The DA's Diversity Difference
Last weekend, the Democratic Alliance (DA) held the biggest and most diverse Federal Congress in the party’s history, as some 2000 delegates from every corner of the country met in Tshwane to debate and adopt policy resolutions and constitutional amendments, and to elect a leadership team to carry our vision into 2019 and beyond.
I was filled with immense pride witnessing our movement at its best, the Blue Machine marching together under the banner of “One South Africa For All”.
Our Congress showed the nation what we are all about – a group of diverse South Africans building a values-based, non-racial organisation. Without chair-throwing and physical violence, we demonstrated that we are still the only political party in South Africa that can build a united and prosperous nation for all who call it home.
At the centre of debate at Congress was the so-called “Diversity Clause”, a proposed amendment to our party’s Federal Constitution. As DA Leader, I proposed this amendment to put into words that which we have always lived. It is important to record in our founding documents those values which inspire us and which underpin our project. The DA is the most diverse party in South Africa, and it’s one of our greatest strengths. This ought to be reflected in every aspect of the organisation – most importantly our Federal Constitution.
We debated, deliberated and finally decided to adopt it into our Federal Constitution.
The clause reads as follows:
“South Africa is a richly diverse society. Though our people come from different origins, worship in different ways and have different cultures and customs, we are all unique individuals.
Diversity is one of South Africa’s greatest assets. The party celebrates diversity, and recognises the right of each individual to be who they want to be, free from domination by others.
The party solemnly subscribes to the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa which recognises the injustices of the past, and affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
The party will continue to take active steps to promote and advance diversity in its own ranks.”
In the section of our constitution on our party’s principles, we specifically rejected racial quotas as anathema to our vision for South Africa. We cannot be trapped by the crude ascriptive categorisation that the apartheid government used to define us.
The adoption of these amendments was a unifying moment for our party, as thousands of delegates came to mutual agreement that we embrace diversity, and we are the most diverse party, and we also reject quotas.
The adoption of this clause was a commitment to continue to take active steps to promote and advance diversity within the party.
The DA is already taking active steps to remove the obstacles to greater diversity, and to expand opportunities, particularly for young black candidates and activists.
Firstly, the DA’s Young Leaders Programme (YLP) is a political leadership learning and development programme for South Africans between the ages of 18 and 35 who align themselves with the DA’s values of Freedom, Fairness, Opportunity and Diversity. The programme is an intensive, yearlong, part-time political leadership development course that strives to give passionate young leaders the opportunity to develop their interest in politics. Now in it’s eleventh year, already this programme has yielded significant positive results for the party. Many of our young MPs, MPLs, councillors and professional staff members have come through the programme.
Secondly, each public representative in the DA has to set targets to recruit new activists to promote diversity in their branches or constituency structures. These targets are monitored by provincial, regional and constituency leadership and provincial leaders are responsible to me for the achievement of those targets. This is intended to bolster the pipeline of excellent candidates coming through the party’s branch structures and to counteract gatekeeping. Likewise, provincial leaders are themselves responsible for identifying excellent new candidates and mentoring them through the party selection process. They are obliged to report on progress at every meeting of our Federal Executive.
What distinguishes this approach, particularly as it is applied in the DA, is an emphasis on accountability, and a reversion to manipulating outcomes to achieve an exact replica of the demographic make-up of the country. This is ‘demography as destiny’ and is inimical to the DA’s philosophy. Morevoer, targets set for our internal structures are not box-ticking exercises. They are genuine attempts to improve and expand the opportunities available for new activists and candidates to succeed in the organisation.
Third, the party also invests in current public representatives by running a Political Development Programme (PDP), which gives MPs, MPLs, and Councillors intensive training and personal development tools in order to excel in their various roles. This programme is mirrored by one which caters for the party’s professional staff.
Perhaps most importantly, since 2015, we have seen the establishment over 550 new branches – the vast majority in areas where the DA has had little or no presence in the past. For example, the DA in the Eastern Cape grew from 139 active branches in 2015, to 347 in 2018. Similarly, the DA in Limpopo grew from 87 branches in 2015 to an impressive 238 branches in 2018. This growth has the natural effect of diversifying the party, and its impact will become apparent in the coming years.
The DA is growing, diversifying, and remains the only party that is uniting South Africans across racial, cultural, religious and gender lines. We envision a society that is truly diverse, and must continue our work in building One South Africa For All, despite what the naysayers have to say.
Our nation’s history is one of competing nationalisms. The sooner the DA breaks this legacy, the better it will be for our country. We must not relent in our fight to build a nation where in acknowledging our past injustices, we become a nation that belongs to all who live in it - black and white.