The leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, was right to blame the African National Congress (ANC) for the increase in poverty revealed in last week's report by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).
The report said that the proportion of the population in poverty had increased from 53.2% in 2011 to 55.5% in 2015. "There can surely be no greater indictment of any government's performance than the number of people living in poverty rising on their watch," declared Mr Maimane.
He added that Stats SA had identified policy uncertainty, weak economic growth, continuing high unemployment, higher prices, and lower investment as having contributed to the increase in poverty. All of these, said Mr Maimane, stemmed from "the ANC's economic policies that have failed to grow the economy and create work". Right again.
Yet only a week previously, Mr Maimane was telling us that "the general socio-economic underdevelopment of black people in our country today can be accounted for chiefly on the basis of race-based colonial and apartheid policies".
Well, which is it? The ANC or the previous regime? Or the one before that, when the British colonial office supposedly ruled the roost? It is long past time for the leader of the DA to make up his mind. When unemployment on the expanded definition has risen from 3.7 million in 1994 to 9.3 million today, it is absurd to cast the blame "chiefly" on apartheid.
It is even more absurd to blame colonialism, South Africa having finally ceased to be subject to any control by the Imperial government when the Status of the Union Act was passed in 1934. In practice, of course, we stopped being a colony in 1910, when the Union came into being.
To make colonialism the scapegoat for our ills is not only historically inaccurate. It is also to buy into the ANC's Marxist-Leninist ideology of bringing about a National Democratic Revolution (NDR). The campaign against "white monopoly capitalism" run by the British public relations firm Bell Pottinger fits into the NDR narrative. Yet the DA compounds the absurdity of its position by complaining about Bell Pottinger in London while mouthing NDR rhetoric back home. Nothing wrong with the DA's staging a few opportunistic publicity stunts of its own in London, but it should at least try to get some consistency into its message.
And it needs to stop running with the hares and hunting with the hounds on race. In his speech blaming colonialism and apartheid, Mr Maimane said: As for "race-based special provisions", there will be no need for them "once the playing field has been levelled". The possibility that the ANC's own "race-based special provisions" may actually be creating policy uncertainty in the mining and other industries is not considered. The possibility that these "special provisions" may also be contributing to weak growth and rising unemployment is also ignored.
The effect of "race-based special provisions" may therefore not be to "level the playing field" but to tilt it even more against the poor and the jobless. So such "special provisions" may have to last indefinitely.
That is the intention of the ANC's revolutionary agenda. Correcting the effects of colonialism and apartheid is one of the reasons the ANC gives for assuming more and more power to intervene in the economy, in sport, in education, and elsewhere. You can never declare victory against colonialism and apartheid because you then deprive yourself of a major pretext for extending your power. That would defeat the objective of the National Democratic Revolution. This is to pursue permanent revolution in order to stay in power until "Jesus comes again", as Jacob Zuma reminded us.
The ANC and its communist allies know what they want. When Mr Maimane echoes their narrative of blaming colonialism and apartheid for their own failures he lets them off the hook. He also helps to legitimate the revolutionary agenda. It is time for the DA and its leader to wake up.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.