Tell us about your favourites and win
The ANC was asleep last week when the DA made its first major blunder of the election season over BEE, says Eusebius McKaiser.
Johannesburg - The DA just cannot decide whether it sees black and white, or only inner beauty when it looks at voters.
Last week saw the election season’s first major blunder, and if you missed it, you did so only because the ANC was asleep. They should have nailed the DA for a clumsy attempt to bowl over black voters.
So the DA calls a big press conference to tell us that they are very committed to BEE. This being part of the second phase of the Know Your DA campaign, an initiative whose aim is to wrestle away control about the DA narrative from propagandistic ANC hands.
Not that the ANC has been obsessed with telling us who the DA is, but let’s pretend for the moment the DA’s right, and the public have been fed massive amounts of ANC misinformation about its identity and history.
In line with this second part of its Know Your DA campaign, a giant billboard gets unveiled in Joburg which states: “We support BEE that creates jobs, not billionaires”.
The first response from political opponents, most obviously the ANC, should have been to point out that all this billboard actually says is that the DA supports job creation.
It is rhetorically hollow to add the stuff about BEE and end up with “We support BEE that creates jobs”, as if the party would not support job creation if there was no BEE.
Presumably, the DA is into job creation whether or not BEE is around.
The critical question then, which is not answered by the slogan on this billboard, is whether, in a straightforward way, the DA supports BEE with its original purpose of transforming the ownership structure and management layers of our economy to reflect the racial and gender demographics of our society in the name of economic justice.
The desire for job creation is something everyone, one would hope, sign up for. That is not the contested, principled, and policy, debate that a BEE discussion gives rise to.
But, as I have said, the ANC was asleep, or wrongly decided that the DA doesn’t have to be intellectually engaged on major policy pronouncements. (Wrongly, I say, because some voters need political opponents to unmask deceptive slogans.)
Yet, even with this response being missed, a more public embarrassment for the DA was still to come.
What followed after the billboard’s unveiling was comical. Wilmot James, the DA’s federal chairman, immediately ditched the policy, saying that the DA isn’t into racial bean-counting, and that if the DA was to win the 2014 national general elections, it would immediately rewrite the laws and economic codes that pertain to BEE, so as to remove references to race.
Instead, we were told, the DA would use the language of diversity, and replace black economic empowerment with diversity economic empowerment.
Furthermore, in practice, he said the DA would leave it up to companies to puzzle through how to achieve this diversity in the workplace.
So why on earth then unveil a billboard that says the party supports BEE?
Why not a billboard that says “Vote DA, Vote for Diversity Economic Empowerment”?
I am deeply aware that some readers of this column may say “Cheers to Wilmot!”.
I am not interested in arguing that he is wrong (although I do think he is and can construct the counter-argument on another occasion). I am instead, for the moment, fascinated by political strategy gone horribly wrong.
You see, James forgot to play ball, and it was then left up to Mmusi Maimane, the party’s deputy federal chair and national spokesman, to do damage control and go onto every media platform as quickly as possible to say “We really, really are into BEE! Do NOT listen to our chairperson!”.
What does this disagreement tell us? The rosy view would be to dismiss it as honest, and acceptable, internal intellectual disagreement about a policy position. That is possible, but a naive understanding of realpolitik.
The brutal truth is that James accidentally spoke for many in the DA who really do not like BEE, and who aren’t keen on race-based policies to address past injustices.
Maimane, as a result, was a lone voice correcting him.
Where were the senior DA leaders championing a principled commitment to racial redress with Maimane?
The DA cannot decide whether to be colour-blind regardless of whether some black voters will not vote for the party.
Or, alternatively, to strategically endorse BEE in principle and only criticise its application thus far.
Last week’s blunder by James, and Maimane’s lonely attempt to rein him in, was most telling.
While the ANC was asleep, a critical public wasn’t. One typical response from one of my radio listeners asked of James’s position: “Did diversity suffer under apartheid? Or black people?”
Music to ANC ears.
* McKaiser hosts Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser on Power FM 98.7 weekdays 9am to noon.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.