When the media began levelling criticism at the African National Congress (ANC), a little criticism of the Democratic Alliance (DA) would often be inserted – a token of what would now be called “virtue signalling”.
The purpose was to justify their reluctance to criticise the ANC. The criticism of the DA was usually irrelevant.
This practice waned a few years ago when President Jacob Zuma’s behaviour became increasingly heinous. Initially, Zuma was the subject. Later the culpability of the ANC had to be exposed.
Some in the media still describe the DA as “white” or “perceived as white”. The narrative didn’t change after most of the Coloured community in the Cape jettisoned the ANC for the DA. The Indian community nationally joined them. What the criticism means is that “black” really just means “African”.
The shift away from the ANC by Coloureds and Indians resulted from their feeling marginalised by the ANC. The sense of abandonment is now likely to grow among Africans.
Rough calculations from the 2016 local elections for the three metros now run by the DA (Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay) suggest that reaching the percentages which allowed the party to enter into coalitions required Africans to vote for it by about 21%, 19% and 7.6% respectively. Compare this to the total votes for the EFF, at 11%, 12% and 5% respectively.
For the first time since the beginning of democracy in South Africa there is a possibility that the ANC might split, or lose the 2019 election. We have to seriously consider an alternative to the ANC. The only real alternative is the DA. The DA has not been fatally morally compromised, its level of organisation is second to none, and, even when it handles controversies clumsily, it is not in the ANC’s league. The DA’s court challenges have made a huge impact in the fight for accountability.
People talk glibly about the formation of new political parties. The formation of a successful political party depends on funding, good organisation and very hard work. The difficulty of creating and sustaining a party is immense.
The Inkatha Freedom Party is a declining force; the United Democratic Movement, the Congress of the People and the African Christian Democratic Party are unlikely to make serious gains in electoral support.
And what of the EFF? Despite having a well-educated and articulate leadership, the EFF’s young leaders lack experience. They have yet to prove themselves by running a council or metro. Their immaturity is reflected in their repeated dramatic disruptions of parliament, which the public and other opposition parties are now bored of and irritated by.
Their rhetoric is often racist and hateful. They hide behind Marxist-Leninist cliches. We have no idea how they actually intend to implement their unworkable policies, such as they are. Its growth is uncertain, as is the sustainability of its funding. Also, the law might eventually catch up with Malema.
Now is the time, then, for the DA to present a liberal alternative to the country. But the DA increasingly sounds like the ANC-lite: supporting BBEEE and affirmative action, allowing a black caucus to arise that wants the DA to reflect the country’s demography, and failing to show backbone when accused by the hypocritical ANC of racism.
Frans Cronje, CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (The DA's inexplicable attack on itself, Politicsweb, 5 November 2017) criticised the DA for saying that “classical liberalism offers nothing for the poor and serves merely to entrench historical wrongs”. Cronje opines that if the DA’s market research shows people to perceive it as not caring for the poor, that can only be because the DA has not championed the benefits of classically liberal ideas sufficiently – something not be helped by its apologising for those ideas.
Cronje says that the liberal tradition has been such an important influence that any dilution of its presence in the political spectrum would be to weaken South Africa’s democracy. Cronje has a sense that the DA leadership has come, too easily, to share in the ANC’s historical disdain of the liberal tradition’s erstwhile principles, supporters, and leaders.
Phumzile Van Damme, the DA’s National Spokesperson responded (The DA has not forsaken its liberal values, Politicsweb, 9 November 2017).
Her response is perturbing. Van Damme states correctly that liberalism can be realised in a number of ways, but Cronje isn’t punting one form of liberalism; he criticises the apparent discarding of the core principles of liberalism.
Van Damme says:
“As a political party, with the objective of national governance, we need to move away from rigid liberal ideology towards a liberal approach that is more relevant to addressing the inequality in South Africa. This is not a rejection of our liberal values.”
Liberal ideology is absolutely firm, not “rigid”. The ANC has governed most successfully where it has adopted a liberal approach. No party has yet been in power which offers genuine liberalism as its basis for governing. The ANC’s philosophy has always been socialism/communism.
Van Damme further reveals the DA’s slide: “classical liberalism as we know it, has to be reassessed. A classic liberal policy in South Africa is not feasible to address the deep-rooted, systemic and institutional inequality in South Africa”.
According to Van Damme, caring for the poor does not divert the DA from its liberal values. It doesn’t, but it will if it abandons its liberal ideals. The only way to reduce poverty is through a flourishing free market. Yet, Van Damme writes:
“We believe in individual liberty. However, in a society where millions of individuals still do not have the means to gain access and benefit from social, economic and political rights, a classical liberal approach is not enough.”
Is Van Damme saying that the fundamental tenet of individual rights has to be abandoned in favour of socialism’s group rights?
Van Damme asserts that their electoral success demonstrates that its supporters are looking to the DA for answers. But those answers don’t lie in failed socialism.
Her submission that “the DA has a proven track record of good governance, quality service delivery and a commitment to building a dynamic and inclusive economy for South Africa …(and that)… (t)he ANC is everything that the DA is not” has yet to be embedded in governance of the country. (Our underlining)
Surely she meant “the DA is everything that the ANC is not”, But Van Damme shows that the DA is at risk of becoming some of what the ANC is.
If, as Van Damme says, South Africans are searching for a new beginning “built on liberal values and ideals”, then the DA had better start providing them.
So, what exactly are the tenets of the “rigid” classical liberalism that the DA “needs” to move away from?
- equal rights for every person;
- religious tolerance;
- limited, constitutional and representative government;
- the rule of law;
- the right to own private property;
- a free market economy, competition and equal opportunity for all.
The pre-eminent recognition of the individual usually leads to the protection of the group. The protection of the group, however, will not necessarily protect the individual. And, anyway, it’s for the individual to decide which group he or she belongs to, not the state.
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.