The DA is currently in a fairly toxic state. There are attempts to claim that its reversal on May 8 was really a sort of victory, allowing it to get rid of white racists. This is nonsense. In fact the DA owes its Afrikaans supporters a sincere apology for this libel. Everyone knows that the DA has failed to stand up for Afrikaans language and cultural rights despite their guarantee in the Constitution.
The way the DA dealt with the Schweizer-Reneke case was simply shameful. Some DA MPs have even suggested that it is the electorate that is at fault and must search its conscience for having voted as it did. This reflects a terminal arrogance and echoes Bertolt Brecht’s famous line after the 1953 risings in East Germany that if the people were against the government clearly one needed to choose a new people. (I write as a liberal who is a member of no party. Personally, I split my vote on May 8.)
Despite all its talk about being a party that believes in personal responsibility and that actions have to have consequences, the party is trying its damnedest to ignore those precepts. But whatever it says, the problem will not go away and will continue to stew within the party’s stomach. In any normal party in Britain, Australia, Canada or Western Europe the whole leadership group of the party would have gone by now.
The point is this. The party has gained at every election since 1994. This has given it a great sense of momentum, of confidence that “the future belongs to us”. It is rather like the German Social Democrats in the 1960s whose vote crept up at every election so the party referred happily to “Comrade Trend”. This was wonderful for morale, it helped get the party activists keen, helped pull out the vote, it helped everything. And it was precisely this that was lost in the DA’s recent performance. The moral and psychological damage is very great. And unless the party can really live up to its actions-mean-consequences principles, it will pay a further fearsome price in the 2021 local elections.
You can tell a lot about a party by the way its best members behave – and are treated. David Maynier, who has been a first rate shadow minister of finance and whose organizational efforts did much to aid the DA’s recovery in the Western Cape, has decided to leave Parliament for provincial politics. Gwen Ngwenya, a highly intelligent black liberal woman, resigned her important position in charge of policy and is also nowexiting Parliament. These are signs that something is terribly wrong. But what does the leadership do in response? It decides to launch punitive investigations into Helen Zille, Michael Cardo and Ghaleb Cachalia for, of all things, their remarks (some of them in jest) on Twitter. This is ridiculous. The idea that what the party needs to do is to crack down on free speech in its ranks rather than look at the really serious problems it faces is simply grotesque.