NEWS & ANALYSIS

Race matters, Helen!

Hlanganani Gumbi explains why he will be supporting Makashule Gana for DA interim leader

The DA’s Federal Council has taken the decision to hold a policy conference ahead of our April 2020 Federal Congress. This is a long overdue decision. It is however concerning to have the DA’s Chairperson of the Federal Council Helen Zille take an aggressive policy posture by indicating her personal opinions when addressing the Cape Town Press Club a fortnight ago. This in stark contrast to her public commitment to “stay in my lane”.

This is a first for the DA, especially on such a wedge debate in the party such as race. It is regrettable because the Chairperson of Federal Council remains the critical cog in the middle of the party who should bring people together. This pronouncement I sadly believe will do the opposite.

I am looking forward to the DA’s policy conference because it is the first real opportunity we will have to clearly map out our future offer to the people of South Africa.

If we want to stay the course of building a non-racial party in the centre of South Africa which brings people together, then we must reconsider our offer. The centre of South Africa lies in a political movement which can inspire young South Africans to actively get involved in building a party and a country grounded in social, economic and environmental justice. This is the critical centre and the direction the DA must take if it is the party of the future and of dignity.

The debate on whether race is a proxy or not for disadvantage in the DA is sadly back. Never the less it must be addressed. The simple answer is YES, of course race is a proxy for disadvantage. If we cannot accept that then we completely ignore the real effects of the migrant labour system on young black professionals called ‘Black Tax’. This additional expense on black professionals and families who send monthly cash to their families in the former homelands to survive is the most vivid burden on a group of South Africans by virtue of being black. This perpetuates unfair and toxic structural relationships which keep them poor and the face of poverty.

Race matters. We must not romanticise the advances that a very small size of the black middle class have made to overcome poverty and empower their families. This should not cloud our judgement from the hard reality that millions of black South Africans are currently trapped in poverty and will be for the next foreseeable future. Not only does it matter as a proxy for disadvantage, it matters in decision making, appointments and elections. Race matters just as much as experience, gender, skill and perspective. It matters because it adds to the depth of our value of diversity. This is a value that we dare not undermine during this phase of fleshing out who we are and who we are fighting for.

The fundamental is this - nowhere in the DAs constitution does it say that we are a liberal party. We must be careful to not allow ideology to make our party exclusionary and cold. We have allowed the DA to grow in stature because we were prepared to acknowledge a changing world and country. Today South Africa and the world are different from 10 years ago. We need to adapt to that change to be a modern and forward-focused movement.

We have the most socially and environmentally conscious generation before us. They cut across the racial divide. They are rich, middle class and poor. What unites them, is that they are aware about the need for fundamental change in South Africa. What they need, is a political movement that can allow them to get involved in the democratic system, anchored around a core set of big idea's that will change the course of South Africa.

It is for that reason I will be supporting Makashule Gana for DA interim leader at the Federal Council on the 17th November. He is the only candidate who clearly understands the direction we must take as a party. He believes it with a deep sense of conviction. It is the only way we can continue to bring hope to South Africans in the most inclusionary movement ever built. This will mean we will have to have big ideas to break through the dogma of our establishment politics, which is ineffective and uninspiring for so many looking for a political home.

We can build a party founded on social, economic and environmental justice. We owe it to my generation who stand to lose everything if we fail. is a DA MP. This article first appeared on his website.