By Mighti Jamie
/// Posted April 13, 2018


With the election of Cyril Ramaphosa to the helm of the ANC in December and the subsequent removal of Jacob Zuma from the state presidency the shape of the political landscape has changed dramatically in South Africa. The stains of corruption and incompetent leadership have been bleached away from the ANC to a large degree.

The opposition parties are going through a process of introspection and a process wherein they have to reassert their identity to South Africa. The low hanging fruits of an anti-corruption vote have vanished. Now looms the threat of Ramaphoria bringing the ANC comfortably back into power in the 2019 election.  No coalitions just a dominant party state.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) held their congress over the last weekend at the Tshwane Events Centre. This was a closely watched event by many as they tried to put a finger on the heart of the party. As the party seeks to grow from its 22% presence in Parliament its identity, policies and approach to issues such as representation will matter to many black voters. Now that the congress is over, and the dust is settling we can begin to analyse critically the decisions made. This congress is the lens through which people will measure the DA in the coming year.

The DA has had a very persistent problem in the realm of branding. It has been labeled a white party by both the ANC and the EFF. The black political leadership has often been challenged as being tokenistic. This problem precedes Mmusi Maimane, these accusations were made even towards Lindiwe Mazibuko, Julius Malema used to refer to her as the tea girl of the Madam. Which was to say the real strings of power resided with Helen Zille and not Mazibuko. This may have been proved to be true because when they had a difference of opinion, it was Mazibuko who had to go to Harvard. While people note the presence of Black leaders the question is always “but is there a puppet master?”

The black political circles are very weary of the “house negro”, the “Uncle Tom”. In fact, the biggest disqualifier to the black political audience is to be a “house negro”.  To the uninitiated the label “house negro” refers to those who love the white supremacist structures and choose to work to protect it. These members of the black community faced horrible consequences in South Africa when they worked as impimpi. There are many who view black members of the DA as either proactive house negros or unconscious ones. Whispers of “sell out” always follow the black membership of the DA.

It is because of this branding as a white party that of the several issues that were pronounced upon perhaps the most important was the decision made around diversity. That identity of the party as being white was put front and centre in the debate that ensued between Mmusi Maimane on one side and Gavin Davis and others opposing his ideas.

Mmusi Maimane and several others were advocating for a clause to be added to the values charter which had the following wording

“1. The party solemnly subscribes to the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa, [which states] that: ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in diversity.’

“2. The party will to the best of its ability attempt to replicate diversity in its own ranks.”

Gavin Davis and Michael Cardo were some of those who opposed this and wanted the following phrasing

“1. The party solemnly subscribes to the preamble of the Constitution of South Africa, which recognises the injustices of our past, and affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

2. The party will take active steps to promote and advance diversity in its own ranks, without recourse to regressive mechanisms such as quotas.”

They vowed to oppose the Maimane version of the amendment on the floor of the congress. Both versions claim to affirm the constitution of South Africa and at first glance they seem to agree on the importance of the constitution’s wording around diversity.

However, it is important to note that there is equivocation here between two forms of diversity, the Maimane group was speaking to diversity of identity, factors such as race and gender and sexuality. The DA in having this discussion and in announcing its resolutions commits a fallacy of equivocation.

A fallacy of equivocation occurs when a word with two or more meanings is used by a person who keeps swopping the meaning of the word around as the use it to make an argument. Here is an example

1. Zuma was the most powerful man in the country

2. Knowledge is power


3. Zuma was the most knowledgeable person in the country

Obviously this argument cannot be correct. To reveal the invalidity of this argument we have only to note that the word power in the first premise means “the possession of control or command over people,” whereas in the second premise it means “the ability to use what has been learnt to control things”.

Both sides were not speaking about the same diversity. So now at the end of the conference when you hear the leaders speak on being “united in diversity,” the question you should ask is which “diversity” they are speaking about. It’s an important distinction.

The Davis group was speaking of the diversity that exists between individuals as result of their uniqueness. They adopt what they call a liberal definition of uniqueness, their diversity refers to who a person is rather than what group they belong in or identify with. So, from the Davis view you can have ten white men in a room and there could still be diversity, because they didn’t grow up in the same homes, read the same books, paly he same video games and study the same subjects. They are all different people and the room is diverse. Their definition is a rejection of critical race theory. (more on this later) but for now don’t forget that different definitions of diversity were used.

The Maimane group seemed to be speaking more to the definition used in the diversity discussions generally held in South Africa. Where we do look at race, gender, sexuality and seek to have those represented proportionately in spaces of power. Maimane has spoken on several platforms that he wants to have a parliament that is more reflective of the demographics of South Africa on the DA parliamentary benches. He was not speaking in all those interviews of a diversity of thought, character and personality.

