The DA may be Many Things, but ‘Liberal’ it is Not
The Democratic Alliance, in its many previous forms, has a rich history of opposing Afrikaner national socialism and its desire to prop up one ethnic group over all the rest. Jan Smuts’ United Party in the 1940s was already highly skeptical of the concept of ‘Grand Apartheid’ and sought a more moderate (but still unacceptable by humanitarian standards) approach to South Africa’s apparent racial dilemmas. The United Party then experienced various splits: there was a Progressive Party, a Liberal Party, a Progressive Reform Party, a Progressive Federal Party, an Independent Party, a Democratic Party, and finally, the Democratic Alliance.
For most of its history the DA was a white party, not because it wanted to be, but because by law, it had to be. It fought against this racist policy and lobbied for a constitution whereunder the people of South Africa would be treated equally by the law, with equal liberty. These historical parties were liberal parties, because what distinguished them from the National Party on the one hand and the Communists on the other, was their belief in property rights. Whereas the Nationalists instituted a system without a constitution where property rights would always be debatable, and the Communists desired a system where property rights would never exist, the liberals believed that the liberation of black South Africans was found in their ability to own themselves, and own the rewards of their productivity.
With the coming into being of a justiciable Constitution in 1996 wherein property rights are more protected than they have ever been in the history of South Africa, the liberals made some bad decisions. With the blatant in-your-face corruption of the ruling party, they had a new cause to champion. A new cause which saw them eventually abandon all their principles in pursuit of votes. One might say pursing votes is a logical thing to do in a democracy – but that must always be supported by offering an alternative to the status quo. The liberals did this well in the past. In the present, they simply offer ‘no corruption’. They offer ‘effective’ administration and a ‘responsive’ government. None of these things are principled values for a free society.
When a banner with the text ‘Zuma Must Fall’ went up in Cape Town – the major metropolitan area governed by the ‘liberal’ Democratic Alliance – late last week, the city government responded promptly by declaring it illegal and in contravention with the Outdoor Advertising and Signage Bylaw and national legislation. Because no application for the banner was received by the city, the matter was referred for prosecution. The city government, not beating around the bush, admitted immediately that the banner was “erected by a private party on private property.” For the liberal, this is where the inquiry ends. Unless damage has been caused to non-consenting parties, the government has no right to involve itself in a matter of expression, regardless of the technical requirements of a patently unjust law.
But the Democratic Alliance-run Cape Town did not stop the inquiry nor did they respond in the kind of language one might expect from a liberal party: “The government notes the erection of the banner however will take no action preceding a complaint of damage to person or property.” They have, on the books, a law that requires permits for privately owned and privately erected banners on property which the city does not own. The banner has since been torn down by ANC supporters.
This is also not the only instance of the DA rejecting its liberal principles. Federal Leader Mmusi Maimane infamously tweeted that he found it sad that in a shopping center, ‘white people’ were shopping, while ‘black people’ were working. It appears the Leader does not consider himself black, for what could he, as a black man, have been doing in the shopping center at that time? I would imagine he was not working. But that aside, in that one tweet Maimane rejected a defining feature of liberalism: individualism. He declared along Apartheidesque racial lines that privileged whites were enjoying themselves in blissful shopping while poor and starving blacks were laboring away for the whites’ benefit. The alternative the DA offers to the ANC and EFF’s racist rhetoric is: absolutely none.
The Democratic Alliance has attempted to erect such a big-tent political coalition that it has no values that form its bedrock anymore. It is no longer the representative of South African liberalism and certainly not any kind of representative of individualism. This is an important thing to remember by voters when they are to make the little cross next to the name of their preferred political party. I am an avid proponent of voting, even as a libertarian. I am not ashamed to admit that the lesser of two evils is most certainly preferable to the greater of the two. But the Democratic Alliance no longer enjoys my moral support, and I will set it aside the moment I feel another party – no matter the size – has the principled courage to pick up the extinguished torch of liberty and once more try to spark the flame.