Tag Archives: democratic alliance

When the watchdog lost its bark

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.


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RW Johnson has got it wrong

I have always held RW Johnson’s insights in great regard. However, his latest article is simply a personal agenda masquerading as public analysis. It does not reflect well on him or on his status as a political commentator. His suggestion that the DA is becoming untethered from its liberal moorings in its bid to enlarge support is bizarre. Liberalism remains very much the bedrock that the party’s policies and processes are built upon and there is every indication that this will remain so.

I know this because my participation in the DA’s Young Leadership Programme in 2009 gave me the opportunity to observe the party at close quarters. The DAYLP seeks to develop leadership amongst young South Africans, as well as rigorously deepen the participants’ understanding of liberal values and how they apply to the South African context. Expecting Young Leaders to be familiar with both A.C. Grayling’s treatise on liberty, Towards the Light, and Nobel Prize -winning economist Amartya Sen’s extraordinary Development as Freedom is hardly indicative of a party on the verge of being consumed by communalist mayhem.

Across the country there are growing numbers of graduates from this course who are profoundly committed to a liberal vision of South Africa. Many of them now represent the party in legislatures, in city councils or on student leadership bodies at universities. But the DA is not only committed to enlarging the pool of liberal-minded future leaders. The party places enormous emphasis on the constant training and development (both politically and personally) of its public representatives and employees. In addition to workshops and coaching, the party also has an online training course called Umothombo which aims to broaden their knowledge about liberalism and how it applies in SA.

It is disappointing that Johnson appears to believe that, with the exception of Chief Albert Luthuli, being black and being a liberal are somehow mutually exclusive. That is nonsense. The DA’s black members are genuine liberals and leaders, not an politically expedient shade of window-dressing. Johnson trumpets the role that Anglophones have played in providing the DA and its antecedents with intellectual heft and moral muscle. But this is changing: liberalism is no longer confined to the halls of Magdalene College, Oxford, or the drawing rooms of the Cape Town Club (if indeed it ever was). As the DA’s branches grow across the country, staffed by those who genuinely believe in the party’s vision for SA, liberalism in this country is becoming far more pervasive in villages of Limpopo or on the streets of Mitchells Plain than it is in those supposed bastions of the enlightenment.

Of great concern is Johnson’s suggestion that in appealing to black voters, the DA is in danger of embracing a kind of politics which he argues as being typical of the African continent – “tribalism, bossism, warlordism, racial patronage politics”. He appears to see the foregrounding of Lindiwe Mazibuko as part of this problem.

But Mazibuko is no token warlord. Her rise within the party has certainly been meteoric but it is demeaning and unfair to ascribe this to her race and gender. Mazibuko may be young and relatively inexperienced but she has a sparkling intellect, boundless energy and a fearsome work ethic. She also has a charisma: people like her, and they want to be led by her. She is a natural leader: not just confident and eloquent, but also warm and able to empathise. Far from being Zille’s puppet (as her detractors are inclined to depict her), she is forthright and independent-minded.

It is not surprising that a politician with these qualities is likely to stand out from amongst the DA’s parliamentary ranks. Save for a few bright stars, the DA parliamentary party of the post-Leon era has been moribund to say the least. There are one or two headline-grabbers, but most MPs have kept a low profile – lower, even, than in the days when their numbers were far fewer. This state of things hasn’t been helped by Athol Trollip’s lacklustre leadership. I have no doubt that Trollip is a genuine liberal, devoted to building a better South Africa. But he has failed to energise or inspire the DA caucus and his tenure shows he has neither the intellect or the charisma to do so.

The emphasis Johnson places on age and identity within the parliamentary leadership race is disconcerting. In trumpeting the alleged benefits of “maturity”, he does not bother interrogating who is truly the better candidate for the post. Trollip’s age and experience does not make him better able to lead the party in parliament.

Johnson can be rest assured that Anglophones will certainly continue to make a valuable contribution to the DA’s growth, and the future of our country. It is time for him to accept, however, that the face of South African liberalism and, by extension, the DA, is changing. That it is becoming a predominantly black one does not mean the death of liberalism, but rather its acceptance into the South African political mainstream.

This article was first published on Politicsweb. Read RW Johnson’s response here.

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Cape Town: a culture of complacency?

Last week human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie raised a stink about the abysmal state of the toilets in Cape Town’s City Hall. A contractor was hired in April to renovate them. When she requested a progress report last month senior council officials ignored her so she visited the loos herself. She wrote in Business Day last week:

[I] found shockingly that the contractor had gone AWOL, that the toilet windows were wide open during raging winter weather, that tiles were missing, and pigeon droppings were everywhere. While some toilets and basins were installed, others were just lying about. The necessary tiles and equipment were missing. In brief, the place was in a state of disgusting chaos. After much ado, I managed to trace the person in charge, who reassured me the process would be re-advertised and put out to tender. No one can give us a time frame and there is no way of knowing when the toilets will be ready […] The fact is no supervision took place while the contractors were there, and I was the one to discover that they had disappeared.

