The Ideological Inadequacy of the Democratic Alliance

It is no secret that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has been sliding to the left for a long time. Some will point to Helen Zille’s time as Leader introducing identity politics to the party, which is a core feature of everything on the left. I can understand this, though, as the DA was and still is desperately trying to attract more black voters, which are imperative to any hope of being national government. I only ask at what cost of the DA’s soul is this continued policy in the best interests of South Africa.

I became an active voter in 2014 with my first election. I voted for the DA on provincial and national ballots. I also voted for the DA on the mayoral and ward councilor ballots in 2016. I will not be voting for the DA on the 2019 ballots. My days of defending the DA as a party being ‘our best hope’, ended in 2017. I was a begrudging supporter a few months after the 2016 elections, and outright dropped the party in early 2017.

What changed? Two things: me, and the DA.

I changed in that I became more in tune with what classical liberalism actually was, and the DA started doing things only short of leaps to the left. I realised that the DA was starting to embody more and more socialist tendencies, despite such movement for a long time, albeit gradual. Mmusi Maimane has been unwelcomely bold in this regard.

The clarion call that sounded for me was when Maimane suggested a wealth tax to create his ‘sovereign wealth fund’ that could be used in times of emergencies. As a student who invests and speculates spare cash, this was not something I wanted to hear. As a student who one day dreams of owning a nice house and car, this was not something I wanted to hear. As a student who has watched his parents struggle along for fourteen long years with their small business and waiting to be able to claim their retirement annuity, this is not something I wanted to hear.

What I was hearing, was the equivalent of Maimane saying:

“Some people are wealthier than others. We must punish them… because they have money we need.”

The argument of “helping the poor” and all that rhetoric doesn’t fly anymore. He saw that the government needs money, and so he decided to attack the very people that are literally the only ones keeping this country afloat: the middle class and businessmen. Struggling and prosperous alike. It does not matter that he changed his stance after some backlash. He showed his true colours. He knows who he needs to sell down the river to make the DA’s government ambitions happen through the selling of the DA’s policies. This is the ideological dilemma of the DA.

The DA was once a liberal party, but in the continuous move to the left, it has lost its competitive advantage. It is now competing with the ANC directly, using the same ideology – socialism – while paying lip service to liberal aspects. I do not believe that it can win this game, nor do I hope that it can win the game. I want it to lose, and lose horribly. We do not need an ANC 2.0.

The selling point of the DA since Maimane entered has been “Look at the ANC’s corruption!”. Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious. We know this. Everyone can see this. The ANC was getting votes because of its brand, not because of a belief in Jacob Zuma. Zuma is temporary, and the ANC is forever… kind of… not really. As we now see, the ANC under Ramaphosa is just about ready to push Zuma into a meatgrinder. What will the DA campaign on when the corruption in the ANC is cleaned out, regardless of how long the process will take, and regardless of how far it goes before degenerating again? Not ideology, that is for sure.

The Cape water crisis is another illustration of DA shortcomings, because all we hear is blame-shifting. Yes, we all know that national government is uselessly inept, and this has been the case for over a decade. Do you mean to tell me the DA waited for this disaster for over thirteen years, while their backup plan only included fixing water leaks and blaming forces we already knew about, when the disaster hit?

Why wasn’t the City putting money aside since 2006, and the Province since 2009, for desalination? Oh, wait, they were boasting about ploughing “60-70% of the budget into poor areas”. I can understand the issue of the budget, and how local government is not obligated at all to do the job of national government. However, when the very basis of effective civil infrastructure is under threat, do we just wait until the 11th hour before deciding to recognize what we already knew years before, and that being that national government is not going to help us, especially under Zuma?

The complete and utter non-existence of the DA even hinting at maybe we should privatise water production, and subsidise the poor, is another alarm that the DA is slipping away from the core aspects of the ideology of the party: the market and private enterprise. They railed against Eskom for such a long time and how it should be privatized by capitalizing on the devastating load shedding. But water boards? Not a peep. This is but one shortcoming, and the most glaringly obvious one at that.

