The DA: A reply to GHL

RW Johnson says it is incontrovertible that Zille's head hunting went awry

Mr Geordin Hill-Lewis is an official spokesman for the DA but he seems still to need some elementary coaching in debate. He starts with, "As an historian, RW Johnson would know.". Actually, I'm a political scientist, not an historian. He shouldn't assume he knows what I am and then get it wrong.

He then suggests that I bring "personal motives" into my interpretation. How, pray, would Mr Hill-Lewis know that? We have never met and he knows nothing about me. It is a mistake to impute motives to someone you don't even know. You can't possibly get that right.

He continues "for his analysis to succeed, (Johnson) is compelled to create an exaggerated perception of failure. because his purpose is to attribute blame". Again, this makes the elementary mistake of presuming that he knows how my mind works and even, apparently, my (surreptitious?) motives.

This sort of thing is no good at all. One should not pretend to omniscience and continually claim to know other people's inner motivation. It's not just bound to be wrong but it's an unworthy way of going about things. Imagine if I attempted a Freudian interpretation of Mr Hill-Lewis's motives, rep[lete with references to childhood repressions, sexuality etc. It would be grossly impertinent and, of course, inevitably wrong. 

Similarly, Mr Hill-Lewis suggests that I do not provide "an honest analysis" and that I merely "pretend" that the Ramphele fiasco was damaging. Again, this imputation of dishonesty is unworthy and insulting. These are things one learns in a school debating society. A DA front bencher should not need to be told this.

As to the substance, the De Lille disaster occurred in large part because she was so authoritarian. She centralised all Cape Town's decision-making in her hands and used it to appoint cronies. This was no surprise. She had always ruled her own party with a rod of iron. She was never a suitable recruit for the DA. This was obvious from the start.

Nor indeed was Dr Ramphele. In the week before the farce of her being made the DA's presidential candidate, I spoke to Helen Zille on the phone and warned her that this arrangement could not possibly last a week. Helen was later frank enough to admit to me that it had been a thorough disaster and very damaging to the DA's credibility.

As for Maimane, my heart sank when Helen praised him to the skies to me. It was clear that he was being lined up as a possible future leader and by then I knew that whatever Helen's other and very genuine virtues might be, good judgement was not one of them. To be fair, Helen admitted all these mistakes.

I am all in favour of diversity but I feel that this identity politics pursuit of black celebrities and their over-rapid promotion was a disastrous blunder.

It produced not one but a succession of high-profile personnel disasters, culminating in the Maimane fiasco. The result was to shake confidence in the DA, damage its credibility and halt its momentum. The fact that De Lille, Ramphaele, Maimane and Mashaba all launched movements aimed at damaging the DA is eloquent testimony to the damage done. This damage is far from over.

There were many promising younger people of colour in the DA. They needed to be nurtured, mentored, gradually given responsibility and, above all, time to work their way up. In other words, treated non-racially in the same way as anyone else.

RW Johnson