Text of letter from PROGRESS SA to the Democratic Alliance 23 June 2020:
23 June 2020
To the Federal Council of the Democratic Alliance,
Re: Helen Zille’s public statements on 21 June 2020
On 30 March 2020, we wrote to you about tweets written by Mr Makashule Gana MPL, which we believed to be antithetical to the Constitution and the Democratic Alliance’s liberal principles. Mr Gana’s tweets praised the South African military’s manhandling and public humiliation of civilians as punishment for alleged violations of the national lockdown regulations. We called on you, as the leaders of the DA, to denounce the tweets and to distance the party from them. We also called on Mr Gana to apologise.
We now find ourselves in a similar position, where we feel compelled to reach out to the DA in defence of the principles of liberalism in South Africa. We are concerned whenever members of your party — South Africa’s only mainstream liberal party — take to social media to promote views that undermine the cause of liberalism in this country.
On Sunday evening, Helen Zille — your chairperson — tweeted the following: “There are more racist laws today than there were under Apartheid. All racist laws are wrong. But permanent victimhood is too highly prized to recognise this.”
We believe that Mrs Zille’s tweet is clearly factually inaccurate. Apartheid’s system of racial segregation and subjugation was enforced by means of over 50 Acts of Parliament and hundreds of sets of regulations.
These laws determined where individuals could live, work, who they could marry, whether they could own property, and meant that non-white South Africans were excluded from the democratic process. They undermined non-white South Africans’ freedom by stripping them of autonomy and the ability to define themselves as individuals and not as specimens of an undesirable group. The illiberalism of the apartheid project sunk its roots into the bedrock of the South African legal system.
Today, we are fortunate to have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights in which liberal principles such as non-racialism, individual freedom and human dignity are firmly entrenched. Citizens are empowered to test legislation and regulations against these principles. The foundation of our legal system now gives much fuller effect to the rights of all individuals than could have been imagined under apartheid.
This is not to say that we do not believe that there are currently racist laws, regulations and policies in force in South Africa. One of our chief criticisms of the ANC government has been its commitment to racial nationalism and its often-displayed disrespect for the individual as anything other than a ‘race agent’.
Sometimes our courts have been complicit in this. But it is not useful to exaggerate this point by making the false claim that this means there are a greater number of racist laws in effect today than there were during apartheid or that they are worse in magnitude. In fact, we believe it undermines the liberal project when bluster and false rhetoric is used by political leaders to make a point instead of calm and truthful analysis.
There is great value in just admitting when you get the facts wrong or express an opinion that is not rooted in fact. The possibility of being wrong and changing one’s mind is precisely why liberals value freedom of speech so highly — we can only get closer to the truest position if we are willing to hear opposing arguments, to admit we are wrong when we are, and to change our minds accordingly. Such a commitment to truth above ego is something that is sorely lacking in our public discourse in South Africa, and something in respect of which we hope the DA is willing to lead by example.
As such, we call on the party to distance itself from Mrs Zille’s error. We also call on Mrs Zille to admit she got it wrong and apologise for being careless with facts on a matter of serious human sensitivity.
Yours in truth and freedom, Progress SA