It didn’t take very long for the council’s media machine to leap into action. In a statement released last Tuesday, it was quick to point out that a R2 million turnaround strategy had commenced two years ago and included:

Repairs to roof leaks; Repairs to the clock, which has also been automated; Electrical reticulation repairs; Repair of the pipe organ; Minor repairs to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra back room area; Rewiring of and repairs to chandelier cables; Replacement of lettering on Main Hall chairs; Painting of the first and second floor walls and ceiling; Sanding and varnishing of Press Room; and, Sanding and varnishing of two rooms on the first floor. The foyer has also been painted and the first set of four toilets is currently being upgraded and modernised.

The council said that it hoped “the City Hall should serve as a fully functional amenity” within three years.

While the City Hall is certainly dilapidated, it is ridiculous that it should take a projected total of five years to restore the building to being “fully functional”. As Kadalie’s column points out, an entire stadium has been built from scratch in less than that time. And quite frankly, it is pathetic that all that has been achieved in two years has been little more than a bit of rewiring and and a spot of sanding and varnishing.

The lack of progress in restoring this civic beauty to its former glory is a disturbing indication that the City of Cape Town has allowed a culture of complacency to creep in. As Kadalie’s story shows, the council’s claims of increased oversight, accountability and efficiency ring hollow in this instance.

Since the coalition that has ruled the city since 2006 came into power, there have undoubtedly been achievements. Finances, which had been in disarray, have been brought under control. Service delivery has tripled. And private-public initiatives have made enormous strides in reducing crime in the CBD and Khayelitsha.

But that is not enough. Cape Town is a city of vast inequality, a cauldron of simmering social problems that include crime, unemployment, excessive migration and a shortage of housing and services. The council would do well to stop resting on its laurels: if these issues are to be effectively dealt with then urgency, innovation and excellence are essential.

One only has to look to the Cape Town Stadium for further evidence that these qualities are sorely lacking. With SAIL Stadefrance abandoning plans to run the stadium for the next thirty years, the facility increasingly resembles a ratepayer-funded white elephant. The consortium calculated that the running costs of the stadium just didn’t make operating it viable (why it took until after the World Cup to figure this out is beyond me).

The council has decided to operate it on its own. This is shortsighted — council officials are not stadium experts: they ought to be running cities, not stadiums. The breakdown in negotations earlier this month between the city and SAIL Stadefrance leads to several questions. Why couldn’t an agreement be reached? And if the issues were completely unresolvable, why has this not been put out to tender again? Why are there no public discussions on how to ensure the stadium is sustainable and relevant for decades to come?

Cape Town may be South Africa’s best run city, but considering the shambolic state of so many of our other municipalities this is hardly something to be content with. If the DA is serious about proving it can offer a more principled and more effective alternative to ANC rule, it needs to redouble its efforts to match rhetoric with action.

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Travelling down the DA’s Country Road

Early last year I complained that the DA’s image was too rich, too old, too white. I wrote, “Clearly brand DA is in need of a major overhaul, a major injection of cool. Its fusty look is rather reminiscent of what Woolworths was like 10 or 15 years ago when people under 30 refused to be seen dead inside a Woolworths store.”

This was having a discernible impact on its support amongst the youth, who found joining the DA was effectively social suicide. “As such,” I said, “its reputedly attractive members are remaining unloved and unlaid — leaving me wondering as to whether alliances (democratic or otherwise) will occur to ensure the reproduction of little Helens, Tonys and Joes in the years to come.”

I noticed that this was despite the DA’s intelligent policies that offered a blueprint to stimulate entrepreneurship, nourish education and tackle crime. And also despite its ranks being filled with bright young things with an alphabet soup of degrees and awards.

Now, like Woolworths, the DA has had a makeover – doubtless earning the gratitude of its younger members for staving off eternal celibacy. The party’s logo was Obamarised. Its leader started tweeting and doing song-and-dance routines to keep drug dealers awake at night. An online social network of DA supporters was created. The party also got major street cred amongst Capetonians because when it was elected in 2006, they finally got a functioning municipality.

But not just was the party prettied, it also developed a sexy sub-brand. The Country Road equivalent – cutting-edge, classy, cool. Welcome to the DA Young Leaders’ Programme. What’s so hot about a youth movement, you might be wondering? Well. This is different. It’s not the veld-and-vlei fandangos of the FF+’s youth league (brownshirts are so 1936). Or the Sandton parties and beer-bottle battles of the ANCYL. Or even the SACP Youth League’s caviar communism – business class flights to cushy conferences, anyone?

