Most opposition parties’ arguments against the DA’s motion to dissolve parliament were political. But the motion was a philosophical extension of what those parties had been doing alongside the DA anyway. By claiming a political reason not to join in this time, they were imitating the ANC’s defence of its leader in the previous motions they’d supported.
The DA’s argument was: government is broken; therefore, let parliament no longer prop it up at taxpayers’ expense by continuing with the charade that it works when that pretence adds a veneer of legitimacy to the sham it exacerbates. Shockingly, the other parties were so fixated on protecting their political brands, they handed the title deed for the moral high ground over to the DA on a silver platter, scorning and then defeating the motion.
This could have been the DA’s plan, knowing that politically we can’t have fresh elections but morally, we can’t not have them. That kind of opportunism is political stock-in-trade. Francois de La Rochefoucauld described hypocrisy as the tribute vice pays to virtue. Describing the DA’s motion as grandstanding without refuting it on its philosophical terms (playing the ball) instead of political terms (playing the man) is refusing pay the tribute because you’re tired of the face collecting it.
It would have been enough for the other opposition parties to abstain, or emphasise the debate’s moral necessity more than its source’s political opportunism, and then vote against it for obviously political reasons. I think I would have understood. That they voted for their political interests while underplaying the philosophical obligation the DA had introduced speaks to the rising cynicism of South African politics. There was a time when ANC politicians had the decency to lie about respecting Public Protector remedial action and Constitutional Court findings thereon. Today, they openly contradict the Constitutional Court. It appears some of the opposition parties are taking the ANC’s lead.
A distinction will appear, however faint it is now, between parties that lower politics to what’s pragmatic, what’s possible — Machiavellianism — and those that make it about what’s principled. In the face of our political fatalism, the DA has a track record of saying crazy and truthful things like, “Jacob Zuma must be stopped!”; MP Zakhele Mbhele’s speech reminded me how the DA often plays the prophetic role of Noah warning people about the coming Flood (the EFF does this, too, sometimes).
The mystery of iniquity at work here is that (black) South Africans refuse the truth, intending to assert their autonomy, only to later recognise they’re trapped in that autonomy and need the “oppressor” to liberate them. Or as a friend said, “White people have been going to courts and fighting our battles, and now we’re in an embarrassing situation where if we agree with them on anything, everything is undone.”
This has a self-fulfilling power to it. If “the whites” really do want to bring back white rule, they simply have propose obvious solutions to situations faced by “the blacks”, which they’ll refuse because ego, until one day we are truly trapped and have no choice but to be rescued by “the whites”. My English teacher used to tell the girls in our class, “Run from a man until you catch him”. Perhaps South Africans are running from the DA because…well…
You may say it was never the DA that defined “right versus wrong” as “white versus black” but if we shift our gaze to the Bell Pottinger saga, we see the effects of apartheid glossed over and minimised. The simplest explanation (which is then read back on everything else the DA does, including its parliamentary motions) is that while the DA cares to have black voters, it doesn’t care about black people. This description fits the ANC too, of course. I’ll be forgiven if I’m wrong, but for every hundred things on why BP’s PR was “unethical”, from various sources echoing or describing the DA’s role, there’s been barely a whisper in the direction of, “BP’s PR strategy was dangerous not only because it broke the rules, but because it had a grain of truth to it”.
Imagine if we destroyed the inequality Bell Pottinger’s campaign exploited as fast as we destroyed Bell Pottinger; if we reached across to townships as easily as we did across oceans to the UK. And just as describing the DA’s motion to dissolve parliament as grandstanding doesn’t take a stitch out of their argument, taking Bell Pottinger’s tactics and business down as unethical doesn’t render nonexistent the conditions they exploited. So, the reasoning that helps the DA on one front, overthrows them on the other.
Their fixation on BP’s technique needs to be halved to make room for the concession that transformation is overdue, followed by a reminder of how the DA would resolve inequality if it were in power. They missed a golden opportunity to woo the black voter, and it would have cost them nothing they have not lost or paid.
If you think women who have to give their fiancés lobola money have it tough, try writing columns telling the party you want to vote for what it has to do to earn it. But I am winking in the dark, knowing only a few of this blog’s readers and next to none from any political parties.
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