As we reflect on 24 years of democracy this month, a lot of people are reflecting seriously about the transformation of the country in general and the economy in particular. The key factors that kept the country backwards were racial discrimination that deepened economic deprivation.
The key criticism against the ANC is that it is only waking up now to talk radical economic transformation – so it behooves any party seeking to replace the ANC in government to be clear about what it is going to do differently, to improve on the ANC's failure to change the economy and therefore change the lot of our people.
The DA's recent congress, the last before the general election, is crucial in this regard – holding the same stature at the ANC's Nasrec conference. Both of these were the last moments of policy review, to decide how a discerning electorate will cast their votes in next year's poll, if they desire change.
The big question is whether we will get more of the same, or there is a glimmer of hope for something different in the immediate future. With this in mind, the DA's congress last week was a huge letdown to many who were beginning to see it as a possible alternative to the policy merry-go-round on economic transformation.
An overriding impression is that the DA is caught between the devil of its old constituency of white interests, and the deep blue sea of the black majority – its only hope of becoming a majority government. Its policy pronouncements are therefore an attempt to be all things to all people under the guise of so-called diversity.
This diversity is not only ill-defined – or deliberately poorly defined with the aim of fudging the overarching race question – but its clearly not embraced by the majority of DA delegates, who went on to elect a poorly constructed federal leadership of the party. The leadership is largely male and white – with only one woman making it to the leadership (Yes, yes – just like the ANC's top six ignoring the gender question).
The DA seems to continue being ill at ease with redress programmes like affirmative action, employment equity and BEE.
The diversity resolution was therefore merely made to fudge the fact that after 24 years, the majority are still marginalised in the economy, when you look at black ownership on the JSE and black ownership of land. You can't be a serious political player and not have a plan to address this jarring inequality.
The DA seems to have no clue how to deal with the issue of redress. It reminds me so much of Mr Terror Lekota, who, when launching COPE back in 2008, gave it a kiss of death by bizarrely saying: "Race will no longer be a criterion for affirmative action."
When he said this, those who were attending the launch of the congress thought they must have misheard him, but he made sure to repeat this poor sentiment in the same speech, just to put it beyond doubt. The DA's insistence that it will not use quotas to effect transformation is in the same nonsensical vein – it displays a fear to face the reality of reverse discrimination to level the playing field and effect redress.
How on earth will the DA track progress in its ranks, if it is not able to say its caucus in Parliament must somehow represent the demographics of South Africa? (Read: at least have more black people than white people representing it in Parliament). South Africans who are considering the DA as an alternative worry about this seeming equivocation on the big question.
They ask themselves how the DA will tackle the terrible snail's pace of change in corporate South Africa, where 58.1 percent of representation in senior management is more favourable to white people. How can that change without setting racial targets for change? What will the picture of success look like?
The DA seems to continue being ill at ease with redress programmes such as affirmative action, employment equity and BEE. On all of these, the party creates policy pronouncements that give the impression that it wants to be seen not to be opposing these progressive policies (because they resonate with the majority of people) – while in fact, in essence, it stands in opposition to the full implications of these. These implications cannot be fully appreciated if we don't face racial discrimination and redress.
To fudge the question of balance by adding other diversity questions such as religion and gender is not being frank about the national question that faces South Africa.
In the same vein, the DA policy on land is hard to understand. It avoids answering the question of how the skewed ownership patterns of land can be addressed without bankrupting the country. And if the DA argues that it wants everyone to own land and not the state to own it, how will redress happen to ensure that the ownership does not remain as skewed as it is now?
As if this policy confusion is not enough, the DA emerged from its congress with a leadership that does not show commitment to the very diversity that it preaches. To fudge the question of balance by adding other diversity questions such as religion and gender is not being frank about the national question that faces South Africa.
It is clear that considering this failure to transform itself, the jury is out on whether the DA can be trusted to lead the crucial phase of our struggle for economic emancipation. Or whether it is held hostage by its traditional support base, who may not always understand that in order for redress to be achieved and the playing fields levelled, targets of racial change are inevitable.
The DA has to make up its mind about whether it is ready to govern a South Africa in which more than 50 percent of the population are living below the breadline and 26.7 percent of them are languishing on unemployment queues and yearning for access to the economy.
In other words, is the DA ready to dump those in its traditional support base who don't see the need for radical change in economic policy, in exchange for gaining the confidence of the majority to govern? The outcomes of its latest congress suggest not.