The other difference between the two amendments is that the Maimane amendment would have required some deliberate attempts by the party to reflect the demographics of the country in its leadership,

“The party will to the best of its ability attempt to replicate diversity in its own ranks”

 The implication is that this would have to be done proactively through solutions like quotas. It would in effect be an affirmative action policy implemented by the party.

The diversity clause that ended up prevailing was the clause which stated the following

“1. South Africa is a richly diverse society. Though our people come from different origins, worship in different ways and have different cultures and customs, we are all unique individuals

2. Diversity is one of South Africa’s greatest assets. The party celebrates diversity and recognises the right of each individual to be who they want to be, free from domination by others.

3.The party solemnly subscribes to the preamble of the constitution of South Africa which recognises the injustices of our past and affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it united in our diversity.

4. The Party will continue to take active steps to promote and advance diversity in its own ranks, without recourse to rigid formulae or quotas."

At the end of the Congress two things had happened, firstly the definition of diversity as individual difference and not group difference. Furthermore, the DA rejected affirmative action policies that proactively seek to create diversity. The Davis school of thought prevailed.  More importantly, the last clause was moved from the values section of the constitution of the DA to its principles section meaning that it now is the prescriptive standard for how the DA will govern in the spaces where it has the numbers to do so. In Gavin’s own words this was an even bigger victory than they expected.


Does the DA need Quotas or an affirmative action policy?


At the political level there seems to be a lot of diversity in representivity in the DA, they obviously have Mmusi Maimane at the helm, they have three out of four Black Mayors in major metros, Patricia De Lille, Herman Mashaba, Solly Msimanga, we have leaders such as Bonginkosi Madikizela who is the leader in the western cape.

Women have also done very well in the party Lindiwe Mazibuko was the leader of the party until Helen Zille sent her to Harvard. Helen Zille was instrumental to the party leadership for eight years. She remains an influential player within the party although nowadays she is behind the scenes. She still is the most powerful woman in the country as the Premier of the Western Cape.

There are other examples of women occupying positions of influence in the party, Phumzile Vandamme, Dikeledi Selowa, Hlomelwa Bucwa.

So, it may seem that this is another case of much ado about nothing, but closer analysis reveals that while it is true that there are several prominent black leaders in the party this may be a hasty conclusion.

Looking at the DA parliamentary caucus one observes that there is a majority of white representatives in the chamber who sit on the DA benches, notwithstanding the presence of Zak Mbhele, Phumzile Van Damme and others. Observing the National management committee, observing the corporate arm of the party and observing its law firm of choice one observes that the seats of power in the DA are still decidedly in white hands. 

Allow me to demonstrate this practically:

This is the composition of the national management committee

  1. Federal Leader - Mmusi Maimane (Black man)
  2. Federal Executive Chairman -James Selfe (white man)
  3. Federal Chairperson - Athol Trollip (white man)
  4. Deputy Federal chairpersons - Ivan Meyer (white man)
  5. Deputy Federal chairpersons -  Mike Waters (white man)
  6. Deputy Federal chairperson- Refiloe Ntsekhe (black woman)
  7. DA CEO - Paul Boughey (white man)
  8. Parliamentary whip - John Steenhuisen (white man)
  9. Federal Finance Chairperson - Dion George (white man)

This is the composition of the executive arm of the DA

  1. Chief Executive officer - Paul Boughey (white man)
  2. Chief Organisational Development - Penny Tainton (white woman)
  3. National Operations Director - Khurshed Moakes (white woman)
  4. Chief Operations Executive- Liana van Wyk, (white woman)
  5. Chief Financial Officer- Liz Geyser (white woman)
  6. Chief Strategist - Jonathan Moakes (white man)
  7. Former Fundraising Officer- David Mayneir (white man) *
  8. Executive Director for Innovation and Projects - last known employee Gareth Van Onselen (white man) *
  9. Maimane’s chief of staff - Geordin Hill-Lewis (white man)

Examining these three key structures

  1. The national management committee
  2. The executive directors of the party
  3. The members of parliament 

Its readily ascertainable that there is a preponderance of white people in key positions of leadership and a dearth of black leadership. The most underrepresented group being black women. So yes, they do need to actively address they disparities that exist in terms of black presence in positions of leadership within the party.




The DA in rejecting a diversity with quotas has in effect rejected affirmative action as a policy. This is now a principle that not only governs the party but directs how the party will govern the state and provinces. This rejection of quotas will have an impact in the nature of legislation they create and this will likely lead to repeals of legislation that currently does require corporations and state owned enterprises to have black representation . Polices such as BBBEE  and the affirmative action policies that are pursued by universities . South African universities have adopted considerations of race, gender and background in allocating university spaces.

For instance Wits Medical school does proactively use a version of quotas to make sure that black students , students from rural areas can have a chance to study medicine. This is to the exclusion of some white students who may have better marks that some of the students who are accepted .

