Cape Town - While the Democratic Alliance (DA) considers a raft of new policies on which the party hopes to campaign ahead of next year’s general elections, one of the most contentious policies will be over black economic empowerment.
First the party’s head of policy and MP Gwen Ngwenya announced on Twittter that the DA had ditched broad-based black economic empowerment, which was disputed by several party insiders.
This prompted the party’s federal executive chairperson James Selfe to pen a statement, alongside Ngwenya, that the DA was only seeking ways to “broaden economic inclusion for those that have been previously and deliberately excluded by virtue of race, but also gender and disability, to name but a few”.
“Our goal is to advance the empowerment of disadvantaged South Africans, the majority of whom are black. Therefore, the DA unequivocally supports the empowerment of black South Africans,” read the statement.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said that party believed in redress, that in fact, we must address historical injustices. We’ve got to find a model that ensures that all South Africans...our review of the BBBEE is based on the fact that the ANC’s model has not worked, and we need to find a model that works for more South Africans, not less,” said Maimane.
Asked about whether there were splits in the DA over BBBEE, Maimane was vociferous: “Our (party) constitution is very clear, our constitution states it outright, that we believe in freedom, fairness and opportunity. Any member of the DA subscribes to that constitution”.
Maimane, who was re-elected unopposed as party leader in April would not say whether anyone in the party’s upper echelons were fighting for his ear.
Outside the DA, the voice which has been loudest in calling for the party to scrap its policies on broad-based black economic empowerment has been the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) which also happens to currently employ former DA spin-doctor Gareth van Onselen, and where Ngwenya was until February employed as its chief operating officer.
In an op-ed published on the Politicsweb website, IRR policy fellow John Kane-Berman was scathing of the DA, saying it had failed to capitalise on the ANC’s governance failures by presenting a contrasting alternative to BBBEE.
“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,” Kane-Berman wrote.
IRR chief executive Frans Cronje, asked about its lobbying of the DA, and said the organisation has provided advice to all political parties but admitted that “there is a level of closeness”.
“Gwen was with me for a year before she was poached. The people involved (Van Onselen and Ngwenya) have they changed their positions when they changed their roles? I prefer that they not”.
Cronje said while the impression was that the relationship with his organisation and the DA was close, it was not an accurate description.
“We’ve been harder on the ANC as opposed to the DA,” said Cronje.
He said on economic policy the IRR chose to advocate for fiscal conservative measures, which he says allowed the ANC government introduce generous social grants.
“This stuff is called neo-conservative economics, I think it makes a lot of sense but on social policies (like LGBTIQ) we look totally different than the American Heritage Foundation,” said Cronje of the conservative American think-tank the IRR has often been compared.