In what is a seemingly a faux pas by the former DA leader, Helen Zille, on Twitter, the inexorable attention from pundits, opposition parties and those who opportunistically waved with great glee across cyberspace for an ‘Aha!’ moment to disenfranchise the DA black voter, had a resurgence of doubts for the future of the DA and indeed in the body politic. Such utterances receive a lot of memorial than one can care to recall. But equally so, facts – not skewed personal anecdotes – should inform us that the DA is not a white man’s party nor by any putative standards, are black DA members ‘puppets’ or ‘sell-outs’.
Actions, not tweets, speak louder than words.
It is not as though the question of inclusivity and the perception of the DA was not entertained during all these years. In 2006, a former DA strategist, Ryan Coetzee, compiled a seminal document entitled “Becoming a Party for All the People: A New Approach for the DA”, in it, Coetzee tackles the identity politics set within contemporary South Africa and ways in which the obstacles can be removed to win (black) South Africans.
Zille’s endeavours to grow the party and selling it as more inclusive should not be underestimated. Under her leadership, the DA had a substantial increase in the black voter share. Through its year-long Young Leaders Programme, the DA has attracted and essentialised the skilling and honing of young black leaders, some of which occupy prominent leadership positions both in the party and in government.
As a political correspondent for the Rand Daily Mail, Zille’s tenacity helped uncover the untold story behind the death of Black Consciousness movement leader, Steve Biko, in 1977. Consequently Zille, alongside with her editor, Allister Sparks, were found to be guilty of ‘tendentious reporting’ by the Apartheid government. Her family house in Cape Town was an apparent hideout for ANC veterans such as Mcebisi Skhwatsha, Cameron Dugmore, Nyami Booi and Tony Yengeni during the dark history of our country. Her resistance to apartheid during her time in the Black Sash movement in the 1980s, further accentuated by her endeavours to learn isiXhosa, is anything but an action of a racist.
Amidst the invective that culminate the race debate, in this milieu, Helen Zille should have known better, especially given her prolific recognition and membership to a party which has employed strategies to coalesce South Africans under the banner of non-racialism, albeit met with resistance, grown as one of the strong political parties in the country. At any rate, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The DA’s growth in black townships areas: Ntabankulu ward 4 grew from 0.2% to 45.3% , Umzimvubu ward 23 from 1% to in 2011 to 45% and Tshwane ward 38 in Mamelodi from 7% to 30.6% in the local government elections of 2016. To an ordinary observer of politics, the DA brand is not that of a white madam, and black DA representatives are not stooges as racial politicking adherents like to pontificate. Whether Zille dented the DA’s image is yet to be reflected in 2019 and, indeed, how the party goes about this will be the biggest test for the DA and is learning this the hard way.
Twitter has become a favourable platform for commentators’ and the electorate’s engagement with public faces. More often than not, crassness and frankness occupy the discussions with 140 characters. Twitter compounds this challenge, not only because it favours short bursts of content, but also because it is an emotional medium. Zille is an epitome of this idiosyncrasy.
While the ongoing tweet furore populated the social media space, there were high-pitched chords from the DA’s dissents on questioning the always touted ‘blackness’ of black DA people, one which would inspire a repertoire of essentialists scripts on blackness. From quoting Fanon’s Black Skins, White Masks as a psychoanalysis for black voters to irking trolls on social media, the Black Thought Police had a great deal of suspicions and warning labels for black people who vote for the DA.
The racial essentialism is also manifest in the implicit assumption that Mmusi Maimane is a poster boy who will take no disciplinary measures against his predecessor. This has enabled proponents to show disdain for the leadership of Maimane. While there might be contention on what decision the Federal Legal Commission of the party will take, this need not, and should not, translate into racial chauvinism. What the DA needs now is to show agility to unity and present a better alternative for South Africans in 2019.
We dare not underestimate the future.
Author: Kamogelo Mangena is the DA Youth Chairperson in Hammanskraal, Gauteng and writes in his personal capacity.