The government has pushed for inclusion of blacks people in business deals and in corporate environments through their BBBEEE policies and these have increased black presence in those spaces. Arguably BBBEE has not been effective in redistribution of wealth and it has simply created a small cluster of black billionaires without reshaping the economic landscape. That notwithstanding, it has been effective in an inclusive sense and that inclusion has enabled those recipients to improve the lives and prospects of their families and communities.

It’s worth revisiting the affirmative action debate and what the common arguments are in this debate. Let’s look at the arguments firstly as they apply to University admissions and then work our way back to the DA and examine if they are correct in rejecting affirmative action.

Who deserves to be admitted. Does anyone ?  

On the side against affirmative action.

  1. We compromise the quality of professionals, academics produced by the University in question, if we do not take the most qualified people on the basis of merit we lower the standards and subsequently produce an inferior human resource. This will have a negative impact on the very people we are trying to help.
  2. Race/ gender /ethnicity are arbitrary. People cannot control their couldn’t identity and as such when white students with better marks are not selected they are being disadvantaged for something they have no control over. Admissions should not reward arbitrary factors. (Unfair).
  3. It’s not fair to punish innocent players for the actions of past players. There is no collective responsibility for past wrongs.
  4. The past has no bearing on the present, discrimination on the basis of race must always be wrong. Those who do it now are not any better than those who did it before. It is racial discrimination.
  5. The way to fix the differences is to address the upbringing and the education. Don’t address the results. So if you want to see more black people coming into universities, go and fix the basic education system and give those children a chance.
  6. Affirmative action uses the standards of the old system which looked at people only through the lens of race. Adopting this system perpetuates racial divisions while the goal is to eradicate them.
  7. Why should race and gender be equated with diversity there are other forms of diversity, diversity of thought, diversity of sexuality and diversity of belief.
  8. Individual rights cannot be violated, unless you are a utilitarian. Individuals must be measured according to their accomplishments.

On the side for affirmative action.

  1. There is a need to correct for the effect of educational disadvantage arising from apartheid and colonial legacy. There are discrepancies in education system. So this creates an uneven playing field which would exclude capable applicants from poor areas. (Unfair). While grades matter they don’t always mean the same, you have to correct for unequal preparation and environmental disadvantages. If I get a 75% in maths and you get a 80% but I had to swim to get to my poorly resourced school and raise my siblings and do chores while you went to a top tier private school, my 75% may be worth more than your 80%.This correction is consistent in principle that academic promise and scholarly potential should matter, it simply considers that we just need more metrics to measure them. That is the fairer way.
  2. The purpose of the university is to educate the students - they teach each other different things when there is more diversity. Diversity is important for society as a whole.
  3. Compensatory argument .This is a form of reparations for past injustices. Higher proportion of black people are marginalized and living in poverty. As a result there is a higher need for members of their community to have access to educational opportunities as this will enable them to reduce the poverty in their families and communities.
  4. There have been 366 years of white affirmative action. Apartheid admissions policies paired up with bantu education system led to a system of arbitrary privilege that was extended to white people. This has created a concentration of white people in the corporate spaces and high value professions.
  5. Racial and gender diversity are forms of diversity, there are identities that arise from growing up in a certain culture and observing certain traditions that will create difference between people of different races.While individuals are different there are shared values and customs. The lived experiences of a particular identity for example women do create different understandings of the social and political order. It would be unreasonable to assume that a white man can fully appreciate what it means to be a black woman and that the views of a black woman are to a degree informed by that identity.
  6. Social mission of the body - the common good/ purpose of the institution is best served by giving access to the previously disadvantaged. That way more people are able to access the benefits of the education of that individual. Educating only the elite would only serve to concentrate more benefits to them and in consideration of the law of diminishing returns, it is more effective to serve a space where suffering exists than where prosperity already is the norm.

Those are the most common points argued both on the side for affirmative action policies and against affirmative action policies. While the application may differ, obviously a political party is different from a university, the principles generally apply. Let’s bring the discussion back to the DA.

Let’s start with the social mission of the body.

The purpose of the parliament is to find the best law makers so that they can make the best laws for the people. In order for them to do this they would have to understand the people. In order for them to achieve this they would need to be effective representation of those very same people in the chambers.

The purpose of a political party is to effectively contest elections so as to gain access to power  in government with the intention to promote the collective good or to further their supporters interests. They do this through drafting policies and programs and canvassing for support from the general public. To do this they would also need to have a good understanding of the interests and lived conditions of their supporters and also the citizens of the country.

Having outlined the above it is my submission that the DA undermines their own social mission by appointing a majority white leadership body. Currently the leadership structure of the DA has a high level of homogeneity in background. Its white leaders grew up in the suburbs of South Africa, went to private schools or Model C schools and lived either in the white middle class or the white elite. Their upbringing and lived experiences are totally different to those of the majority of South Africa which grew up in the townships of South Africa and lived in poverty and congested conditions.