If the DA is to restore confidence in itself and its very reason for existence, it needs to be more vocal about a lot more than corruption. It needs to be an alternative to the ANC, and not a substitute. Off the top of my head, these are some things that the DA either already espouses, or, in my opinion, should:

  • Tax cuts and tax code simplifications, and not making up for the cuts with wealth taxes and levies squeezed in on the side.
  • Corporate tax cut. At 28%, we nearly matched the United States’ 35% rate, which has since been slashed to 21% under Trump’s tax reform. The effects of Trump’s signature legislative move thus far has had immediate ramifications on US industry and manufacturing.
  • Killing and muzzling government agencies not constitutionally essential, as well as regulation slashing. Trump made a policy stating that every new regulation needs the repeal of two existing regulations. The result? The Trump administration has slashed more regulations than the Reagan administration could ever dream of, and US businesses are loving it.
  • Parastatal privatization. Divide Eskom and Transnet into multiple entities per province and sell them all. Get rid of South African Airways. Sell off Armscor and Denel. Privatise the water boards, and subsidise poor communities for water supply. Privatise all waste collection. Privatise the highway networks (adequate tax cuts and changes to the fuel taxes should mean people are happy to pay tolls).
  • Education reform. Change the curriculum, and consider school vouchers rather than blanket public funding, while maintaining some state schools.
  • Police reform. Devolve the SA Police Service (SAPS) fully to the provincial level and abolish the national structures completely. Cut the budget for the SAPS in the metros completely, and instead direct the savings to metro police in those metros. Grant powers of investigation to metro police. Abolish provincial traffic services, and use the SAPS for rural and highway patrol functions. Let municipalities decide if they want one law enforcement body, or multiple.
  • Firearm reform. Abolish the Central Firearms Registry and Firearms Control Act with their billion-rand operational tag. Redirect SAPS resources used here to crime prevention, and not policing law-abiding citizens.
  • Healthcare reform. Experiment with voucher programs in certain regions spanning metros and rural areas.
  • Border control. Create an immigration authority limited by statute in size and scope of function.
  • Election reform. The DA has chirped about this before, then says nothing for years at a time.

On election reform I am especially disappointed at the efforts taken to change the system we currently use.

Representatives should have to go to the voters and battle against other candidates from both within and outside their own party, with the voters choosing who they want. Not the party sending someone for us to vote for on a party logo. The ANC has abused their constituents like this. The DA has not necessarily done the same from what I can see, however, the representative is ultimately beholden to the party.

Current policies do not encourage deep engagement with the political process. Rather a candidate is battled and picked from within the party and trotted out to voters for a rubber stamp. Parliament has a list of party candidates waiting their turn, whereas in the US, for example, the only list is at the ballot box. The candidates in SA seldom, if ever, challenge the party line on things publicly. The US is bit of a political war zone, because representatives are sometimes mandated to go against and challenge party lines, and if they do not, they get voted out and fired.

These are just some examples, and the DA does hint at some of these, but has been so weak on promoting them that I have absolutely no faith such actions would materialise should they control government. Their railing against Zuma has drowned out their voices on most other matters.

When it comes to rising taxes under Zuma, we hear a little whisper from the shadow finance minister about tax reform, then not a squeak until the next budget speech. Trump was extremely aggressive and vocal on his economic and tax reform plans and nothing short of plastering them in front of the media to cover as part of his agenda setting. The DA does not match up in this regard.

Now that Zuma’s exit is increasingly likely, I hope and pray that the DA finally realises that they are not wearing enough (if any) clothes, and start making strong attempts to sell a liberal message, because as of writing, I and my family will not be voting for them again.

Featured image: Democratic Alliance Flickr

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan is a volunteer writer and researcher for Gun Owners South Africa, regularly working to further firearms rights in South Africa. He holds a BA inInternational Studies, and is studying a postgraduate LLB at the University of Stellenbosch.

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