No. The DA Young Leaders’ Programme is a rigorous part-time course in leadership. During the programme’s four retreats you’ll meet guest speakers from both within and outside of the DA. You’ll have workshops on politics, personal development and public speaking. And between each retreat you’ll have plenty of reading (about politics and leadership, of course).  You’ll also be typing up writing assignments and attending one-on-one life coaching sessions that will help you overcome obstacles to your growth as a leader. And to prove you’re not just a paper tiger, you’ll be overseeing your very own a leadership project which can be anything from a soup kitchen to a clothing brand – the choice is yours.

The DA is taking a gamble by investing in you – you’re not signing your life away or under any obligation to serve in the party – though obviously they would like you to). Why are they prepared to take this risk? Because the party genuinely wants to deepen the pool of young people that can one day lead South Africa – in politics, business, civil society and elsewhere.

And don’t think this is only for white protestant males from Houghton (there was only one of those this year!). People from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, languages, genders are welcome and, indeed, encouraged to enrol in the programme.

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 35, and want to help South Africa reach its potential then what are you waiting for?

Believe me. It’s a lot cheaper than Country Road.

Visit www.youngleaders.org.za for more info.

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Mandela statue for parliament?

In this article, the DA is calling for a statue of Mandela to be put up in the parliamentary precinct. The last time they suggested it (in 2000) the idea was rebuffed by the ANC which said they don’t like putting up statues of people still alive. That’s not necessarily a bad policy, but it does kind of ring hollow when they’ve already named a city and a university after the man. My suspicion is they’re irritated that it’s the DA who suggested the idea, thereby by spearing the DA-wants-apartheid-back myth that the ANC is so fond of spouting about the opposition.

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A party by any other name …

A tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the DA was in desperate need of a branding overhaul was met with a broad spectrum of responses — from “DA who?” to indignant rebuttals from DA activists.

The reality of the situation is that that the official opposition is severely stigmatised. Negative emotions towards the party — from mistrust to hatred — is entrenched. There is the widespread perception that it is a minority party with minority interests. Many genuinely believe that it is a bunch of racist white reactionaries hankering after a privileged past.

There are two reasons (in my view) why these unfair misconceptions persist.

1. The ANC’s vilification
The ANC, that paranoid party which tried to topple Cape Town’s DA-led government almost a dozen times (and couldn’t), has led a sustained demonisation of liberalism. There are those in the ANC who believe in the movement’s perpetual right to rule.

If one reads the back issues ANC Today, it is only too clear that the party believes that to be held accountable by an opposition party is a threat that needs the harshest censure. To be blunt: the ANC will do what it takes to remain in power until — as Zuma says – “Jesus comes”.

2. A hostile media
Yes, it is a rather sweeping statement, but most of the media is openly hostile to the DA. The press goes to great lengths to portray the Democratic Alliance as unequivocally antigovernment and anti-ANC just for the sake of being the official opposition. The constructive role the party often plays in the legislative process (such as in ensuring the promulgation of the Civil Union Bill met its deadline) is invariably underreported.

Independent Newspapers leads the pack. But then with ANC acolytes jetted to Tony O’ Reilly’s (Independent’s Irish Lord and master) castle for fireside chats that’s hardly surprising. Slagging Zille and her party has a clear motive — to earn kudos from the ANC and ensure the survival of their rash of news outlets. One can’t do without those “Happy Hanukkah!” adverts from the premier’s office on page three, after all.

That the SABC is an ANC mouthpiece doesn’t help matters either. There have been documented accounts of bias, especially in the propaganda machine’s Cape newsroom where reporters have been actively pressured to report on DA and the coalition running the City of Cape Town in a negative light.

The poisonous fruits of Bantu education and a post-apartheid education system which is little better (and in some cases tragically worse) have meant that we have a populace largely ill-equipped to make empowered decisions about their political future. The enslavement of ignorance that apartheid did its best to achieve has not been dismantled by the current government.

Awareness of our constitution and of our democratic processes remains painfully low. And our democracy is paying the price for that. There is rising anger — and enormous dissatisfaction — with government’s performance. For many of the poor, trust and optimism placed in empty election manifesto promises has unravelled to disillusion and bitterness. Yet the ANC still wins enormous majorities at each election. Why? Partly because of the movement’s romantic associations with the struggle, but mainly because masses of people believe there is no alternative. They believe there is no other political party that can represent them and fulfil their dreams of true liberation.