We have to ask ourselves where does effective representation occur? How best would an organization draft policies and make laws. Are white males able to sufficiently represent women and the poor people in the townships and slums of South Africa. Township views may be more astute to the concerns that exist in certain communities. Reading the room and knowing the needs of the electorate.

Having representatives from varying spaces leads to different prioritisation of issues . Having lived a particular experience, let’s say in a rough part of Phiri in Soweto you have a unique understanding of the issues that affect the area, they are not theoretical to you, they have a certain urgency that may not exist in the calculus of someone who grew up in the cushy suburbs of Cape town.  The policy priorities of a black woman will not be the same as those of a black man or a white man. A white man may be thinking of stabilising the economy and attracting investors, while a black woman will be thinking of the threat to her life that never ends from black and white men. Rape, domestic violence and abductions will be some of her priorities. The pay gaps between men and women would be another, the wide spread sexual harassment of women in workplaces would be another.

I do not think that the DA can simply assert as they have that the nature and identity of the representative is irrelevant, that white men can do the job and we shouldn’t be worried, I don’t think in many instances that they can do the job. I don’t think they have the understanding of what is happening in our homes and communities as black people the same way we do. I don’t think that they prioritise our challenges in their rhetoric and policies. I don’t think that I could represent a black woman, while I may have an academic understanding of her challenges, there will always be a lot lost in translation. I think the best representation for women comes from women and the role a man must occupy is that of a listener and supporter.

The social mission of the party is undermined by this new diversity clause which maintains the status quo of the DA leadership as mainly white.

Let’s looks at the merit argument that has been bandied around.

There is an nasty implication that by having quotas we will somehow compromise quality. That it will result in an ANC-risation of the party so to speak. The racist undertones is that blacks will take the organisation down. As if there is something inherent in melanin complexion that makes incompetence an inevitable outcome .Firstly in politics there are different types of talent. It’s not just about education, although there are many well educated black supporters within the DA. It’s also about charisma and understanding how to communicate with the electorate. It’s about being able to relate with the community to access the community.

We know that Black people can be sophisticated politicians, there is no shortage of examples in that regards. It seems implausible that by allowing more blacks in the power structures of the party that the quality will just drop. It is actually more likely that in doing so the party may have improved strategy and messaging by including people who have unique insights and understandings of the electorate. There are 4 million people who voted for the DA in 2014, assuming that they have grown their black support base, this indicates that there a millions of black supporters of this party and many of whom would be members. It is implausible that they cannot find sufficiently talented and qualified black people to join the executive leadership of the party or to seat in parliament. 

In maintaining the white dominant position in the seats of power the DA actually prevents the sense of shared ownership that is attained from having representative demographic diversity. The party is already viewed by many as being a white party, it is important to give those people a slice of the pie. I mean there is a reason why black people actually pushed Black Panther to over 1 billion USD, because we felt that it was ours. To consistently show us white faces in parliament, to have a white national management team, to have an all-white legal team is to say to the people of South Africa who are black  “this is not yours, you are customers but you are not shareholders”. Why would I vote for an organisation that I have no share in. This very approach does lead to the conclusion that the black faces that we are being shown are tokens. Panaceas to make us ignore that the heart of the organisation is run by James Selfe and other white people. It does not even seem to me that Mmusi is the most powerful person in the organisation, that would be James Selfe who has served as the most important power broker in the organisation since 2000. It is Selfe who appoints the CEO and self who briefs the legal teams. It is Self who runs the DA on a day to day basis. Mmusi is a public face, a ceremonial leader while Selfe is the prime minister.

Lastly it’s important to evaluate self-interest.

Holders of privilege have no incentive to hand over privilege to the oppressed- TD Jakes. 

As such this must be created through policy. Privilege is currently enjoyed in this country by the white minority, there is no incentive for members of that white minority to share what they accessed through the legacy of apartheid with the rest of the country. How many white people have voluntarily given away land, or voluntarily vacated positions of influence because they recognised that they got them in an uneven playing field. The answer is zero.

It is important to have representatives who have my self-interests at heart, who have come from marginalised areas and suffered racism and discrimination. It’s important to have lots of black women who have suffered from both patriarchy and racism. While there is no guarantee they will represent my interests, I would venture my chances would be higher than if my representatives were white men. They have no incentive to give over anything and in fact their self-interest leans in an opposite direction to mine. Their self-interest is to protect what they have, their privilege. The real check and balance would come from having diverse representatives in the room.

So to reject affirmative action policies as a whole is to actually roadblock any access to real redress. It is merely to tell black people to patiently wait for change, as they have been told to for 366 years. This is not a position I think South African blacks should endorse. 







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