DA’s Damascus moment
By fstimes On 3 Dec, 2013 At 07:48 AM | Categorized As Columns, Opinion | With 0 Comments

Zille, leader of South Africa's main opposition party DA, gestures during a march in JohannesburgMunene Mwaniki

LIVED reality – be it social, political, economic or even spiritual and everything in between and among and the truth that it predicates – are not things that live high up in some lofty mountain top and only descend to the plains and valleys of daily human existence in the din of the high and silly season of electoral politics.

Lived reality, especially in the plains and valleys of daily human existence, is not something that can conveniently be abandoned and then later returned to as the ebb of the seasons of politics comes and goes.

These truisms notwithstanding, it seems like South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), thinks otherwise.

Going by recent events, it seems like this party that I once characterised as the Cinderella of South African politics especially with regard to how it has grown its support outside its perceived electoral base thinks either lived reality is something that only descends from some lofty mountain top to the plains and valleys of daily human existence during election time or, worse, it is something that can conveniently be returned to at the dictates of electoral seasons.

For as long as we can remember – for those among us who care to – the DA perfected politics of elitism, ostrichism and denialism that obfuscated a fundamental fact in South Africa’s lived reality, namely the primacy of race in virtually all discourses that define us as a people and as a republic.

In doing so, the DA has sought to deny a fact that has been variously stated by several thinkers such as Albert Venter about South Africa.

Writing in 2009, Venter candidly states that “South Africa is a deeply divided society, characterised by ethnic, class, social, race, linguistic and religious cleavages.

“While its social segmentations are not the only grave examples to be found in the modern world, they do create several obstacles for its survival as a liberal democratic state.”

The peculiar rubric that largely underlies South Africa’s tempestuous historical and contemporary cleavages of religion, language, ethnicity and socioeconomic class is race fundamentally because race – as a construct and as a discourse – was harnessed and appropriated by one racial group in the pursuit of political and economic dominance as well as an excuse for massive societal (re)engineering.

Going by history, it is more of a paradox if not hypocrisy that the DA denied the primacy of race in South Africa’s body politic for such a long time because race politics especially skewed to favour white South Africans is integral to the DA’s DNA – no pun intended!

As such, the DA’s politics and polemics built around the ideological monstrosity of “race neutral politics” – which is a completely different animal from “non-racialism” – within the South African space have been at best contrived to smokescreen a deeply and selectively racial but nonetheless pretentious agenda.

As Justice Malala so eloquently documents in an opinion piece posted on timeslive online platform and dated November 19 2013, the DA came into being after “The New National Party, as the party of apartheid jumped into bed with Tony Leon’s DP. At the consummation of this decision in 2000, many of the Nat’s former leaders – men and women who had given orders to maim and kill youngsters in townships through the 1980s – now sat comfortably with Leon and his DP colleagues in the opposition benches in parliament”.

Admittedly, a lot of window dressing has gone on since these not-so-heady days in the DA’s house especially in the facades that face the sunrise that is South Africa’s electoral contests; a window dressing that has seen a sprinkling of faces of colour – befitting the imagery of a magician’s dust – being drawn from the belly of the party’s political magic hat.

It is from this magic hat that the Independent Democrats was drawn from by the DA’s magicians in 2010.

What the DA magicians forgot to do was to colour the rabbit, or get a rabbit of colour at the very least.

Invariably and always on cue, every time they have reached into the belly of their magician’s hat to draw the rabbit, the rabbit that comes out is lily white – a symbol of how little the needle has moved on the DA’s core ideology and policies.

It is against this backdrop that recent pronouncements by the DA on race have to be framed, understood and analysed.

It is reported in the mainstream media that finally the DA took the bend – quite in haste it must be noted – and acknowledged that “there was a significant correlation between race and disadvantage” and that it had finally found its road to ideological and policy Damascus because it “unequivocally professed the need for redress because race is a legitimate proxy for disadvantage”.

One cannot help but sigh and pose: really?

So the DA has finally come to acknowledge what has been a no-brainer for the last 362 years in this part of the world?

What led to this “road to Damascus” moment for the DA?

I think I know the answer.

Actually, I know the answer and will return to this very space the coming week to hit it home!

In the meantime, the DA’s ideological and policy somersault must be called out for what it is: politics of convenience.


  • Dr Munene Mwaniki is a senior lecturer/researcher at the University of the Free State. You can follow him on Twitter @munenemwaniki.



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