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The DA must cross its own Rubicon

Cape Town - 130914 - Donning a blue beret WC Premier Helen Zille makes her speech from the stage to roughly 1000 people. The DA held a rally at Westridge Gardens Amphitheatre encouraging people to register to vote. PICTURE: THOMAS HOLDER. REPORTER: BIANCA CAPAZORIO

Cape Town - 130914 - Donning a blue beret WC Premier Helen Zille makes her speech from the stage to roughly 1000 people. The DA held a rally at Westridge Gardens Amphitheatre encouraging people to register to vote. PICTURE: THOMAS HOLDER. REPORTER: BIANCA CAPAZORIO

Published Nov 19, 2013

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The DA needs to embrace policies and projects that acknowledge the need to correct racial imbalances, says Max du Preez.

Pretoria - The DA has a task as important as the one of keeping a check on government as the Official Opposition in Parliament: it is the only party now that can help the majority of white voters to become familiar and associate with mainstream black perspectives.

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DA support ranges from conservative and often bigoted former Nats and Afrikaner nationalists, stuck-in-the-mud old white liberal types and loony libertarians to social democrats and genuine progressives.

And then it has a growing number of black members who feel strongly about the continued inequality in society and feel the anger of the marginalised more than their white colleagues.

Like her or not, Helen Zille was more of a change agent than most in our society during the past few years.

She took a stuffy white-dominated political party by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into the New South Africa with her dancing, singing and embracing of struggle symbolism. She and like-minded DA leaders forced the party to venture beyond Rondebosch and Parktown into Khayelitsha and Soweto – one can almost say she tried to Africanise the party.

This was partly because of her own background as a strugglista, partly because she was politically savvy enough to know that an uptight party of mostly white people used to the Westminster-style of politics would never grow beyond a certain point, that it would stagnate unless it could make black South Africans feel comfortable inside the party.

Zille, with the help of some colleagues, was very successful. If the results of the 2009 general election and the 2011 local election are a guide, the DA could attract more than a million black votes in 2014 while it has the support of most in the minority groups.

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Zille’s style brought about a new-look DA. But the new black supporters this attracted brought its own, further transformation. Talented young leaders like Mmusi Maimane and Lindiwe Mazibuko helped to attract other black support, but also brought new dynamics into the party.

The old Nats and the old Progs all welcomed the new growth among black voters, but most of them were clearly not prepared to accept that it would bring with it a new political culture and new thinking. The Nats are still horrified at any suggestion of affirmative action, black economic empowerment or employment equity. The Progs saddled their tired old liberalism horse Don Quixote-like and are fighting any signs of ideological impurity.

At the heart of most of the divisions in the DA lies the concept of non-racialism. Most white DA supporters seem to think that means race should be ignored and made irrelevant. Race denialism. This is not what non-racialism meant in the past, what it means today and what our constitution wants it to mean.

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Non-racialism is a bit like non-sexism. Non-sexism doesn’t mean gender disappears, it means we should strive for a society where gender doesn’t determine one’s worth as a human being or standing in society. Non-racialism means we should endeavour to move towards a society where we see a person’s humanity, personality and talents before we see that person’s skin colour.

We have a long way to go before we can declare that we have become a post-racial society. Right now, there is a thin line between race denialism and apartheid denialism.

The DA should cross the Rubicon and explicitly accept that as long as we’re suffering from the after-effects of colonialism and apartheid and as long as the inequalities along racial lines continue to exist, we should embrace policies and projects that acknowledge the need to correct racial imbalances.

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Ironically, the DA has itself acknowledged the continued importance of race. Mazibuko and Maimane would have taken a lot longer to reach their present senior positions in the party if they were not black – they were fast-tracked at the expense of older, more experienced white leaders because of the need to reflect and further attract black support for the party.

After crossing that Rubicon, the DA should then spend its energies guarding against the abuse or counter-productive implementation of race-based policies like affirmative action, black economic empowerment and employment equity. These should be corrective measures, not a punitive system camouflaging cadre deployment, establishing new hegemonies or undermining excellence.

The senior DA leadership’s role should be to explain and sell this approach to its members from the minority groups. Transformation shouldn’t be seen as a burden to white people, but as a challenge to take on with commitment and energy. It will take guts.

But it has to be done, in the interests of the DA and of South Africa.

* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Pretoria News

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