For those, like me, who believe that liberalism is the best possible political and economic system for everybody, what lessons can we draw from Wednesday’s election? It seems the DA might have drawn the wrong ones.

There were no big surprises in the results but significant small ones. The polls beforehand were mainly right, as usual. Here, and in other countries, they usually get the proportion of votes right, but not always the number of seats in countries that don’t have a strictly proportional system. For better or worse, we do. 

The ANC retains power nationally with a reduced vote. The EFF has gained but less than was predicted. The ANC and the EFF stand for the same things, Marxist economics and black African nationalism. The EFF is just louder. Peter Bruce, a cheerful journalist, and The Economist, once a fine liberal magazine promoting rational thought but now sinking into socialism and irrationalism, both proposed we should vote for Cyril Ramaphosa because he’s our only practical hope of rescue from further decline under the ANC. This is a silly argument. Ramaphosa is beholden to corrupt men in his party and cannot move without their approval; he caved in to the EFF on EWC (Expropriation Without Compensation) and he strongly supports SADTU, which is destroying the education of most black children. As Anthea Jeffery points out, if the ANC and the EFF got two-thirds of the seats together, they could change the Constitution to suit their common Marxist ideas, such as the abolition of private property.

The biggest small surprise was the strong performance of the VF Plus (Freedom Front), increasing its vote from 0.90% in 2014 to 2.38% now. The DA vote declined from 22.2% to 20.8%. It is said that the VF took votes from the DA. I’m sure this is true. But I’m also pretty sure that the normally shrewd James Selfe of the DA was wrong when he explained why. He said it was because the DA had wanted to widen its appeal “to all South Africans (meaning blacks) and not only conservative voters (meaning white Afrikaners)”. (The words in parenthesis are mine.)

The recent history of the DA and Afrikaner voters is worth remembering. From 1948 to about 1989, most whites supported racial segregation. Afrikaners and English-speakers voted for the National Party because it supported apartheid, and Afrikaners also voted for it because it supported Afrikaner Nationalism. The only parliamentary party that opposed apartheid was the Progressive Party, which became the Democratic Party (DP). In Feb 1990, President De Klerk effectively ended apartheid and the NP ceased to have a purpose. After the ANC came to power in 1994, the NP disintegrated while the tiny DP, with only 1.7% of the vote, became proudly and loudly liberal under the aggressive leadership of Tony Leon, making clear to the whole nation its belief in liberty, equal opportunity and no racial discrimination of any kind.

With such policies it rapidly grew support. Afrikaners were attracted by Leon’s strong message and his refusal to compromise with the new racial discrimination under the ANC. The DP swallowed up what was left of the NP and became the DA. Many Afrikaners had no political home but in the DA. Now there is the VF. 

When Leon left, the DA began to stray from its liberal values. It started becoming apologetic. It became ANC-lite, adopting racial affirmative action and BEE in the hope of appealing to ordinary black people. Surveys show the opposite. Ordinary black people, as opposed to the black elite, suffer most under affirmative action and BEE. It is they who receive failing municipal services because of affirmative action engineers being responsible for their water and sanitation, and who get failing education because of affirmative action SADTU teachers. It is they who see their municipalities bankrupted by corrupt BEE procurement. The horrid suspicion hangs over every black DA spokesman or MP, and even its decent, able, eloquent leader, that he or she is just an affirmative action appointment. These, I am sure, are the main reasons the DA is losing votes to the VF. The lesser reason is its appeal to Afrikaner Nationalism, never overtly stated.)

It is deeply patronising to assume that black people are too stupid and dependent to become liberal. Of course they aren’t. The DA should resume Tony Leon’s muscular liberalism: no apologies, no racial affirmative action, no “demographic representivity” –  just complete freedom of opportunity and appointment on merit and fitness for the job. Most South Africans are disadvantaged from birth. We must address their disadvantages not their skin colour. Replace the useless SADTU teachers with good teachers in our poor schools and appoint the best engineers in the poor municipalities.

In this way I believe the DA will bring back VF voters who have left them and get more black voters now unimpressed with their feebleness before the ANC.

Andrew Kenny is a writer, engineer and classical liberal.

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