DA Policy Proposal: Three Great Steps Forward, and a Worry

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Democratic Alliance Logo, DA

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) policy proposal “Values and Principles: Our social contract with the people of South Africa” is historic. Under former leader Mmusi Maimane, debate on race-based policy was shut down aggressively, and Gwen Ngwenya resigned in protest. Ngwenya is now back as the DA’s head of policy and penned a proposal to stand firmly against race as a basis for law. This should spark debate, and introspection.

Under the “Diversity” heading, the following appears.

The value of diversity… lies in its potential to broaden learning, debate and healthy competition. Were it not for the difference of experiences, thoughts, talents and knowledge that people bring, our understanding of the world would be limited, compassionless and without empathy. Each individual is unique and not a racial or gender envoy; thus, diversity is not demographic representivity.

“How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!” Thus Shakespeare explained how that “quintessence of dust”, a person, gets to be more than mere matter: thought. While its political competitors and the mainstream pundits monotonously obsess over phenotypes, Ngwenya’s proposal for the DA is to mind the diversity of minds, quite a thought itself.

At university, I was taught the value of mind-diversity by the example of an elephant. I stand on one side, take a look and declare the elephant is grey all over. You, on the other side, see that it has been daubed with a pink dot. So, you say no, from where I stand this elephant is clearly not all grey, it is also pink. I can adopt your view, and I can verify its demonstrability, by the simple technique of a brief walk. That’s called learning, born from the diversity of minds.

Diversity of thought, when it spurs evidence-based dialogue, is “a piece of work” worth esteeming as magnificently as Shakespeare did.

It is concrete and practical too. For at least a century the economy has been described as an elephant so large that some can see only the trunk, others the tail, others again just a foot. No individual has so rich an experience or so deep a capacity for extrapolation that they will come up with all the economic answers. For the DA to insist on spreading its net wide in search of the best ideas puts a premium on diversity worth the effort.

Still, noble goals are often vaguely expressed. To get concrete, the proposal goes on:

Individuals, when free to make their own decisions, will not be represented in any and every organization, sector, company or level of management according to a pre-determined proportion. The DA therefore opposes race, gender or other quotas. When embraced, diversity acts as a potential bulwark against uniformity of thought and closed thinking. The DA will strive to maximise the potential value of diversity. 

If that were not clear enough the proposal goes further, under the Non-racialism” heading, to spell out the following:

Nonracialism is the rejection of race as a way to categorise and treat people, particularly in legislation. The assumption that one’s “race” represents people who think, feel, or have the same experience of shared events, based on their physical appearance, is false…Nonracialism is therefore a commitment, not just to reject racialism and racism, but to fight for the deconstruction of race, and the reconstruction of a non-racial future. The DA unequivocally stands for non-racialism not multiracialism.

The law is singled out, particularly, as a way of categorizing people by race that the DA will reject, if this proposal is adopted. For a party to reject quotas as well as the more nebulous forms of race-based legislation, and for this to be done by a party which had 4 million+ votes in 2014, would mark a startling break from the addiction to race-based policy that has held this country’s power elites in its fist for over a century.

What, though, can a non-racialist do about our wicked history? The proposal recommends a new take on “redress” in the South African context that marks a potential watershed, if it is adopted. Rebecca Davis’ analysis on the Daily Maverick is headlined “DA releases new vision for party – avoiding any mention of apartheid”, rather an odd title, given that the proposal says the following, which Davis notes herself.

Redress refers to the need to remedy or correct an unfair or unjust situation. Our past is littered with myriad injustices including forced removals, job reservation, detention without trial, disparities in education, racial segregation, and concentration camps. The consequences of these injustices remain, compounded by poor governance, and are reflected in high rates of poverty, unemployment, and general inequality of opportunity. 

Davis supposes the inclusion of “concentration camps” and absence of the word “apartheid” harmonize in a dog-whistled peon for “Afrikaner” apartheid nostalgists. (Davis adds the unfortunate parenthetical remark that Afrikaners cannot be people of colour). Yet from this side of the elephant I see a very bright mark missed in her analysis.

I see in Ngwenya’s proposed sense of redress a list of means by which the apartheid state oppressed people, followed by apartheid’s self-proclaimed excuse, and then a list of the injustices that resulted.

The danger of hating “apartheid” under a blinding white label, as Davis would prefer, is that you might find yourself espousing apartheid’s very own means of oppression – job reservation has long been our law, forced removals soon to join, detention without trial would be the next step – because your conception of the root problem shifts from oppression to “whiteness”. Spite the white, even by cutting off one’s own nose … that is certainly one way to “redress” apartheid.

Another way to go about redress is to ascertain its means and consequences, then make whole those unjust consequences by desisting oppressive means of government.

The white Afrikaner nationalist project took the former route. Its champions regularly insisted that apartheid was a form of redress for the injustices suffered under the British boot in those concentration camps, and earlier war crimes. Mythologizing the white Afrikaner as an eternal victim, exposed to the ravages of races black and white that would rape, loot and slaughter all who dared venture outside the safe-space laager while demonizing “puppets” like Smuts and Naude as traitors to the victimized volk – this was the core of the apartheid project.

At the time, the IRR and luminaries like Laurence Gandar and George Palmer would point out to a die-hard white Afrikaaner nationalist that apartheid was not only inhumane but also imprudent, cutting off the whites’ nose to spite black faces by shrinking the market, alienating trading partners, repressing skills development and corrupting the rule of law. The answer would as often as not come in the form of painful liturgies about all the sufferings of the Afrikaner volk followed by the vitriolic how dare you call us oppressors when we are truly victims of historic injustice and thus entitled, as if might is right?

