My non-racial tradition and my path to the DA

Ghaleb Cachalia writes on on how his family history intersects with his membership of the opposition

I was brought up in a proud tradition. My family, through the ages, have sacrificed much in their fight against oppression.

My grandfathers – both maternal and paternal – came to these shores in the 1880’s to seek a better life. Against the grain of empire and prejudice, they did well. From humble beginnings and through hard and diligent endeavour they prospered. One owned almost all of Boom Street in Pretoria and the other ran a very successful business and farm in Vereeniging.

Both willingly lost businesses and assets because they joined Gandhi in the struggle he initiated against the British Empire, in opposition to race-based laws that sought to prevent the progress and development of Indians. They went to jail, risking all they had built, in the first passive resistance movements that laid the foundation for principled opposition to iniquitous laws that sought to dispossess and retard the development of people on the basis of race.

Gandhi wrote glowingly about them in fine tribute to their honour and when he left South Africa for India where his efforts contributed, in no small measure, to the first challenge and defeat of British colonialism, they remained behind in South Africa. Successive generations of Cachalias and Aswats forged alliances with people united by common opposition to injustice and a united quest for freedom.

My parent’s marriage , in many ways, forged the crucible that catalysed elements of the struggle against Apartheid. They built bridges with African, Chinese , White, and Coloured people and seeded a common non-racialism. The Mandelas and Sisulus, Chang Foots and Lais, Dadoos and Naickers, Phillips and Mathews, Bernsteins and Fischers all were representative of unity of purpose and a nobility of vision of many – their evolutionary ideological and discrete impetuses notwithstanding – that bound them in a common humanity. Non-racialism was their creed.

I wore their contribution as a badge of honour. It inspired successive generations to do the same. But often, under the hegemony of unity, a dominant ideology takes root – governed by the pressing realities and historical circumstances of the time. In this way, between the quest for justice and the hand of friendship extended by those on a side of the ideological divide, the battle lines were drawn. Nehru, Sukarno and others were alive to the contradictions and sought to address this via the ‘non-aligned’ movement. The countervailing forces, alas, were too powerful.

Fast forward through the battles – local and international – through the jockeying for position and the quest for inheritance of a multi-faceted mantle, the ANC commanded centre stage and pole position, largely as a result of years of what has been termed armed propaganda built on a the back of a noble struggle.

And then, the rot set in. The scourge of liberation movements – an unfettered inheritance of the political kingdom – set the scene for a modern-day divine right to rule and reap.

The rest is history – the history of theft, elites, racial nationalism and all the attendant woes that accompany this.

It is the coalescence of this history, of the diminution of an original noble purpose that led me to confront the trajectory of my political heritage and redefine my values in line with the original impetus of my family’s history. It led me to a non-racial liberalism – rooted in a common humanity defined in terms of the primacy of individual liberty.

These two concepts: individualism and liberty apply to all human persons, and as such the principles are universal. Individualism and universalism are supported by the idea that we all have an innate moral equality merely by virtue of our humanity, underscored by a pluralism, or a commitment to toleration of diversity of belief and culture, that directly obtains from the moral equality of individuals and their free use of reason.

It is this that has rooted me – imperfectly, as all things are, but singularly and unsurpassably – in the only opposition party that strives for a polity based on my heritage. The slew of lapidations from many mired in hope against hope of a dwindling belief in in the integrity of the ruling party and others who drive a lesser agenda notwithstanding, I remain resolute that my decision is grounded in the honour of my family’s past – a past that stood firm over a hundred years for universal principles of social, economic and human justice.

This is not to say that the DA is perfect. It is a microcosm of our imperfections and our elevating aspirations. What sets it apart is the courage of its convictions – espoused recently in its policy conference – and in its non-reliance on a damaged past and instead an openness to embrace an inclusive future.

I’m a proud member.