As elections approach and the likelihood of coalitions increases, it will be useful to examine the five basic principles according to which the Democratic Alliance is prepared to accept discussions with potential coalition partners. At a recent fund-raising dinner featuring a table of hitherto DA skeptics, party leader John Steenhuisen was asked to announce those.
He did it easily: non-discrimination, respect for the constitution and the rule of law, adherence to the principles of the social market economy, building a capable state and zero tolerance for corruption.
Now, there can be little argument – except for fringe elements like the EFF – about principles such as respect for the constitution and the rule of law.
Likewise, the intolerance of corruption is indisputable.
And building a capable state that seeks to establish—with intense hostility and mistrust of government, within and between government circles, mistrust of oversight bodies and lack of state accountability—structures that build trust and enable building and strengthening government to enable equal higher performance should be on the list of principled priorities.
However, there seems to be some ambiguity separating the DA’s adherence to non-racism from nationalists and those who value race as a proxy for disadvantage, and as such, this aspect requires clear clarification – as does the question of allies for the social market economy.
Hilda Bernstein, founding member of the Federation of South African Women, the first non-racial women’s organization in South Africa, organizer of the 1956 rally, member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP) until 1946 and member of the Johannesburg City Council from 1943 to 1946 (the only communist elected to public office on the basis of a ‘whites only’ vote), said:
“The alternative is to assume that it is something innate, instinctive, a thread that has always been there – and unbreakable. But non-racism is not an intrinsic part of political consciousness… every new generation must study and learn it themselves. It is a breakable thread. It does not arise naturally from life in South Africa, as does African nationalism.
It is this noble, albeit fragile, thread in the face of apartheid government that united South Africans in the past: it fulfilled our democratic consensus in 1994.
You have to be center stage again.
Instead, a large number in the ANC, both the EFF and every one of the smaller ANC-aligned parties seem to have forgotten about non-racism in an ostensible attempt to extend racist intervention, resulting in the clever or unintentional promotion of the interests of a privileged few.
In a stark comparison, non-racism is clearly and unequivocally one of the tenets of DA values and principles.
We cannot undo the past, but as a nation we have a duty to right any wrongs caused by our past, so that all South Africans can benefit equally from their opportunities.
A prosperous future for South Africa can only be ensured when every South African child receives a quality education and when all adults, regardless of race, have sufficient skills and opportunities for dignified employment.
As Kgalema Motlanthi, ANC Member, Member MK, SACP, Kosatu, ANC Vice-President and 3rd President of a Democratic South Africa said in his 2010 address to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation: “When that visionary clause (of the Freedom Charter) which says: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white’, was drafted, it was at the very historical moment that it embodied
“Non-racism is not an abstract philosophical process; it is part of the historical narrative of our struggle for social justice. For this reason, we must not only continue to raise the flag of non-racism, but also constantly improve the definition so that the evolution of the nature of non-racism is infinite.”
With Motlanthe’s defense and warning in mind, it is clear that non-racism as a concept has a rich and contentious history in South African politics.
Fiona Anciano, in her paper, “Non-racial and political parties in post-apartheid South AfricaHe says, “For many, it was an essential feature of the anti-apartheid struggle, uniting a group of forces fighting for a society free of racial discrimination.” In fact, it is a central principle of the South African constitution, and forms an essential part of the country’s “founding provisions”. However, there is widespread disagreement about what this concept entails, both in theory and in practice.
While some have promoted the internal erosion of this “core feature,” the Development Agenda has never been more explicit about its support for the concept as a fundamental principle upon which any alliance is based.
It goes without saying that any party or separatist formation that accepts and adheres to the five basic principles that Steinhausen gave as a precondition for any alliance would be welcome at the table.
The antecedents of this view of non-racism are not new: Helen Zelle recorded in 2011 that “My conception of non-racism approaches each person as a unique individual rather than merely a representative of some kind. No race is a single identity marker and it is clear, given our history, that it is an important identity marker but it is not the only marker of identity…
“The shared experience of racial reality is certainly one identity, but it cannot be seen as an identifying identity imposed upon others… In a free society, people do not have an identity imposed upon them by virtue of racial classification determined by others.”
In the context of a highly unequal society, chiming in with a real need for adequate equity, the DA accepted as early as 2011 that you cannot leave everything to the market and that the state needs to introduce some form of welfare intervention; It needs to provide a reliable role for the state in the development of the economy and help people who cannot find an economic foothold on their own, based on poverty as a measure to ensure that no one is left behind – the basic principles of a social market economy.
Focusing on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals rather than the BEE, this now forms the cornerstone of DA policy and, as such, rejects race as the quintessential test of group identity that requires equity.
In that light, how anyone could argue that the DA would “re-segregate” in the service of and for a party of whites is beyond my headline.
It’s time to put that faded old chestnut to rest and focus on the core tenets of DA’s coalition offering–each one irreplaceable from any rational, principled, and practical point of view. DM