In an article in Daily Maverick, Opposition parties could have done better in southern African elections, (7 January), Jonathan Moakes considers the reasons why opposition parties in the southern African region have done so badly in the past two years.
Moakes may be uniquely qualified to address the topic, as he was the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) national campaign manager for the 2019 election. This poll did not turn out well for the DA.
Moakes raises four issues, but one in particular is worth looking at in light of the recent furore over Helen Zille’s tweet about a cartoon by the cartoonist Jerm.
The issue Moakes raises is a lack of unity and common purpose. With regard to the DA, Moakes says: ‘In South Africa, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was divided for the two-and-a-half years running up to the 2019 general election. Bogged down in internal disputes, disciplinary matters and court cases, it was not able to communicate a clear message until the election campaign was right upon it. In putting together a challenge to an incumbent governing party in the region, unity and common purpose is vital.’
Moakes is absolutely correct in this. Opposition parties cannot be ‘broad churches’. This woolly idea is the domain of the ‘movements’ of liberation, and inevitably produces factions. It seems, however, that the DA is struggling to find that unity of purpose.
Let us consider that Jerm cartoon and the reaction to it. The cartoon was divided into four blocks: in the first, a black character dressed in red, with a beret, says to the white character: ‘You should give back the land you stole!’. In the second, the white character retorts: ‘You should go to jail for raping my wife!’. In the third, the black character says: ‘But I didn’t do that!’. In the fourth, the white character says: ‘Exactly.’
The use of the ‘rape stereotype’ was unnecessary and could be offensive; there are other ideas that could be invoked. However, both claims feed on untrue stereotypes and that, whether well-executed or not, was the purpose of the cartoon.
Brandishing untrue stereotypes in this country is a political weapon that is destructive to both blacks and whites. This cartoon brings that into clear focus.
Helen Zille’s tweet said the cartoon ‘exposes the lunacy of blaming everyone, on the basis of their race, for the crimes of others’.
Zille could have just as well have tweeted the whole QWERTY keyboard for the difference it might have made, and she would have been attacked all the same by the Twitterati.
We are not a subtle nation. We shout and scream over issues that make us angry. Our fractious politics lends itself to controversy in the public space. Many may remember the Zapiro cartoon which accused Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe, Julius Malema, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi of proceeding to rape lady justice, presented in the most graphic way.
The cartoon was hugely controversial. Jacob Zuma tried to sue Zapiro for defamation. Supporters of Zuma were outraged but even some of those who agreed with the message condemned Zapiro over the depiction. The debate was vociferous and extensive. It offended some and resonated with others. The point is that the debate happened and we shouted at each other, exercising that most fundamental democratic right, our freedom of speech. And we moved on.
Under the same freedom of speech, people can say what they like about Zille’s comment, but they cannot gainsay the core message: stereotyping is harmful, irrespective of what colour you are.
What was really concerning was actually none of the above. Of greater concern was that, according to Eyewitness News, the DA in Gauteng – in an act of pure virtue signalling – said it ‘has distanced itself from Helen Zille’s recent comments on social media, saying that the party does not subscribe to racism’.
Since it came from the party in Gauteng, one may assume that Gauteng party leader John Moody approved the media comment. So, the DA remains firmly in two camps: the one that is striving to be governed by classical liberal principles and the other that favours a more post-modernist, identitarian approach.
If Moakes is correct, then that schism must be resolved sooner rather than later. There are local elections next year, and an ongoing tussle between the liberals and the identitarians will lose the party voters one way or the other.
Our politics is tough; we need opposition that is muscular, unified and with a single purpose. Until then, we must all continue to exercise our right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution.
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