Madly, the Democratic Alliance has taken to attacking its own history and liberal origins. The consequences will be bad for South Africa’s democracy and bad for the DA.
The Mail and Guardian recently reported the leader of the party, Mr Mmusi Maimane, as saying that the party will change in order to start caring about the poor – an astonishing insult to those who have voted for the party, or served in its leadership, up until now. Mr Maimane went further in saying that the DA had changed its historical position on race-based employment equity. Now, the policy of the DA is that ‘if there are two candidates of different races and they appear for the job, pick the black one’. He also said that DA believed that commercial farmers needed to dispose of land to their employees.
Hot on his heels, DA MP Mr Gordon Mackay approvingly quotes Mr Maimane in the Sunday Times as saying that ‘the gap in classical liberal ideology is its ability to address inequality and redress’. This, after Mr Mackay had argued in favour of ‘an African liberalism that does not entrench privilege’.
What utter tripe. Liberal principles such as free markets and property rights have proved to be central in raising global living standards. The improvements in socio-economic conditions that South Africa recorded since 1994 arose in the main from the limited liberalising reforms introduced by the African National Congress, which allowed markets to function more effectively, and people to accumulate wealth and property.
Even in the tough political terrain of land reform, research recently published by AgriSA establishes that a combination of expanded property rights and a market economy has done more to address historical land injustices than the redistribution policies of the government. Had the liberalising reforms introduced after 1994 been deeper, much more might have been achieved; South Africa’s post-2007 economic reversal can be attributed in the main to the ruling party’s reversal of its earlier reforms.
It takes only the most cursory analysis to see that the tenets of the classical liberal tradition – the importance of property rights, a market economy, free speech, and the rule of law in an environment where people are valued as individuals and not as members of groups – stand out starkly in every area where South Africa has made progress since 1994, while in every area that the country has failed, it is attacks on property rights, the undermining of market forces, and the erosion of the space for free speech that comes to the fore. This is not a question of being dogmatic – but what we now see in the DA is not flexibility, but rather a retreat from at least three of the tenets, while a fourth, free speech, is also in doubt if the line from some party insiders is to be believed.