. It does not care if people get killed, except when mining companies can be blamed. It does not care whether land reform beneficiaries sink or swim. It does not care if expropriation without compensation destroys the foundations of the economy.
You have only to read the speech of the organisation's new secretary general, Ace Magashule, at the Gauteng provincial conference last month to know who and where his party's role models are: "Comrade Vladimir Lenin", Cuba, and Venezuela. They will show the way for the national democratic revolution and the "highest form of human society, which is communism".
The DA should be making a meal out of all of this. Yet despite Mr Maimane's warning against racial "corralling", the party has yet again shown itself unable to break out of the comfort zone of that ideological laager. This is clear from the statement issued by two DA MPs last week in response to reports that their party had abandoned black economic empowerment.
Instead of the ANC's "narrow racial categorisation", the DA is going to adopt "empowerment policies" that "become less raced-focused over time as the policies begin to do their work in redressing the legacy of apartheid ". It will even "design an empowerment framework that will deliver equality of opportunity for all South Africans over time".
This equivocation is reminiscent of the old United Party. Repeatedly harking back to the "legacy of apartheid" plays into the hands of the ANC. Instead of making maximum political capital out of the horror and harm that the ANC is inflicting upon the country, the official opposition is helping it to deflect blame on to the previous government. Worst of all, the DA's contortions, obfuscations, equivocations, and cowardice dilute the message that Mr Maimane was beginning to proclaim so clearly.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.