Cape Town - 131124 - The Democratic Alliance held a press conference today at the Artscape conference facility regarding the DA Federal Council that met this weekend to reach agreement on the DA’s policy offer for the 2014 election. Pictured: From left: Premier Helen Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille. REPORTER: MARIANNE MERTEN. PICTURE: WILLEM LAW.

Cape Town -

Race was a “legitimate proxy” for redressing the legacy of apartheid, the DA has agreed, but it remained opposed to racial quota-based employment equity and empowerment.

Instead, the emphasis should be on economic inclusion through diversity and incentives to achieve black advancement in a growing economy which would sustain job creation, the DA said at the conclusion of its weekend policy gathering on Sunday.

The decision to have race as a proxy for disadvantage was welcomed by at least three black DA public representatives, who indicated their relief and stressed the importance of the party having come to a unified position on this to remove any “vague talk”.

“We believe that race and disadvantage are not necessarily the same. But we believe that a significant correlation between race and disadvantage remains today,” said DA leader Helen Zille, adding the state had no right to classify people according to their race, but that it was up to people themselves. “We reject racial quotas in favour of programmes that actively promote black advancement by extending opportunities.”

Redress measures would be a “transitional measure” to be regularly reviewed to ensure the measure of disadvantage was still valid. Asked how long such a transition would last, Zille said it depended on who was in power. “If the DA is in power, it will happen quite quickly… I estimate in one generation,” she said, adding it was unlikely to come about where the ANC remained in power.

The policy meeting agreed on key messages to the electorate, including:

* Broad-based black economic empowerment must benefit all, not just a few politically-connected individuals.

* Black advancement benefits for everyone.

Zille was quite unapologetic about this: “If any South African doesn’t particularly like that, there are many other parties to choose from.”

However, the public stance taken at the end of the policy gathering appears to, in many ways, have shifted the original approach set out in the economic inclusion green paper tabled for discussion.

“Our approach to empowerment will help overcome the legacy of race-based exclusion without entrenching ‘race’ as the determining factor of our future as we build an open, opportunity society for all,” states the policy document seen by the Cape Argus last week.

Race is cited throughout in inverted commas amid statements such as “exclusion was often premised on racial classification”.

On Sunday, Zille moved to downplay any robust or heated engagement.

“There wasn’t any division or racial polarisation,” she said.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said that acknowledging race as a proxy for disadvantage was one of the important outcomes of the policy discussions as race in South Africa remained a fundamental indicator of one’s opportunities in life.

Not to do so would be hurtful, but to just address this without redress in the form of economic inclusion would be inadequate, she added.

The decision to acknowledge race as proxy for disadvantage was welcomed by black DA public representatives the Cape Argus spoke to.

One said it was an important step for the party to recognise that disadvantage was race-based in South Africa. This would make it easier for black party members as it sent the message that even when one joined the DA, it was not a case of suddenly having to become a different person – a reference to the much repeated criticism by the ANC.

Another black DA public representative welcomed the party’s position as “something very clear, instead of generalising”, and “honest”.

“I’m very comfortable we don’t talk vague and ambiguous information. It is now clear,” the representative said.

The weekend meeting of the extended federal council, leaders from all DA national structures – including the DA Youth – and provinces alongside MPs and their provincial and council counterparts, discussed a total of 20 policy papers.

It came in the wake of a furore over DA MPs’ initial support for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, which was heavily criticised by, among others, former DA leader Tony Leon and the SA Institute for Race Relations.

Zille reprimanded her parliamentary caucus and, following the heated meeting, the labour spokespeople were shifted from the portfolio. DA MPs voted against the draft law in the National Council of Provinces last week.

Mazibuko said the matter of supporting the bill was closed. What remained now was to reform caucus management structures to ensure smoother processing of bills and to take up the fight against the “dumping of bills at Parliament” when it was on a tight, pre-election schedule.

Political Bureau