In what is perhaps the most race-obsessed country on earth, the largest opposition party last weekend decided that race does not exist. It is a "false assumption", declared the Democratic Alliance (DA) that one's race, based on physical appearance, "represents people who think, feel, or have the same experience". On the basis of such "false beliefs in racial difference … a great deal of harm was caused and continues to be caused". The delegates to the DA's policy conference agree, however, that racism and racialism exist and are "abhorrent and detestable". Instead, the DA commits itself to non-racialism, which it...
In what is perhaps the most race-obsessed country on earth, the largest opposition party last weekend decided that race does not exist. It is a "false assumption", declared the Democratic Alliance (DA) that one's race, based on physical appearance, "represents people who think, feel, or have the same experience".

On the basis of such "false beliefs in racial difference … a great deal of harm was caused and continues to be caused". The delegates to the DA's policy conference agree, however, that racism and racialism exist and are "abhorrent and detestable".

Instead, the DA commits itself to non-racialism, which it says means the rejection of racial categorisation, especially in legislation. Nevertheless, the DA concedes, SA's past "is littered with myriad injustices", the consequences of which remain and are "reflected … in general inequality of opportunity".

So redress remains essential and requires policies to tackle inequality of opportunity, "including interventions in education, healthcare and the economy…".

This change of direction by the DA has more to do with pragmatism than ideology. It's a desperate attempt by a party that has been tying itself in knots for years on what profile race classification will have in its policies, to unwind itself from its contortions.

Those contortions – derided by many minority voters as attempts to pass as "ANC-lite" and by black voters as thinly disguised efforts to continue white privilege – cost it dearly in 2019. For the first time in six general elections, the party's steady growth faltered, dropping 1.5% to 21% of the vote.

The party also shed black leaders with suicidal regularity. Almost all of them claimed upon departure that a key factor was the party's ambiguities about the issue of race.

The Financial Mail's Carol Paton reflects a widely expressed view among commentators when she writes that DA has already lost credibility among black voters "who had been attracted to the DA because it looked like it might evolve into a cleaner, more efficient version of the ANC." Now, the DA "has taken a step back from aspiring to be a governing party".

Unlike Paton, I don't think such a "step back" is necessarily the bad thing. Those opposed to a disastrous ANC government that is driving the country into the ground must face two realities. The first is that the ANC is neither capable of internal reform nor deserving of DA emulation. The second is that no single political party has any hope in the foreseeable future of defeating the ANC in a national election.

After almost three decades, the ANC vote, when combined with leftist black nationalist parties like the Economic Freedom Fights, still hovers around the constitutionally critical two-thirds majority mark.

The DA's problem is that a huge number of those entitled to vote are not doing so. Until this changes, any alterations to the DA's theoretical position on what it might do if were voted into power is unlikely to make much difference at a national level. It may, however, make a difference at a provincial and, especially, at a local level.

There has historically been a much greater willingness to vote for opposition parties in municipal elections, which are scheduled for next year. DA policy chief Gwen Ngwenya says that there is "zero" evidence that the non-racial redress policy will not be supported by black voters.

The 2021 municipal elections will then be the first test of whether colour continues to trump competence. Whether race, indeed, is a "false assumption".

Is race a 'false assumption'?


William Saunderson-Meyer.

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