Racial quotas: Some questions for the DA

Frans Cronje asks the official opposition about its plans for internal diversity targets

Is the DA’s move towards racial quotas a precursor to further policy shifts?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has announced plans to introduce racial targets/quotas across all structures of the party from its branches upwards. Forced racial targets have long been a primary ideological underpinning of African National Congress (ANC) policy making and an anathema to South Africa’s liberal tradition. Frans Cronje asked Mmusi Maimane’s office why the DA is doing this and what the implications for the long term policy positioning of the party will be.

 FC: How will this quotas/targets policy work?

DA: This is still being designed and determined, so it would be premature to discuss details before they are adopted by the party’s executive. The overall objective is that we want all DA structures to be intentional about recruiting and mentoring excellent black activists, whom will feed through into the talent pool for the DA’s candidate selection process.

FC: Why has the DA introduced it?

DA: We want to introduce a greater number of black candidates into the DA’s pool of potential candidates, and as committed activists in communities across the country.

FC: How do you respond to the idea that it contradicts the party's long standing liberal heritage?

DA: We disagree. Asking our structures to spend more focused time on recruiting new, diverse candidates, is not the same thing as racial quotas. It is an extreme stretch of the imagination to suggest the two are the equivalent.

FC: Can you actually pull off a distinction between quotas and targets?

DA: Quotas are prescriptive, whereas targets are not. The objective is to ensure that, by 2019, our parliamentary and legislature caucuses, and our decision-making structures at all levels, reflect the diversity of our complex society. 

FC: Surely if your policies were attractive to young people there would be no need for quotas?

DA: We reject quotas. In the same way that we have to actively work to win the support of voters, so we have to actively work to recruit a greater number of excellent black candidates. And what is not measured, will not be done, so we have to measure the progress we are making in achieving these goals. 

FC: Does this step open the way to the DA endorsing racial quotas in other areas of South African life, such as sports quotas or employment equity targets?

DA: We do not endorse racial quotas, and never will.

FC: What enforcement mechanisms are you contemplating for branches and the like that fail to set or deliver on their quotas?

DA: The idea is that every structure, from branch level upwards, should set its own diversity targets, which may differ based on geography, demographics of an area, and current composition of the branch or other structure. They should then submit those targets to an appropriate reporting authority, which will assess their reasonableness. There may, and probably will be, different views about the reasonableness of some structures' targets, and the idea is to engage with the structure until both the structure and the reporting authority agree on exactly what is reasonable given the circumstances of that structure. However, once agreed, the structure should set in motion steps to achieve the targets. Progress towards the agreed targets would be one such measurement. It would hopefully not be necessary to intervene then at the last minute by imposing candidates: the whole idea is precisely to avoid that - to encourage potential candidates to be identified, recruited, motivated and involved, so that they emerge naturally through the selection process.

FC: Are you drawing a distinction between black-African and other black groups?

DA: The DA certainly does not want to re-impose race classification, so self-identification would appear to be a better way of achieving the diversity we want to see.

FC:  How do you overcome the risk that this move aligns you ideologically quite closely to the ANC?

DA: There is no such risk associated with this decision.  We are asking our structures to be intentional about recruiting more black activists and candidates, and we wish to measure their progress in this regard.

FC:  If this move is indicative of the DA’s emerging thinking on redress and transformation, then why have you settled on racial quotas and not socio-economic benchmarks? 

DA: We have not settled on racial quotas. We are asking our structures to be intentional about recruiting more black activists and candidates, and we wish to measure their progress in this regard.

Frans Cronje is the CEO of the IRR, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. This piece was first published in Rapport