“On paper the policy differences between DA and ANC are more style than substance.” The confusions of @pierredevos

RICHARD WILKINSON

Last night Pierre de Vos published this article in which he, in his own unique way, lacerated the DA for being, amongst other things, potentially corrupt, anti-poor and at the centre of South Africa’s political malaise. Predictably, De Vos is, in his own unique way, very wrong. Here are my thoughts on a selection of lowlights from his article.

“Can the muted response of the DA to the police massacre at Marikana be attributed to their need to keep potential mining companies sweet?”

A very cursory online search reveals that in the weeks and months after the massacre the DA made at least 139 public statements including detailed policy proposals to avoid future tragedies. DA leaders visited the area and, in a way that respected the dignity and privacy of the families of the deceased, sought to point out some of the key factors that gave rise to the disaster.

Of course, had Helen Zille provided a less ‘muted’ response, commentators would have accused her of having unnecessarily ‘politicised’ a tragedy for electoral gain – as they did after she marched on Nkandla last year.

The only way De Vos could possibly interpret the DA’s response to Marikana as being muted is because he tends to hear only the stuff which fits into his narrow, closed worldview: i.e. heavily Left wing, anti-establishment ideology topped off with lashings of gratuitous racial mobilisation.

“No wonder that, on paper at least, the policy differences between the DA and the ANC are often related to style more than to substance. Both parties have adopted the National Development Plan as its policy Bible.”

Eh?

Firstly, if we have learnt anything over the past five years it is that whatever 500 page policy documents Trevor Manuel cooks up in his office are hardly representative of the views of the broader ANC, let alone the unions whose interests more often than not run counter to many of the reforms which his Commission proposes.

Moreover, the policy differences between the DA and ANC (even after accounting for the National Development Plan) are frankly too numerous to mention.

For instance, the DA’s housing policy calls for reforms to PIE and other ANC-enacted laws which have played a major role in wiping out the supply of rental opportunities for the poor. On education, the DA has always opposed OBE and supports the introduction of publicly funded school vouchers. Moreover, the party would cut off funds to Mugabe, Castro and the North Koreans and align our foreign policy with governments that support human rights. Unlike the ANC, DA provincial governments would reform African customary law and transfer land and power away from the chiefs and to the people.

So, on paper, the parties could not be more different with respect to policy.

Where De Vos might have had a point is if he had said that, after being elected into provincial government, the DA has not implemented these policies to the fullest possible extent. This has less to do with questions of policy and more to do with the difficulties of producing and enacting fully researched and well thought through provincial legislation.

“But how often would the media point out that the logic of the free market condemns millions of South Africans to hunger and poverty?”

I struggle to understand either of the two allegations that are being made here. Firstly, I very much doubt whether Ferial Haffajee would self-identify as a free-marketeer – nor would Zapiro, or Steven Friedman or many of the other leading lights who came to prominence during an era in which classical liberalism was loudly derided and a curious concoction of politically correct, Afropolitan Left-wingery held sway.

The closest we have to a voice for free market liberalism comes in the less-than-strident tones of the Financial Mail and Business Day. Unlike in the United States or Britain, business is largely confused, leaderless and certainly unable to offer working legislative proposals for DA governed provinces.

And what of the free market? Do private property rights and the freedom to create wealth and engage in trade really condemn millions of people to poverty? Is it necessary to revise the history of the 20th Century, complete with chapters on the United States and Cuba, West and East Germany, North and South Korea? I really hope not.

“Underlying much of the reporting and opinion published in newspapers and broadcast on television is an assumption that important political contestation only happens within and between political parties. Social movements and grassroots organisations are largely ignored.”

This is a refrain which is increasingly echoed by many on the Left. It usually forms part of a broader narrative – one which De Vos cleaves to later in his article:

“If we are presented with a world in which we only have to choose between two options: the DA’s open opportunity society or the ANC’s semi-authoritarian state capitalism, then we have not really been presented with much of a choice at all.”

Well, it’s a free country isn’t it? If De Vos doesn’t like Business Day or the Mail and Guardian he can read something else. He could even write his own blog and publish it online. And if he doesn’t like the DA or the ANC he can vote for a party which does represent his views.

He could even start his own party.

And herein lies the great mystery of the Left in post-Apartheid South Africa. For all their ‘activism’ and pontificating we are yet to see any structure materialise which resembles a concrete, political alternative to the status quo. As post-Apartheid euphoria gave way to disillusionment and then disgust, you would expect that some sort of political leadership would emerge.

But it simply has not. Perhaps this is because raising funding, getting coverage in the media, recruiting a vibrant and talented set of leaders, developing coherent policies, organising congresses and generally running a political party is actually quite bloody difficult? Just a thought.

Yet the Left is outraged whenever they are denied the popular legitimacy which they seem to believe is their birthright. The reality is that until such time as the Left finally gets on the ballot, wins some local and provincial elections and actually governs better than the DA or the ANC they will not have the credibility to pass judgment in the sanctimonious manner that they do.

“Yet, both the ANC and the DA refuse to reveal who their funders are. Both parties claim to support openness and transparency. But because it is in their immediate interest to avoid openness and transparency, they are not prepared practice what they preach.”

This is perhaps De Vos’ biggest confusion.

There is broad consensus amongst all who understand the basics of constitutionalism that transparency in political funding is desperately needed. But the tactics about how we achieve this are equally important. Helen Zille is absolutely correct – if the DA unilaterally reveals the identity of its funders they would melt away quicker than you can say FNB – and with them would disappear the prospects of South Africa ever becoming a vibrant, multi-party democracy.

Once the ANC is weakened to the point where it no longer dominates the political scene, the stage will be set for major constitutional reform not only to party funding, but also to our miserable electoral system and the heavily politicised Judicial Services Commission. Such a scenario would require the emergence of a relatively balanced Parliament in which the ANC has, say, 45% of the vote, the DA has 35% and a variety of other parties make up the other 20%.

The reason the DA has bucked the trend of opposition collapse over the past 20 years is precisely because its leaders have resisted taking the advice of Left wing analysts and the politically correct commentariat. Fortunately, under Helen Zille the party shows no sign of changing track any time soon.

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