Anger is therefore vented not at the ballot box but on the street — in violent protests and the murder of ANC councillors. This needs to be changed.

To stave off extinction and irrelevancy, the DA needs to reach out to the impoverished, capturing hearts and minds and positioning themselves as a viable alternative to the ANC. It needs to destigmatise its brand and become a visible, vibrant political entity in the townships and rural heartlands.

It is not going to be easy for the DA to counteract the negative perceptions held about it. Strategies far more complex than the ones I half-jokingly suggested last week should be developed as a matter of urgency — especially with the 2009 election looming.

Of course, the first step in the right direction is to accept that such perceptions exist.

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Lessons for the DA – from Woolworths (nogal!)

The DA is in crisis. A friend of mine at the University of Cape Town tells me that joining the party’s student wing, Daso, is social suicide. And as such, its reputedly attractive members are remaining unloved and unlaid — leaving me wondering as to whether alliances (democratic or otherwise) will occur to ensure the reproduction of little Helens, Tonys and Joes in the years to come.

Few Daso members, I hear, are actually prepared to come out of the party political closet — instead, when flirting at a bar, they are forced to resort to denials so slick they’d make the president blush.

Clearly brand DA is in need of a major overhaul, a major injection of cool. Its fusty look is rather reminiscent of what Woolworths was like 10 or 15 years ago. Can you remember those dark days? When people under 30 refused to be seen dead inside a Woolworths store? Sometimes emergencies — a grandmother’s birthday, for instance — left you with no choice. You grabbed the Margaret Roberts lavender toilet freshener and made a dash for the double doors.

And of course, there was the habitual dread of “where did you get that from?”.

Fortunately snipping off the tags invariably saved an embarrassed confession during break-time at school.

Yes, the DA brand as it is today and Woolworths at the dawn of our democracy are similar things — both conveying the image of “too rich, too white, too old”.

This is distinctly at odds with the DA’s policies (which, I must add, many of its detractors haven’t a clue about). As a proponent of the Basic Income Grant, of an equal opportunity society and of broad-based organic and sustainable social transformation, it is light-years ahead of the ruling party in the field of ideas.

When I interned at the DA for three days in 2005, its parliamentary bunker was abuzz with young bright over-achievers, many of them fresh out of Ivy League colleges and Oxford.

I know you can’t quite believe that. With the DA having a poster child like Theuns Botha, I can’t blame you. After all, unreconstituted Nats in grey shoes are like, so last century (at least we wish they were) — so what the hell are they still doing on the political stage?

Back to Woolworths — which has now become one of South Africa’s sexiest brands. It exudes a sophisticated — albeit mass-market — chic. No twentysomething worth their salt buys their food anywhere else. The chain is a staple for stylish clothes, cosmetics and homeware.

People admit to having purchased something from “Woolies” with a victorious smirk — not a red face.

The core product offering has remained pretty much the same. So what changed? It was the way Woolworths projected itself that has made all the difference.

They got a logo change and smartened up their packaging. Slick newspaper inserts made yoghurt — and loaves of bread — worth salivating over. Young African designers prepped up their clothing. They pretended to care, rolling out an organic food and clothing range and donating meals to food distribution charities. They started recruiting the who’s who of South Africa to be in glossy photo-shoots and glam catalogues.

Woolworths was suddenly tuned in. In broadening their appeal to beyond blonded divorcees they evolved into a coolness that not only cemented their image as a premium brand but one that could transact with every South African.

The official opposition needs to do the same. So here are a few suggestions:

Ditch the logo. Yellow and blue = arghh!! Be bold, go black. It’s the colour that’s really in fashion at the moment (and will remain so for a long time to come).

Jumping into bed with the Nasty Party in its death throes might have won you the Western Cape in ’99 but has left you with an infestation of verkrampte cockroaches that give the party a bad name. Spray some Doom (or at least its political equivalent) for a good spring clean.

You can’t blame people for jumping to conclusions when your website is only available in English and Afrikaans. If your leader can talk the talk then so can your webmaster. For online and campaign literature, Xhosa and Zulu, and at least a smattering of Sotho and Tswana, should be a prerequisite.

People are bored of politics; an awful lot switched off years ago. Occasionally deputy ministers spice it up a little — but those moments are few and far between. So be shameless — sign up some celebrity endorsements! Having Lucas Radebe as its face did wonders for Woolies. Victor Matfield on board was a masterstroke too. And the photographs of the two having a cuddle was capturing a whole different slice of the electorate altogether — sheer marketing genius.

If you want people to sit up and actually notice what you’re saying, use interesting spokespersons. Singers, sangomas, soapie stars and sportspeople are a good start.

And, if all else fails, I hear Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s looking for a job ….

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