It's not Zille who's bringing the DA into disrepute

John Kane-Berman says the WCape Premier is guilty at most of a 'thought crime'

Her party's leadership, not Helen Zille, is bringing the DA into "disrepute"

By instituting formal disciplinary proceedings against Helen Zille, the federal executive of the Democratic Alliance (DA) has done more to bring "the good name of the party into disrepute" than Ms Zille's tweet about colonialism ever could. Ms Zille is guilty at the most of "thought crime", forerunner of the political correctness which has done so much to stifle debate in this country.

Moreover, whatever the leadership of the DA might think, the debate she has provoked is both timely and necessary. More than that, the hostile reaction to her remarks has reminded us yet again how vigorously free speech needs to be defended - not only against possible legislative enactment but also against the more insidious threat from all those virtue-signallers who would shut it down by intellectual intimidation and moral one-upmanship of the kind that has characterised some of the attacks on Ms Zille by journalists and academics.

Some of the attacks - such as one accusing her of "moral turpitude" - have bordered on the hysterical. Others have been puerile, calling into question the sense of balance and proportion among sections of the South African intelligentsia. By laying charges against Ms Zille the DA leadership has shown similar lack of proportion (as well as poor leadership).

South Africa's twin ruling parties, the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), rely heavily on depicting black people as helpless victims of various forms of white malfeasance, among them apartheid, colonialism, white monopoly capital, "institutionalised racism", and of course the ineradicable sin of "whiteness" itself.

The presumption of helpless and irretrievable black victimhood serves to legitimate a powerful policy response. This includes legislation to "create" black industrialists or otherwise "empower" people unable to do anything for themselves without the help of the state or of the white man whose company has to do things for them in order to get enough "empowerment" points to get business for itself.

One result is an increasingly intrusive (and increasingly corrupt) state. It has done great harm to economic growth. The intrusive state, and the assumptions underpinning it, also undermine individual effort and self-reliance on the part of the presumed victims by making someone or something else the scapegoat for every ill that afflicts them. It also undermines them by putting their fate in the hands of "white monopoly capitalists" looking for government contracts.

The essence of a liberal society is that it allows and enables individuals to take responsibility for themselves and their own lives. The essence of what the ANC/SACP alliance wants for South Africa is an all-powerful state which in practice disallows this. To bring about such a state they need to win what they describe as the "battle of ideas" against liberal alternatives. They have already gone quite far in winning this battle, as demonstrated by the ideological hegemony that their racial policies enjoy in the media, in the business world, in academia, among some judges, and among all but a handful of non-governmental organisations.

The DA is the latest manifestation of a long tradition of South African liberalism. At times the party has shown ideological confusion, especially on race. But somebody in the DA needs to hold out an alternative to the prevailing ideology of victimhood. Somebody needs to resist the never-ending search for scapegoats among whites, some of them long dead. Scapegoating may let the government off the hook. It may satisfy some need to wreak vengeance upon white people. But it will also disempower black people in the way apartheid in the end failed to do.

If the DA now proceeds from indictment to actual punishment, it will send a signal that the debilitating ideology of victimhood is off limits for discussion in the institutions that make the laws which perpetuate it under the guise of reversing it.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. His memoirs, Between Two Fires - Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, have just been published.