Johannesburg - The DA is again in the grip of a race debate that is set to spill over into the official opposition party’s biggest congress this weekend, lifting the lid on its internal racial divisions.
The battle over diversity has intensified, with party leader Mmusi Maimane asserting his authority by backing black leaders pushing for the party’s constitution to be amended to include a diversity clause.
On Saturday, more than 2000 DA delegates are expected to descend on the Tshwane Events Centre where Maimane is expected to be re-elected for a second term.
But the racial make-up of the party’s structures, such as parliamentary representatives in the National Assembly - who are mostly white - is to take centre stage.
Another debate will be over the push to extend Maimane’s term of office from three to five years.
A group of black leaders known as “the black caucus” is pushing for a diversity clause to be introduced into the party’s constitution to ensure black leaders hold crucial positions in the party.
The leaders include the DA’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial leader Zwakele Mncwango, Eastern Cape provincial leader Nqaba Bhanga, Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana and the DA’s Gauteng south chairperson Khume Ramulifho, among others.
The DA has been criticised for having a lot of black members, but being led in crucial positions by whites.
Some of those opposed to the diversity clause include MPs Michael Cardo and Gavin Davies, who last month penned a letter to delegates to Saturday’s congress, asking them to reject it.
Mncwango told The Star this week that white leaders in the party were opposed to measures aimed at deepening transformation, because they were beneficiaries of the status quo.
“The background that I have and the background that Gavin and Michael have is different, which is why you will find that myself and Makashule Gana or Khume are likely to agree, because we come from similar backgrounds.
“We understand the importance of redressing the imbalances of the past, whereas to the others while they can say they are pro-diversity, it means nothing to them because it does not really affect them that much. They might be beneficiaries of our past. It is a reality,” Mncwango said.
Mncwango added that some of his white colleagues were denying their racial privilege, and he likened them to men who did not want to admit their unearned privileges over women.
In their letter, Davis and Cardo slammed the black caucus leaders as “the progressives”, accusing them of racial solidarity and bringing quotas to the party.
He said: “It is now “progressive” to think and act in terms of the group; to require people to conform to an imposed group identity; to mobilise support along racial lines; to assume that people can only be represented by others of the same colour or gender
“To employ binary formulations like ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ in the manner of ‘four legs are good, two legs are bad’; and to silence dissenting voices by brow-beating them into submission.”
This will not be the first time the party has had to grapple with the race issue. In 2013, when the black caucus was formed at issue were divisions over whether the party should support measures to correct historical imbalances such as affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
While Maimane, in an interview with The Star, downplayed the intensity of the diversity battle he emphasised that he wanted to ensure that the DA was truly transformed by the time he steps down as its leader.
“It is our offer to South Africa that we are the most diverse party, and we want to build on that. If we make this offer it means that we will not only be attractive to more people, but we will be demonstrating to the people of South Africa that in future we do not want a DA that represents one race,” Maimane said.
He said he was too conflicted to comment on the extension of the time of his term, as it would be seen as self-serving. But The Star understands that he is backing it.
Some black leaders opposing the diversity clause include the DA’s Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela and Gauteng leader John Moodey.
Madikizela said the party’s internal democracy allowed it to be transformed without needing the clause. “Anyone who claims the party is not diverse and that it is not committed to transformation is disingenuous.
“Our internal systems that we have put in place are working to achieve the diversity we need.
“Diversity is not about the substitution of every white person with a black one.
“It is about striking a balance and ensuring that we are a party reflecting the country’s demographics,” Madikizela said.
Moodey said the DA had managed to transform itself without the clause over the years. Moodey and Gana are opposed to the extension of the length of the term of the office for the leader of the DA.
Most of the party’s leaders who backed the move said elections were costly and that they distracted the party from focusing on winning the elections.
The DA’s chief whip John Steenhuisen is also opposed to the proposal, saying it was aimed at centralising power and making the leader unaccountable.