Why I fight back - Tony Leon

The DP leader's warning of the ANC's insatiable desire for domination, and the threat this poses to SA (24 May 1999)




24 MAY 1999 AT 19h00


At the beginning of this campaign I pointed out that there was a real conflict of values between the DP and the ANC. You wouldn’t know this, however, if you read and watched the media. What you have seen on the hustings, and in most media, during this campaign has been quite remarkable. On the one hand the ANC has gone for the DP as if it is already the Official Opposition. You will remember how they put up imitation DP posters with the legend "Don’t fight Blacks" as if that was what we wanted to do for God’s sake.

The party of Helen Suzman, the party of anti-apartheid, the party of non-racialism from its inception, the party who wanted to "fight blacks"? A truly outrageous suggestion.

But there have been clear echoes of this sort of nonsense in much of the press. We have found that a number of newspapers and periodicals which historically tended to support the DP because of its liberal non-racial policies, have turned around and said they can’t endorse us anymore because we somehow don’t stand for the same things.

You may even have seen a cartoon in the Sunday Times by Zapiro in which we are quite casually assumed to be the exponents of "swart gevaar". But down the years we have always been the principal victims of those tactics.

All this is truly amazing. The fact is the DP stands where it did. We have always opposed racism. We have always stood for the principle of merit. We have always stood for individual rights irrespective of colour, religion or sex. We haven’t changed. The real question of this election is why have they changed?

There are two reasons:

The first, why should the ANC see us as the most important target? One reason is that we represent the main real alternative. We are not, as is the NNP, just the remnant of something that used to be much more significant than it is today, a party of the past. We are, quite visibly growing fast. We are a party of the future. We stand for a complete set of values – an entire political, economic and cultural vision – about merit, about standards, about hard work, about accountability and about personal responsibility. All these values run directly counter to the ANC.

What are the ANC’s values? They seem to be encapsulated in the following statement: "The ANC must prevail and the ANC can do no wrong".

But the ANC also feels challenged by us because they are not just an ordinary political party. They don’t just want to be in government. They don’t just want to win this election. This is a party which wants to dominate the whole of society; to dominate the economy; to appoint its own people to the judiciary; to the reserve bank, to every so-called independent institution in South Africa. They want to, indeed they demand the right, to dominate all of civil society.

The ANC doesn’t just want a two-thirds majority. The ANC wants more and more of everything. Its appetite is bottomless. What it wants is not just power. It wants hegemony. That is to say in the classic definition used by the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, it wants to dictate the culture of our society in such a way that its views are accepted and expressed even by those whose interests it is against. And accepted not just the view of the ANC but as reality itself.

It is this ambition for hegemony, which also explains why the ANC wants just not to take two-thirds – but wants to colonise every possible nook and cranny of our society.

In addition, they even want to tell the opposition how to behave and what posters we should have. They are affronted that there should even exist in this society a genuine, confident, unapologetic alternative to them. And yet this is the very essence of democracy that there be such alternatives. Moreover, they believe blithely that everyone ought to join the ANC. President Mandela actually often says that. And we would all be better for it because the ANC occupies the moral high ground.

Amazingly there are many within the press and the media who are willing to credit the ANC with holding the moral high ground. This is a complete delusion. The only real value the ANC stands for today, whatever good it did in the past for the struggle, is the supremacy of the ANC itself. This is basically the old Leninist view: you must love the party and the party comes before all else.

We saw, in the Soviet Union, in East Germany and today in Cuba, where that sort of thinking leads. In the case of the ANC what it means is that the party, by definition, occupies the moral high ground and can do no wrong, which leaves it in practice able to be as amoral as it likes. That is why it can so easily have someone who has kidnapped and assaulted children as number nine on its national list. That is why it can have people who are crooks on its list. That is how it can claim to be fighting corruption at the very same time as Allan Boesak and Stella Sigcau are campaigning for it.

We are also supposed to accept whatever is handed down by the ANC as being just what the ANC says even though this will change all the time.

The real question is why do quite a number of intellectuals, a significant number of journalists and some newspapers, and most especially to mention the public broadcaster, SABC-TV, subscribe to all this uncritically?

Why do they endorse the ANC when they know what we all know, that it is a deeply illiberal, authoritarian and fundamentally power-hungry party. Why do they try to justify this by suggesting the DP is somehow guilty of "swart gevaar" tactics, when in fact we stand for the same liberal principles we ever did?

This is a question that goes right to the heart of our contemporary South African dilemmas and the answer is very interesting.

