If there is a central theme that the DA should take from the events between the general election and the resignation of Herman Mashaba, then it is time for both of them to grow up.
The DA in the last year or two went from own goal to another when their message moved from a political party that governs well, to a political party that is trying to be an ANC-lite. Many South African voters, including myself, felt disillusioned with the political establishment. I stayed home on Election Day. My view was that the 800km travel between the South of France and the South Africa embassy in Paris just did not seem worth my time or money to vote for a political cause that I did not truly believe in.
I was not alone, because the 2019 elections was the first time that more South Africans stayed home than those who voted. South Africans threw their politicians a big toffee and if my opinion is worth anything then I hope that now they are going to listen.
Voter abstinence is often the only tool to tell political leaders that their visions have gone haywire. The DA should ask themselves why despite the scandals of Zuma, the maladministration and the obvious crookery in the ANC – we do not see ourselves represented by the opposition party. The Mashaba humiliation should also bring an opportunity to learn.
What South Africa’s political parties get wrong about its voters is that politics is fortunately not everything in our lives and that we do not need them as much as they think that we do. Voters are tired of running after cult-like political causes. South Africans are very skeptical of politicians who believe that they are wise enough to run to begin to understand our lives. I am personally tired of this unending vision of unity – it is shallow and means very little in practice. The role of a political party should be to run a sensible administration and not tell their voters how to engage with people of other races and cultures.
The DA’s story line was pretty much the same old meta-narrative that the ANC used since 1994. The party’s sales clerks were trying to sell their own brand of liberation theology to the public, while its voters did not know how to tell them enough and please stop. The endless SMSs and the vague platitudes such as the message of ‘one nation, one future’ is an insult to any intelligent voter.
To top it off the party went further when their childish fights with the ANC ran amok in the press and on social media. Are we really to believe that the DA is now blacker than the ANC, the first to get a gold medal in the Oppression Olympics or a hug from Nelson Mandela? The basics of the opposition should be that the race of the leader does not matter, it is the ideas of the leader that is important.
The best ironic example of this should be Herman Mashaba.
The former chair of the FMF was the one individual whose political views I aligned with most, before he became the mayor of Johannesburg. I thought that finally we have a politician who understands that poverty in South Africa is a direct result of black South Africans having barely any legal identity and no private property rights. Mashaba had a consistent history of condemning race based politics on principle and his pro-free market stance made me see him as a politician that could best move South Africa further. His business history was an example of a self-made man who did not get rich of the back of government tenders. He had a history of being kind to all races and numerously thanked his business partner Johan Kriel for giving him the benefit of the doubt as a young black entrepreneur. Mashaba understood race and cooperation better than his party did.
The DA should least admit that he did achieve a lot in his first few years as Mayor. Within the few months of his administration, he started handling out title deeds to the poorest people in the city and slowly the streets began to get clean. Mashaba understood probably better than the DA that the recipe to run a good administration in Cape Town is not going to work in a far more complex Johannesburg. Mashaba knew that he had to compromise with them to get policies implemented. What Mashaba got wrong was that he should not be the EFF. The DA should have called him to account for this without making a large spat out in the public. It took one letter from the IRR’s Herman Pretorius to let the whole house of cards fall apart.
Mashaba initial reign was a short-lived utopia. The DA could not control him, because he eventually ended up dining with Julius Malema and started walking with his hand in the EFF’s bladder. The ANC even called him the EFF’s mayor. When called out for this by his own party and the public of large. Mashaba started compromising his own principles and I suspect that he was not sincere in the convictions that followed. He wanted to keep the coalition together, but at the point of not standing up for what he actually believed in.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”- Friedrich Nietzsche
Before we knew it, the libertarian minded politician was all of a sudden opposed to immigration and falling back on race bating arguments. He showed a remarkable ignorance and xenophobia. Most South Africans are rightfully opposed to undocumented illegal immigrants, but comparing them to filth and raiding their shops is a step to far for any decent person. Mashaba’s response to the critiques was even more shocking. He pulled the race card.
To blame someone of racism is always easy. It has become the ultimate childish tool for a politician to avoid any kind of responsibility and accountability. Herman Mashaba understood this very well. The public was suffering a déjà vue from the Mbeki era where each obvious criticism is a racist comment. Time will tell if Mashaba truly felt undermined by the DA, because Herman Mashaba’s days certainly are not numbered. He is a far too ambitious politician go away from an event such as this. Mashaba is going to want to prove himself again. Beware of the kick of the dying horse.
The last point to make is that we should not rub of the accusation of racism in the DA –it is the obvious elephant in the room. There is a genuine concern among black politicians in the DA that their white counterparts are undermining them. That they are being used for window-dressing and not being part of the decision making process. Many South Africans see Helen Zille’s latest interference in the DA as a sign that she fundamentally mistrusts the judgement of her black colleagues. Black South Africans do not care about her struggle history – and neither do I. the next few months if she does not also follow fall on the weight of her own arrogance.