Dear Democratic Alliance
Congratulations on the most recent addition to your family, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, as well as the resultant media frenzy around the merger.
That’s not what this letter is about.
Lately, I’ve been having talks with ANC supporters. I feel it’s important that I highlight the gist of those discussions to you.
I will start by discussing the black voting majority before shifting my gaze to white DA voters.
I’ve noted before that when black ANC supporters voted in 1994, most were just voting their way out of oppression. Many of them had tidily conflated racist, white minority rule, with universal and inherent white racism as though the one presupposed and craved the other. Justly or not, they didn’t understand apartheid to be an abstract system apart from the white people it had advantaged. Not all of those black voters had considered the full implications of apartheid’s alternative.
These perceptions have evolved over the years, and I will discuss them again farther down.
Businessman Lee du Preez told me that, “The hard stuff is the easy stuff and the soft stuff is the hard stuff. But the soft stuff is more important than the hard stuff.”
The moment the ANC’s eye flickered off of the Constitution as law, it failed at the soft stuff. The moment the ANC’s constituency failed to hold the government accountable, the ANC began to implode. But because many black people had never learned to separate racism from their perception of white people, they would never vote for another political party (that, and that the ANC was understood to be the liberation party).
“The DA acknowledges all the effects of past events and is ready to address them,” I’m told by some.
“Twenty years is long enough for the effects of apartheid to be resolved,” I’m told by others.
These contrary messages from the DA’s constituency form the crux of the issue. There exist some callous white people who just say, “I’m so glad you get it, Siya – apartheid is over! All the others just ought to get over it! Life moves on, for God’s sake.”
I often wish to reply, “Wait a minute. Apartheid wasn’t a one-day event, even though the most you ever saw of it could only amount to one days’ viewing. I agree that many black people are philosophically dishonest at the moment. I was happy to dissect apartheid’s ongoing effects on the country, and to figure out which of those effects are no longer anybody’s excuse. I did say that many black people overuse the race card without examining their own racism; I was ready to admit that many black people play victim without noticing how they victimize themselves and others. I was ready to admit that many black people abuse whatever systems they can get their hands on because they don’t think about the bigger picture, only about themselves, their immediate friends and families at the expense of the whole.
“I was ready to question the relevance of black cultural traditions, and how much of them are essential to black people’s identities. I was ready to flesh out the philosophical weakness of voting for a party because it ostensibly liberated you. But my candid assessment of the facts does not give either of us permission to nonchalantly toss away the visceral reality of what apartheid was like, nor to encapsulate it in a dismissive catch-phrase.”
It’s one thing for someone to make a point-by-point explanation as to why each of the past twenty years should have been sufficient for the ANC government to heal another layer of apartheid’s scars in South Africa. The DA and the more tactful of its constituents make a commendable effort to that end.
It’s the blindly happy-go-lucky “get over it” reductionist rhetoric of the balance of the DA’s constituency, aimed at black people who find themselves born into apartheid’s most debilitating effects – effects that those people themselves could never overcome, nor have had to overcome – that I find especially problematic and insensitive. These say “apartheid is over” to neatly cordon the past off from the present without having to look at that past in all its horror.
But if the greater part of DA’s constituency isn’t ready to think apartheid’s effects through properly, then neither is the DA ready to think apartheid’s effects through properly.
How can I say that? Recall that the ANC had a perfect policy and good intentions until they came into power and realized that black people weren’t interested in the Constitutional Democracy that the ANC had been preaching. They simply cherry-picked the bits they found helpful.
Likewise, you, DA, are now preaching a perfect rhetoric but if/when you come into power, you, too, will discover that some of your core constituency says “Amen!” to what you preach but aren’t interested in seeing much of it actually happening. On the contrary, some of them are more interested in bringing about conditions that terrify black people.
This is what I meant when I said, “If the DA’s constituency isn’t ready to think apartheid’s effects through properly, then neither is the DA ready to think apartheid’s effects through properly.”
DA voters see what the ANC will do to this country not by looking at the ANC’s campaign promises and manifestos, but by looking at the ANC’s constituency. And what those DA voters see (or want to see?) is that the ANC’s constituency overplays victimhood, resents accountability and shirks intellectual honesty. This dysfunction has ricocheted between the ANC and its voters in a way that’s influenced the ANC’s direction for the worst.