The Marxist theorist Gramsci, in part, provided the answer. He said, that for a movement or party to establish its complete cultural and political hegemony over a society it needed to rely on what he called `organic intellectuals’, who preached that new culture, who enforced it in the universities, schools and newspapers, who taught children to see that hegemony simply as reality. People who were, in a word, the carriers of the new dominant culture.

In effect some of our journalists and broadcasters have opted for such a role. People and movements, such as the DP, which stand outside of the new dominant culture are simply not allowed to be heard, or are consigned as moral lepers to some sort of political oblivion.

The problem for the ANC with all this is that more and more people are coming under our DP banner - as 2 June will prove. But the attitude of many of those who enjoy independent space under our democratic Constitution, is troubling. We don’t ask that the press or the media be aligned with the DP. Indeed, we don’t want that, we just want honest, independent journalists and broadcasters. People who report the facts as they are and not a strange version of reality dictated by the majority party.

If you read reports and watch TV broadcasts and see certain slices of South African life as presented to you today, you’d hardly believe that those who film it or write it or report on it are living in the same country as you and me. These people choose to deny reality itself. They live in a country where the ANC really is bringing about "a better life for all"; you and I live in a country where where 500 000 people have lost their jobs since 1994 and where we are heading for negative growth for the third successive quarter.

We live in a country of falling incomes, collapsing services, a currency that has halved in value and we live with the world’s worst crime rate. And when we question that, and when we stand up and fight back against it, we are accused of being unpatriotic, being racist or being against transformation.

But the worst aspects of this election has been those who would deny reality itself.

There is also another neurosis and anxiety in South Africa. It is the factor of guilt over the past. Now there is much to regret about our past and there are many individuals who have good reason to feel guilty for their past behaviour. Some indeed who should be severely punished for it. But it is not a healthy thing in a society for whole classes of people to feel guilty. It doesn’t do them any good and others invariably exploit it in a way that leads to long term reactions of anger and cynicism. It is certainly an actively bad thing when it leads to kow-towing to a grasping new elite which is often greedy and unscrupulous, or when it leads to the creation of the distorted sense of reality I have outlined tonight.

I have to say that this is not an emotion I share. Both the DP and all of us in it did what we could to oppose apartheid. Helen Suzman did what she could. Van Zyl Slabbert did all that he could. Colin Eglin did all he could. I did what I could with what I had from where I was standing. I can’t see why we should feel guilt. Or that it would do us any good if we did. Of course one feels compassion for those who have suffered under apartheid. Of course we are glad that it’s gone and we want to redress the historic injustices created.

But guilt is a useless emotion if it simply makes you do things which are actually not for the sake of today but for the sake of things which happened a long time ago over which you had no control and which you opposed at the time. But guilt in the old South Africa is closely linked to the whole issue of "baasskap", as in "domination" and "dank die baas" in its crude, ugly, even brutal form. We had much "baasskap" in the dark days of apartheid.

But I am afraid that some people in our society today have also adopted a deference, a bowing and scraping to a new form of "baasskap". They are scared of the ANC "baas". They can see how rough it is, they can see how authoritarian it is and they can see how hegemonic it wishes to be. They can see what happens to people who step out of line. They can see how they get targeted, demonised and victimised, how their legitimacy is attacked. They can see the ANC’s ambition to control everything. They can see what happens to people high up in the ANC who step out of line – people like Bantu Holomisa, Pallo Jordan, Cyril Ramaphosa, Terror Lekota or Mathews Phosa. They can see all this and they are scared.

I take no comfort from the failure of nerve I observe in some around me. But I serve notice that we will not suffer from any such failure. I can promise you that the DP, while I am leading it, will never behave that way. We opposed "baasskap" under the old regime. We will oppose "baasskap" under this government too. We do not like deference. We do like free citizens who are independent, confident and self-assured, not cowering and dependent. Those who stand up for themselves as free individuals. That is the sort of society that we want to live in and the best way of getting that society is to behave like that yourself right now. You see, the big difference between the DP and ANC is this: the ANC thinks poor people also wish to be dependent people, thankful for a few crumbs of comfort delivered by the State. The DP does not regard people living in poverty, as stupid people – simply poor people who need and want ladders to lift them out of poverty.

We want the DP to do well in this election and not just because a stronger Opposition can speak up for you more loudly and effectively. We want to do really well because the very sight of such an Opposition will give people more courage. We want our victory to be felt by all our voters. We want them to feel, as our posters say, "You Have the Power". Because that is the best way for all of us to build the sort of society we want. A society, indeed a South Africa composed of free, equal, confident citizens. Show some courage, don’t accept the "Baasskap" of the ANC. Stand up and be counted. In a word, fight back.

Issued by the Democratic Party, 24 May 1999