Helen Zille apologises for her controversial tweets on colonialism, during a press conference with DA leader Mmusi Maimane in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Picture: Getrude Makhafola/ANA
DA leader’s understanding of continent’s state of affairs adds to his merits, writes Molifi Tshabalala

THERE is a view that some elements of the oppressor exist in the oppressed. This holds true if the oppressed conquer the oppressor and not only inherit his or her system, but also sustain it.

This analogises the DA versus Western Cape premier and its former leader Helen Zille, following her controversial tweet that not every aspect of colonialism was bad.

Although her argument holds some truth (in that, for example, upon its accession to power, the ANC inherited and sustains some aspects of the colonialist system), black people at large felt her tweet was contemptuous of the indescribable pain suffered by their forefathers under colonialism, and called on DA leader Mmusi Maimane - not the party - to fire her as premier.

This is a mistake often, if not at all times, made by black people. That is, delegating a collective responsibility of fighting racism and its subtle forms within white establishments to their fellow blacks in the upper echelons. Not long ago, a group of black professionals staged a walkout after Absa, a white establishment, had overlooked Phakamani Hadebe for an executive position in favour of his white counterpart.

With Hadebe at the helm of the earmarked position, this group of black professionals had hoped he would transform Absa, not them as the collective.

With this mentality, it is easy for white establishments to placate black anger by merely appointing black people to head executive positions, without the power to make sweeping decisions.

In most cases, this happens when a white establishment has suffered reputational damage over something that resulted in the black anger and wants to do damage control.

For example, following a public outcry over four white students who had fed black cleaners urinated food, the University of Free State (UFS) appointed Professor Jonathan Jansen as its first black vice-chancellor to placate the black anger under the pretext of transformation.

In his inauguration speech, Jansen announced he would welcome the four students at the university to continue with their studies and offered the poor black cleaners financial reparation.

Jansen equated a crime against humanity suffered by the poor black cleaners to a monetary value.

Yet the same university, under his vice-chancellorship, expelled the poor students who could not pay their fees, despite their outstanding academic performance. Their only crime was poverty.

Essentially, nothing much changed at UFS under Jansen, if anything, as far as racism is concerned. UFS remains largely a white establishment and by extension a colonial vestige. Incidentally, more than two decades into a post-colonial order, there is no African university in South Africa.

In UFS, University of Pretoria and other white universities, classified as the public universities, the post-colonial order has been inherited and sustains them. These institutions still offer a colonialist curriculum.

They are examples of the oppressor-oppressed phenomenon.

The same oppressor-oppressed practice is happening at Lonmin. Following the Marikana massacre, which happened with a white chief executive at the helm, the company appointed a black chief executive, Ben Magara, to placate black anger under the pretext of transformation.

Not much is said about the black exploitation by the company that led to the massacre. I doubt much has changed under Magara at Lonmin insofar as black exploitation is concerned.

The DA is an exemplar of the white establishment, and Maimane cannot transform it alone. Racism is a collective responsibility.

Some people, including the ANC, which has more legislative power to deal with racism in the white establishment than Maimane, reduced Zille’s saga to her versus him.

They went as far as questioning who is in charge of the DA, either Zille or him. In their world, by firing Zille, Maimane would have proved himself as the one in charge, even if it meant tearing the party apart.

Zille, as the former DA leader, still commands overwhelming admiration and support inside and outside the party, especially from the white constituency.

More so, considering that some people approached her to form her own party. By limiting Zille’s role to government, the DA has asserted Maimane as party leader and found a middle ground.

Incidentally, the Zille matter exposed the EFF as no alternative to the ANC and the DA, for a simple reason. It cannot diversify itself on ideological and racial fronts. Disgruntled DA members could not consider it as the alternative to the DA because it still pursues old type liberational politics.

As the years go by, the EFF will lose its revolutionary appeal among the black majority, especially if the ANC loses power in 2019, unless it diversifies itself to reach out to non-black voters.

The DA grows because it diversifies itself.

The biggest threat to the EFF is a workers’ party, as considered by the new trade union federation Saftu, unless it reconfigures itself into one or forms a political alliance with a trade union federation, akin to Cosatu and the ANC, to tap into the working class as a revolutionary force.

The Zille matter was a blessing in disguise for Maimane on two fronts. First, it presented him with an opportunity to come out of Zille’s shadow and assert his authority as a leader, as explained. He has passed his first litmus test of leadership.

Second, the matter presented Maimane with an opportunity to declare war on racism within the party.

Taking his cue from Nelson Mandela to present himself as a national unifier, Maimane cannot preach reconciliation on one hand and filter out those with whom he disagrees on the other hand. As a leader, his challenge is to convince them to buy into his vision. In other words, Zille has to be part of his 2019 project.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. File picture: Willem Law/Independent Media

It was, therefore, in the best interests of both parties to find a balancing act following Maimane’s premature announcement that the DA had suspended Zille.

The announcement prejudiced Zille, as DA chairperson James Selfe had served her with a letter to explain why the party should not suspend her. It painted a picture that the party had already found her guilty without following due processes.

Since his election as DA leader, Maimane has proved himself as a leader that South Africa needs post President Jacob Zuma, who EFF deputy president and chief whip Floyd Shivambu described as “a post-colonial disaster” during a motion of no confidence in him in November 2016.

Maimane’s understanding of the state of affairs within the continent, especially the SADC region, as seen by his recent visit to Zambia to support arrested opposition party leader Hakainde Hichilema, and the role that South Africa, as the leader of the continent, should play adds to his merits as a leader that South Africa needs.

The Zille matter was also a blessing in disguise for the DA. It is not immune to factionalism.

The difference between the DA and the ANC is that the former is in co-operative and competitive phases of factionalism, whereas the latter is in degenerative factionalism.

Co-operative factionalism, which centres on racism, and co-operative factionalism, centred on a difference that Maimane wants to take the DA away from, is where he and Zille fundamentally differ.

Meanwhile, degenerative factionalism has partitioned the ANC to a point of decisional stalemates. A typical example in this regard is a motion of no confidence in Zuma that reached a second stalemate last month. Hence, the ANC has technically split in the run-up to its fifth national policy conference and 54th national elective conference.

* Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst

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

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