Within hours of the State of the Nation Address by President Jacob Zuma, much public commentary lambasted the fact that it was the same old recycled notes of economic promises. While there was a proliferation of theatrical-yet-sobbing moments in our Parliament on that evening, perhaps we need to rewind just a bit and look at the missed opportunity by pundits to look at the DA’s brand – which might now reach its peak of riding on the back of disgruntlement with the ANC.
The DA in the Councils and Parliament
Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, captured strategy beautifully when he said:
“… the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact, to shatter and destroy it is not so good […] hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence, [it] consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting […], without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.”
The DA epitomises this attack by stratagem. Amidst the orchestrated disruptions in the Tshwane Council chambers late last year, the DA demonstrated maturity and a high degree of emotional intelligence — the DA caucus resumed the sitting the very same until late hours by continuing with Council’s business.
During the SONA last week, the DA’s Chief Whip asked for a moment of silence in honour of the Esidimeni 94, the Speaker of Parliament, however, showed disdain for this request. The ANC, in other words, lost an opportunity to disempower the DA and again show remorse for the calamity of our poor health system under the current government. It is not like the Speaker of the Parliament was alone in this. Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of Small Business Development reportedly tore the flags that were carried by DA parliamentarians as a means of a peaceful remembrance (what comes into your mind as an acquaintance of one of the deceased?).
The DA’s distinct posture in remaining intact as a political party is commendable. It has not, thus far, came to be weakened by internal factionalism and ‘politics-of-the-stomach,’ which is evident within the ANC and other opposition parties. It consistently shows strength. Credit need not to be wholly taken by those within the high ranks, however, as the conduct by party dissents on policy matters, election contests and leadership positions makes the brand appealing to an ordinary voter.
The DA and young black leaders — fairness, freedom & opportunity?
In his book, Could I Vote A? A Voter’s Dilemma, one of the protagonists in this discourse, Eusebius McKaiser commits an ample of pages to a DA MPL who, in his words, has not “been fast-tracked like Mmusi and Lindiwe because they are both middle-class and have learned the grammar of whiteness extremely well”.
McKaiser echoes many sentiments of many ambivalent DA voters, that albeit its good governance practices, the party is still viewed as not inclusive of everyone. Unfortunately, and inevitably, it will take a long time for the DA to escape this narrative, as it remains the product of our history. The DA will need to grow and nurture many of the historically-disadvantaged young leaders, preferably those not in suburbia. This collective of young folks would need to position themselves as morally and intellectually superior than their counterparts in the EFF and ANC. There is a consensus that the global society is very receptive to young leaders and in facts prefers enthusiastic souls to lead them.
There is a clear indication that the DA strives to give passionate and young South African and opportunity to develop their full potential and to take leadership positions in the present and the future through its year-long Young Leaders Programme. Since I am not aware of the criterion used to select the Programme’s cohort of participants, it is suffice to say it is not doing enough to reach out to those in the deep rural areas and who might be disadvantaged — surely the brand should also grow within the rural areas.
Where are other liberal blacks?
In contemporary South African politics, ‘liberalism’ has often come to imply notions of conservatism, racism, and reluctance to weaken whiteness (whatever that means), albeit this has been contested by largely historical evidence. The resurgence of black liberal intellectuals is conspicuous in the DA. Besides Herman Mashaba, who else do we know? If there are ample of them, they are doing an excellent job of playing hide-and-seek.
Under the leadership of Helen Zille, the DA went a thorough metamorphosis with an intention to appeal to the black majority by appropriating language and, at times, behaving illiberally. The DA need not do this. It simply needs to be able to make its brand unique. Bringing change does not mean looking more like the ANC; it means being able to commit to the very same small things that sets one apart from others.
The #LostGeneration speech, a party in government?
Ahead of the President’s State of the Nation Address in Parliament, the DA launched a campaign that was centred around the theme of a ‘Rescue Mission for a Lost Generation’.
Maimane’s speech was bustled with a quote from the African-American author James Baldwin. Make no mistake, the speech lit a sense of hope and offered comprehensive solutions to the challenges that the lost generation is faced with. Often accused of being obsessed with the ANC, Maimane’s speech traversed these claims and provided insight to what an ideal DA government would do. The ANC was mentioned only a few times.
Whatever the case, the DA showed leadership when very few political parties were not engaging. Should the party want to govern, it should not be caught on ‘sins-of-incumbency’. The party is growing fast and will attract all manner of people. Will the future brand of the DA, however, be different to what we are used to?
Author: Kamogelo Mangena is a socio-political activist and a DA Youth Chairperson in Hammanskraal, Gauteng North, and writes in his personal capacity.