All it took was a little nudge and all the assurances of unity and introspection within the party came tumbling down to expose an organisation in terrible trouble.
A week ago, one of my junior colleagues, Hermann Pretorius, inadvertently triggered a meltdown in the Democratic Alliance (DA). The background is that the IRR has started the Daily Friend as an online newspaper – which you are now reading – and young Hermann was asked to write a column in place of a senior columnist who was away. He produced one in which he argued that Western Cape Premier Alan Winde would be an excellent candidate for DA leader.
The DA exploded. DA MP Phumzile van Damme, who has triggered racial conflicts within the party, is being investigated by the party for allegedly assaulting a member of the public, and has been identified by party strategists as being a major reason for its loss of support in the elections earlier this year, took to Twitter to describe the IRR as ‘thirsty hyenas’.
Fellow DA MP Luyolo Mphithi took to Twitter to say, ‘The IRR has taken off its mask a long time ago in its attempt to engineer democracy from the backdoor.’ The trouble with that statement notwithstanding, Mr Mphithi is the same person who was promoted to Parliament by the DA after he sparked the racial furore in Schweizer-Reneke in January when he falsely accused the teachers at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke of racism.
Herman Mashaba, whose administration in Johannesburg is facing serious allegations of corruption and who, we are told, is being investigated by the DA for racially abusing a colleague, said that ‘…involvement of the IRR in DA affairs is extremely concerning…so-called liberal narratives being banded (sic) around are a real threat to South Africa’s democracy…[to]…keep the ANC in power to keep Blacks poor’.
Classical liberalism is a philosophy that supports non-racial policy, freedom of speech, property rights, a market-based economy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Mr Mashaba, given his long relationship with the Free Market Foundation, knows this. But he has also led the party in its dalliance in Johannesburg with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – a violent and racist organisation that has threatened to slaughter whites. Is it true, as we are told, that Mr Mashaba invited Julius Malema to his private birthday party and that they laughed and danced, arm in arm, late into the night? That a leader of the DA, which is after all meant to be a liberal party, could describe liberalism as ‘a threat to democracy’ shows how the deals that party has made have poisoned and changed it. If it does not break off that dalliance, the EFF may become its graveyard – as the very clever and capable EFF leaders understand and their admirers in the ANC desire.
In turn, Gareth van Onselen, a former colleague, and arguably South Africa’s top liberal thinker, accused the IRR of betraying an equally important liberal line in arguing that if the DA could elect a leader who happens to be white that would show that the party had overcome the crippling grip of identity politics. I quote Mr van Onselen directly as saying ‘the idea that you should make a race-based decision to demonstrate non-racialism is an inherently idiotic position’. Hermann maintains that, in these charged times, electing a leader on merit despite his being white is significant – and different from electing a leader because he is black or white.
John Steenhuisen, who is the Chief Whip of the DA in Parliament, accused us of interfering in the affairs of the DA. But Mr Steenhuisen, who is a good person, knows that it is the function of civil rights groups, activists, and think tanks to do so and we in turn know that he acted with a gun to his head. We ‘interfere’, if you want to use that word, in the affairs of business, the government, and political parties all the time to win their support for policies that will ensure South Africa’s success and the prosperity of all its people. When we exposed corruption, racism, and incompetence in the ANC and its leadership, we were also ‘interfering’ in that party’s internal affairs – much to the delight of the DA.
But now the tables have turned. Now it is the DA that must fend off accusations of racism, corruption, and incompetence and they don’t like it. It is incredible to think that in seeking to become a bit more like the ANC, the DA may have succeeded beyond its wildest expectations and now it reaps the consequences.
Does the IRR subscribe to the view that Alan Winde should be the leader of the DA? No – the organisation, as an inanimate thing, does not hold such views. A young IRR analyst subscribes to that view and has the freedom to write that.
The DA further accused us of raising money to interfere in its affairs. But almost all our articles are followed by the line ‘If you like what you have read then join us by sending an SMS to 32823’. We raise money to pursue our defence of liberal principles and almost 10 000 people have joined us via that SMS line to do exactly that. If you want us to continue to pressure the DA to expel racist leaders, stamp out corruption in the party, stop race-based policies, break off its dalliance with the EFF, and appoint competent leaders, then please send us an SMS because we intend to do just that and will need your help.
Lastly, the DA accused us of wanting to form a political party, and challenged us to do so. I am sorry to disappoint them, but we have greater ambitions than that.
We are surprised at the extent of the detonation triggered by the Daily Friend column, but think it a very good thing and we are pleased to have been its unwitting catalyst. What it has exposed is how insincere and even fraudulent, in the aftermath of this year’s election setbacks, the assurances of unity and introspection within the party were. All it took was a little nudge and the whole thing came tumbling down to expose an organisation in terrible trouble and riven by real hatred. At stake is not just the future of the DA itself but the institution of opposition politics in our country.
And the tragedy of it all is that, in the parlous state of South Africa’s liberal opposition itself, we must find another case study of what happens to organisations that capitulate, for whatever reasons of expedience, to the ideological doctrines of the ANC.
Soon, the DA will convene to elect a new Federal Chairperson. It will take a titanic individual to save that party from further decline and even collapse. Soon we will know whether that can be done.
Frans Cronje is the CEO of the IRR.
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