Similarly, ANC voters see what the DA would do to this country not by looking at the DA’s campaign promises, but by looking at the DA’s constituency. And what ANC voters see (or want to see?) is insensitivity, white privilege and elitism – the makings of apartheid. Add into this mix that shocking racist atrocities still are perpetuated on black people as what happened at the Free State University, and you’ll understand why black people are willing to extend tolerance but not votes. Is it ANC voters that scare DA voters off first, or is it DA voters that scare ANC voters off first? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
(Please remember, I’m just describing broad perceptions in black-and-white, DA-vs.-ANC terms.)
It’s not enough for any party to just say, “Let’s work together” at a rally: the details need to be laid bare even at the expense of electorate popularity. And that’s where both the DA and the ANC relent to the intellectual dishonesty of their voter bases, I believe. That small compromise is where things went wrong for the ANC and where they could go wrong for the DA.
The reverberating suspicion between the two groups makes this nearly inevitable. Putting black people in big positions is not enough to change black people’s perceptions; in fact, they suspect it’s just tokenism.
The antidote for such fear is the radical experiment tried at Free State University: deliberate integration.
If the DA is to take the vote this year, it has to spearhead a different form of deliberate integration than merely bringing salient black figures into the party.
DA, encourage hordes of white people to go live in townships and predominantly black-occupied rural areas.
Tell them to sell their suburban houses and their cars. Have them invest the money in long-term high-interest rates accounts. Tell them to use public transport and live like and among most South Africans.
Get enough people to do this, and see what will happen to your votes.
“What?” I can just anticipate some people saying. “There isn’t enough time!” “This is extreme!” “This is radical!” “That’s stupid!” “That’s a hollow gesture.” “It’s unrealistic.” “It’s inconvenient.”
Excuses. It’s time for people to start putting their money where their mouths are. Stunts much, much more radical/stupid/arguably artificial and disingenuous/unrealistic/inconvenient than this have been performed in South Africa in far less time, and they have been the only things capable of moving us forward. As for convenience, apartheid was “inconvenient” but it happened. Another 5 years of ANC rule would also be “inconvenient”. Each of us has to choose the lesser of two evils all the time. This is the same kind of choice, on a bigger scale.
We need to do something “stupid” one more time, or enjoy another 5 years of unthreatened, beautiful ANC-cracy, “forever and ever”.
“But, but, I don’t want to have to live in a township or take public transport!”
Ah, but if you live there, people will vote for the DA, and the DA will improve townships and public transport.
And if white people don’t move to townships, the ANC will win, destroy the economy and then living in suburbs will become too expensive anyway.
Isn’t that exactly what they’re afraid of?
This stunt would kill false perceptions in their tracks. The DA would become an irresistible alternative to the ANC.
DA, talk to your constituency. Tell them that there is no other way to win.
Just as racists exist in the ANC, so too do racists exist in the DA. And just as black ANC-voting and ANC-employed racists would like to hide behind the ANC’s rhetoric in order to mask their evil, so too do some white DA-voting racists hide behind the DA’s rhetoric in order to mask their evil. It’s time to nail some colours to some masts. Are you really a “democratic alliance”? Without empathy and solidarity there can be no democracy, let alone a democratic alliance.
For this to work in a way that would iron out some major concerns, many of those white people would have to do this at the same time. Other technical details would be worked out around tables and on social media. But the DA’s white constituency has to become aware that it is the loudest campaigner of what the DA will end up doing to the country. White DA voters have to demonstrate “power under” black people before black people will allow the DA to exercise “power over” them.
Shrink back from this challenge, and people will lose respect for the party. They won’t believe in your offer because they would have seen you tip-toe around your constituency’s squeamishness in a portent of betrayals to come; you will lose black voters.
Embrace it with gusto, and the country is yours. Modify the details as you see fit, but don’t back down.
This letter was initially over 5000 words long with every base and nuance covered. It is not just for the DA but it is for every South African. With much editing done, I ask you to receive it in the spirit in which it was written.
Here is that spirit in five words:
I dare you to win.
Twitter handle: SKhumalo1987
This article was posted in sanitythinksoutloud.wordpress.com