The DA must never forget that regardless of its ambitions to govern South Africa, it is an opposition party, with a mandate from its voters to hold the government and the ruling party vigilantly to account. Its clearly defined vision of an Open Opportunity Society for All, and the values which flow from this, should guide its response to every piece of legislation that appears in parliament.
Even after Helen Zille’s very public about-turn on the party’s astonishing support in the National Assembly for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, it is still pertinent to question what on earth were its MPs thinking. How could such an important and dangerous law, one which runs so contrary to the party’s values, be given the thumbs up? Where was the scrutiny – the vigorous interrogation of the Bill’s ramifications, and of its (in)compatibility with the party’s values? Despite the significance of the Bill, and the significance of the party’s support for it, a press statement explaining its support was not provided (until much later). Why the subterfuge? Was the party hoping the public wouldn’t notice its “yes” vote?
And, if they’ve screwed up on this bill, what else are DA MPs supporting that runs counter to the their party’s vision and ideals? Is it too much to expect the DA’s parliamentarians to have a thorough understanding of what the party stands for? That while it strongly values redress, it believes this should not be achieved on the basis of race – that the key criteria for redress should be disadvantage, and not a racial proxy?
The confusion around this legislation is deeply concerning. Several DA MPs have — somewhat incomprehensibly — spoken on record in favour of it. And yet, it should be manifestly clear to the party’s MPs that it is contrary to its values. If they can’t grasp that, how can voters be expected to figure out what on earth the party stands for? If DA public representatives support racialism, they can always join the party defined by it – I’m sure the ANC would be happy to have them.
The DA’s parliamentary caucus should stop taking those who voted them into power for granted. They entered the National Assembly to serve. To scrutinise. To uphold the values which the DA espouses. They are not there to sleepwalk their way to entrenched racialism.
I hope the DA soon realises that while broadening its support is important, basing this growth on a foundation of principle is essential. It’s unfortunate if some of its members believe that the only way to increase black support is to support racial engineering. Indeed, it’s an insult to the very people they are trying to attract.
The DA has long talked about offering voters an alternative. In parliament three weeks ago, it came perilously close to abandoning this ambition entirely. In a bid for power, pragmatism should never erode principle. If it wants to achieve its vision of a South Africa in which reconciliation and redress are achieved, delivery is successful, and diversity is valued, then it is time for the party to not just talk about these values, but for its parliamentary caucus to start living them.