During times crises, all ideas should be considered to try and come with solutions to deal with prevailing crises. As a result, I was pleased to read the speech delivered by the Democratic Alliance’s new Head of Policy, Ms Gwen Ngwenya at the Economic Association of Namibia, in Windhoek on 7th of November 2019. It contained an interesting perspective on what was likely to be the DA’s conceptualisation of non-racialism.
In her speech, Ms Ngwenya, places emphasis on addressing inequality through improvements in education, rather than focussing on employment equity or broad-based economic empowerment. She argues that by fixing the education system, there will no longer be unequal candidates to warrant empowerment, the focus will be on merit.
Of course this perspective ignores a lot of complexities and contextual issues about South African history, but I found it interesting nonetheless. It is overly simplistic and presupposes that empowerment and merit are mutually exclusive, which sorts of reinforces the racism that empowerment policies try to address.
I encourage anyone who is not an impregnable fortress of arrogant ignorance to read the speech. A full version of it is on politicsweb.co.za website.
Given my interest, I have waited with bated breath for the release of the DA’s Discussion Documents towards its April policy conference, to see what new perspectives will emerge out of the party following its recent desquamation. I should have breathed normally.
On Monday, the DA released the first, Values and Principles, of three discussion documents that it will release towards the policy conference. According to their press statement, the other two are one on Economic Justice Policy, and another on Local Government Priorities.
I rushed to the DA website as soon as I heard the documents were released. Maybe due to my poor navigation skills, I could not find the document nor the statement. So I went to check the DA’s twitter account, after scrolling a few times, I found the tweet with the link to the statement. For some reason it was on the DA Gauteng provincial website.
On the website is a brief statement and a link to the pdf of the document. I did all the above on the phone. When I got to the laptop to type to the article, I could not find the statement on the DA Gauteng website, until I went back to the tweet I had got it from on the mobile.
The document is seven pages of mostly bullet points, listed under unnumbered sub-topics. There is also no page numbering. It has no date, and no mention that it is draft discussion document towards what conference.
The DA tries to differentiate itself from the ANC, but if their lack of numbering is part of that effort it might be taking differentiation too far. Even the EFF, with all its displeasure with the ANC, uses proper numbering in its documents. It makes it really easy to reference or cite. Saying paragraph 106 is way easier than saying, the second bullet point, under the sub-topic Freedom of Information, under the topic Openness, of what is probably page 2.
The DA Guateng website, where the press statement is posted, lists Ms Gwen Ngwenya as the author. As such this text will attributed the document to her.
The reason I have detailed the difficulty I had in finding the document, and how it is not numbered is because the document’s fourth topic from the last is Excellence. For some reason, in a worse way than she did in her Namibia speech, Ms Ngwenya argues that, “This pursuit to shun not only the mediocre, but also what is average and ‘good enough’ in favour of the extraordinary differentiates excellence from mere competence.” The lack of numbering, a date and reference points makes for less than good enough, which apparently is not the value or principle advocated by the document.
Philosophical arguments about the types of cracies can be made about this borrowing from Plato, and others. But, perhaps, the easiest argument is, according to the document, the DA aims to have its leaders derived from 90th percentile of society, assuming normal distribution of excellence. Even in pareto distribution, that still favours the 20%, leaving out the 80% on the long tail.
At first glance, the argument seems sensible. And Ms Ngwenya’s own excellence probably drives her to be interested in being in the company of other excellent people, rather than those who are “merely competent”, “good enough,” or “average.” But history has enough lessons about how excellence that is different from the expected excellence could soon be deemed mediocre. Besides lessons from dictatorships in history, unless the DA pursued mediocrity as a value in the past, Lindiwe Mazibuko, and Mmusi Maimane were once excellent at some point. So things can quickly develop from uncompromising pursuit of excellence to downright discrimination.
As it is evident, a document that seems to advocate for uncompromising excellence, seems itself, to quite below mediocre, by any serious organisation’s standard. It is even surpassed by the draft Discussion Document of the fictional Annual Men’s Conference.
On non-racialism, on the second bullet the document describes the collective suffering of blacks, and women, under apartheid as a false assumption. Then on the fourth bullet under the same topic admits that the false racial superiority resulted, and continues to result, in “a great deal of harm.” The forked tongue approach to policy that reached its peak under Maimane seems to be outliving him.
Under a topic, Diversity, the document says that the DA “opposes race, gender or other quotas”. It argues that “each individual is unique and not a racial or gender envoy.” It seems the DA would like to rely on the goodwill of well-meaning humans to implement redress, without being forced to it through quotas. Perhaps, the delegates to the DA policy conference should try to read any SA inequality report, except the ones from Afriforum, to try and understand what problem the qoutas are trying to solve, and understand the resistance of implementation, particularly in the private sector.
There is topic on Social Market Economy, even though there will be a separate document on Economic Justice Policy. Under this topic, the Values and Principles document promotes a free market, with some level of government regulation, but the document makes every effort not to mention the word “regulation” explicitly. Oddly the document admits that, “there are some functions and service that government can potentially perform better than markets.” Soon we might be told that it is the DA’s novel idea that there things that government can do better than markets.
Ms Ngwenya’s speech to the Nambians is four thousands of persuasive arguments, that in spite of its shortcomings, could convince an uncritical mind. The Values and Principles document is a two thousand two hundred words insult to the intelligence of the DA’s policy conference delegates.
Of course preparing for such watershed policy conference, just after a recent decline in electoral support, the problems in coalition governments in metros, and the imminent local government elections in less than 18 months, could not have been easy. But that is not a sufficient reason to take the DA to the far right, even past it’s position before the DA/NP Alliance.
In spite of my disappointment with the first discussion document towards policy conference, I still believe that under Ms Ngwenya, as Head of Policy, the DA stands a chance to retain its plateau, following its growth saturation. But she needs the support, not only of consultants, but experienced politicians such as Tony Leon and Douglas Gibson.
She might also want to tap on the diversity of thinking by including, in policy development, leaders such as the DA provincial leader in Eastern Cape, and others who have more experience in South African politics, than just what textbooks say. De Klerk and the FedEx Chairperson are not the ideal people take guidance or draw inspiration from, no matter the temptation.
An attempt to win back white conservatives is futile, they will not be returning from the FF and the Afriforum anytime soon. The focus, instead, should be on winning back the confidence of white liberals, while retaining some of the black votes.
It would also serve the DA better to handle its communications differently. Previously Maimane tried to counter-balance the twitter meltdowns of the now FedEx Chairperson. If she remains unhinged, and a spokesperson who will echo her is appointed, then the DA will be on an irreversible path of losing most of its black support.
Some of the mediocrity that prevails among most opposition parties is due to failure to hold them accountable by the media and analysts alike. The DA is a party in government in the Western Cape, and until recently, in 4 of the country’s 5 metropolitan municipalities. Hence some scrutiny of their affairs may be warranted.
The ANC has done some great work on the scrutiny where it has been in opposition, particularly in the City of Johannesburg and City of Tshwane, but more can be done, including by others. The Lord of the Media did not hesitate to ambush the Deputy President with a closed-ended leading question on electricity supply, and moments later pose the same question to The Fixer, to stir some controversy. But no one, in the media, including the guy who shouts monologues on the new channel, has asked the second biggest opposition party in the country what is its position on the Afriforum’s international minority rights violation campaign.