Every race nationalist project in history has begun from the premise that “we the people” are “victims” of some ultimate evil and thus entitled to oppress, segregate and brutalize our way back up to where “we” were. It works time and again. Redress for past wrongs is the most energizing call to action this side of the missing link, making it singularly dangerous too.

By placing the false raison d’etre for apartheid at the end of the list of apartheid’s means of oppression and before its gut-wrenching consequences, Ngwenya does not woo apartheid nostalgics so much as point to one of “Grand Apartheid’s” sick travesties. Rather than rise above the techniques of oppression suffered by those women and children, the Nats disgraced the memory of the fallen by turning them into an excuse to oppress once more.

Today, the president of South Africa aims to redress the grating of property rights that started in 1913 (to which the UK consented partly as a form of “redress” for its own “scorched earth” policy) by grating property rights all over again. If redress for apartheid means spite the white, Ramaphosa is going about it perfectly, by cutting off the nose of black property owners and property hopefuls too, yoking all property to his own discretion.

Only Ngwenya’s proposed sense of redress harnesses the ultimate call to action within the sobering limits of reason. She reasons what it would mean to enact redress by abandoning the tried and tested catastrophe of race-based social engineering.

Only Ngwenya’s proposed sense of redress connects love for the South African reconciliatory project with caution against the consolidation of victimhood into a shared excuse for more boot on the face.

Only Ngwenya’s proposed form of redress would break the century-long cycle in this country that, from one generation to the next, viciously warps redress into revenge.

Redress is a commitment to reconciliation and to ensuring that inequality of opportunity, which has been the hallmark of our past, is not a feature of the present or the future. Policies which tackle inequality of opportunity – including interventions in education, healthcare, the economy, and safety and security – will always be central pillars of our programme of action. 

Redress as good governance – will the party adopt this? People riding the gravy train would rather rebrand South Africa and incrementally adopt apartheid’s more profoundly oppressive means of race-engineering as long as there is a toot left. Will the DA dare to drive hope in a new way?

That is a matter of inner-party politics. Until the policy conference to decide that, a word of warning.

Ngwenya should have mentioned that one of the techniques of oppression was denying people the vote. This is key to mention because it was apartheid’s foremost mechanism of oppression and because the vote is the most undervalued thing in this country right now. The vote is power. The vote is the power to change.

Another omission worth nothing: In its explanation of the basic “values and principles” that will undergird its economic policy the proposal holds that a properly run economy

“is not one where there is no government intervention at all. Left entirely on their own, participants who enjoy market dominance can engage in behaviour which keeps out smaller participants and competition. Alternatively, participants can collude to fix prices with one another to the detriment of the consumer”.

This is misleading because it creates the impression that there is first a free market with “no government intervention at all” and only after comes government intervention to stop greedy oligarchs from luxuriating in super-economic profits. Peter Bruce concludes from this section that Ngwenya wants “no free market”, which Bruce considers to be very clever indeed.

According to Philip Pettit, Princeton’s leading political scientist, this free-market-first-and-government-intervention-after view is a misleading delusion typical of complacent analysts in the first world.

A free market is a systematic coordination of violence. It is government “intervention” from the start. You might not see that when you cruise the shopping mall, but you will notice it promptly if you try to take a phone from Vodacom without paying. The police (ideally) will come to sort you out and make the market free again.

Not only is the rule of law and, downstream of that, law and order (the police, prisons, magistrates and lawyers) the basic precondition of a robustly free market, but the system of titling assets is fundamental too. Without the system of titling the banking sector would be medieval.

Ngwenya leads you to believe “left entirely on their own” big banks would collude to fix prices. But “left entirely on their own” banks would have nothing to do, for their entire business depends on people with title deeds and bonds and ZAR money and contracts with courts and police to enforce them. In the first world, people forget that “left entirely on their own” there would be no business but the private security business, but in South Africa we really should know better.

At least 17 million people live on untitled land. The police are, according to the Institute of Security Studies, the least trusted institution in the country. Flagrantly inept magistrates are protected and emboldened. The president wants to take pensioners’ life savings and put the value of all property in his own discretion. The Rule of Law is under open attack.

Here the state needs to intervene, as everywhere, from the ground up, making the market free by jailing hijackers and house robbers, imprisoning corrupt oligarchs and looting politicians, and by securing titled property rights for all. This is not only a fundamental “principle and value” of free (social) market economics. It is also the opposite of what the Economic Freedom Fighters and African National Congress espouse.

We are being driven into an existential property rights crisis while Peter Bruce and company wonder what all the fuss is about. The DA should not be lured into his confusion of the “free market” with the free-to-bribe cop-shop.

Instead the DA needs to be clear – a free market is one where no one is free to take anyone else’s stuff, by hook or by crook, by coercion or deceit. The DA needs to be clear enough that no one like Bruce can say it says “no” to the “free market” and yes to more of the same.

And finally, a free market depends on money, another “intervention” that comes before oligopolies get big enough to price-fix, not after. Everywhere that it works, having money requires a central bank that protects the value of the sovereign against opportunistic politicians. On the integrity of the Rand the DA’s proposed “values and principles” are quiet.

Lesetja Kganyago is the person of the year for 2019 because of his fearless defence of the sovereign and his willingness to identify race nationalism as one of its key enemies and his profound understanding of the free market’s dependence on good governance. If Ngwenya wants to rise to such heights she would do well to spell out the need for a clean and credible state to protect the free market from thieves and looters, whether they come in suits or balaclavas, whether they come from the JSE or the Union Buildings, plain and simple. Perhaps that is what we can hope for from the upcoming policy proposals on Economic Justice.

Gabriel Crouse is a writer and analyst at the Institute of Race Relations. Go to https://irr.org.za/

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