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BY NATASHA MARRIAN AND SETUMO STONE, MAY 11 2015, BusinessDaily (South Africa)
MMUSI Maimane, the first black leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), signalled a shift in the party’s approach to race when he said during his inaugural address that nonracialism did not mean being “colour blind”. It also indicated the party’s determination to woo black support away from the African National Congress (ANC) in local and national elections next year and in 2019. “I do not agree with those that say they do not see colour because if you cannot see that I’m black, then you do not see me,” Mr Maimane said to applause from the more than 1,200 delegates at the party’s national congress.
Mr Maimane’s election ushered in a new era for the DA, and will prove whether former leader Helen Zille’s push for a black leader is able to lead to greater inroads among African voters. Ms Zille’s recruitment of former Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele failed ahead of last year’s elections after relations with former Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko had soured. Mr Maimane’s primary test as leader is expected to be his ability to connect the DA with the ANC’s black voter base.
Ms Zille has been credited with growing the DA’s electoral support beyond traditional white voters. In the general elections last year the DA won 23% of the votes, an increase from 16% in 2009. Mr Maimane’s comments appeared to set the tone for a refining of the DA’s policies. However, it also pits him against those in the party who are uncomfortable with distinguishing race. Mr Maimane’s election also results in one centre of power, unlike under Ms Zille, who was party leader while he, and before that Ms Mazibuko, was Parliamentary leader.
Mr Maimane said the DA rejected discrimination based on race, gender and sexual discrimination. He tackled a raging debate on social networks on veteran journalist Allister Sparks description of apartheid architect Hendrick Verwoerd as a “smart” politician, saying Mr Verwoerd was “evil and deplorable”. Mr Maimane said racial inequalities could not be overcome unless the injustices of the past were acknowledged, and added that the DA should “stand firm on redress”. The DA’s proposals on black economic empowerment (BEE) are part of its attempts to grow black support and was endorsed at the congress.
However, its ideological aversion to what it terms race-based policies was evident at the conference. Its position seemed to lack clarity and historical context. For instance, it referred to “disadvantaged people,” steering away from the ANC’s approach, which specified beneficiaries of BEE policies. Mr Maimane said the DA had stated in November that the party believed in black advancement. “We accept that black South Africans have been disadvantaged by apartheid,” he said.
The congress adopted a values charter, which will form the basis of policy making. The adoption of the charter became a proxy for its leadership battle on Saturday when former federal chairman Wilmot James sought to remove clauses dealing with family values. Mr James cautioned that linking the family to the building of a nation marked a “path to authoritarianism” and a shift away from the DA’s liberal democratic values. But his view was rejected.
While Mr Maimane’s election was expected, former deputy federal chair Makashule Gana was trounced by Eastern Cape leader Atholl Trollip for the position of federal chairman. Mr Trollip was beaten as Parliamentary leader by Ms Mazibuko in 2011. Mr Maimane must reach out to his home province, Gauteng, insiders say, after it largely did not back his ascent to the top spot. Gauteng is the DA’s second-largest support base after the Western Cape.
Mr Maimane said there was “no room for those who sought to divide the party” and those who sought to “mobilise on race” — this was after those campaigning against Mr Gana had described him as an “African nationalist”, who wanted to “kick white people out of the party”. Mr Trollip is now provincial leader, federal chairman and mayoral candidate for Port Elizabeth in next year’s elections.