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DA failing to evolve for a more just society

Democratic Alliance flag
Democratic Alliance flag

In a dramatic turn of events, executive mayor of the City of Joburg Herman Mashaba resigned as mayor and as member of the DA.

He did this in protest at the election of Helen Zille as chairperson of the DA's federal council.

By his assessment, Zille's victory represents a victory by those who have a problem with the pro-poor agenda of Mashaba's administration in the city. He confirmed that in the ideological battle for the DA, the party, at the highest level, is constituted by a group of people who'd rather deny the urgent need to redress the injustices of the past and the resulting inequality.

At the founding of the new SA in the democratic elections of 1994, many liberal-leaning minds were content to declare that their work was done. Apartheid having been overthrown, all citizens could now claim equally the political rights and civil liberties for their freedom.

Many of these liberals, although opposed to the values of apartheid, enjoyed the privileges it entitled them to by virtue of being white.

Thus, to them, redress and redistribution, a core tenet of the constitution, are an unnecessary distraction from the objective of ensuring clean government and a strong free market that can operate without interference from an overbearing state.

Mashaba, like leader of the DA Mmusi Maimane, do not see the vision of an equal opportunity society and one that seeks to address inequality that expresses itself on racial lines, as mutually exclusive or even contradictory.

In the early days as leader of the DA, it would have been difficult to argue that Zille was not persuaded of this. Faced with the challenge of growing the then Democratic Party from a peripheral party concerned in the main with the protection of minority interests and privilege, Zille managed to reposition the DA into a multiracial party. At that time, the DA represented the hope for SA. It was proving that it was possible to persuade citizens of every background of their common destiny and the need to work together for the prosperity of all.

Since broadening the party's support base to include a huge proportion of black African citizens, the DA has had to grapple with how to attend to the question of redress, redistribution and inequality in a deeply unequal society, historically and presently.

Over the years, and during her time as premier of the Western Cape, Zille has walked back the DA's openness to acknowledging the cleavages that characterise SA.

Much of the opposition faced by the party's up-and-coming black leadership has been down to this contestation over the DA's position on transformation and inequality.

Giving reasons for his resignation, Mashaba said: "I cannot reconcile myself with a group of people who believe that race is irrelevant in the discussion of inequality and poverty in South Africa in 2019. I cannot reconcile myself with people who do not see that South Africa is more unequal today than it was in 1994."

Mashaba was at pains to make the point that his devotion to liberalism is not at odds with the desire to create a just and equal society. And this is the point that many of the party's black leaders have been trying to make.

The grounds for his resignation is indicative of the DA's failure to evolve a brand of liberalism to create a more just society.

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