My family have been staunch PFP, then DP and now DA supporters for three generations. In South Africa’s 2014 election I will however not be voting for a party I believe has lost both credibility and gravitas.
I was brought up in a household that instilled liberal democratic values from a young age. Values that included social justice, merit, the rule of law and free market principles. Being a supporter of individual freedoms was seldom a pleasant experience if you were growing up in Paarl, a bastion of the Christian Nationalist mentality that underpinned the apartheid regime. For a teenage boy with an Afrikaner surname who was bullied because he did not attend the Dutch Reformed or any other church, Helen Suzman’s lonely battle in parliament for thirteen years from 1961 to 1974 was a beacon of integrity amid the cowardice of government yay sayers that abounded for career and other reasons.
Yay sayers who found themselves on the outside of societal respectability after the 1994 elections. Cowards and opportunists will however always change their outward allegiance at the drop of a hat to save their own skin, or in this case, wallet. So it was with first the Democratic Party and then the Democratic Alliance. Suddenly you couldn’t find a person who voted for the old National Party, despite the fact that electoral districts like Paarl carried huge NP majorities in all the elections leading up to 1994. This meant a huge influx of people into the party who did not necessarily share its liberal democratic values, and most probably did not understand them in any case. For them it was all about the protection of their individual rights, which meant the privileges gained under apartheid: property, jobs and education. The fact that those rights should be balanced with obligations such as justice, transparency and equal access were simply ignored.
Another example of the DA’s infiltration by right wingers would be that longstanding haven for apartheid apparatchiks, the Overstrand municipality, with the seaside town of Hermanus at its centre. Its current mayor, Nicolette Botha-Guthrie, was allegedly connected to the apartheid regime’s security apparatus, but somehow managed to reinvent herself as a DA politician. Must have been a Damascus experience of note. Under the DA’s auspices there have been questionable municipal land transactions (Schulphoek) and a proliferation of the murky shark cage diving industry. Unbridled property development was authorised willy-nilly without proper consideration of environmental issues and the area’s creaking infrastructure. Botha-Guthrie exemplifies the new DA member for whom greed is good and screw the rest.
In the brave new world of post-apartheid South Africa the core values of liberal-democracy in the DA became so diluted that it has come to be perceived by the rest of the electorate, mostly marginalised black voters, as mere lip service. In reality the DA has become a lobbyist for private sector interests. Social justice and its partner, transparency, were chucked out the back door to make space for political expediency and blatant hypocrisy. A new leadership core with Helen Zille at its helm has been trying desperately to build a more inclusive image for the party since 2007. This desperation has lead to the discarding of the principles of merit and competence in favour of Machiavellian political fronting. There was the Mamphela Ramphele fiasco that revealed an astonishing blend of naivete, cynicism and lack of accountability. Another debacle is brewing with the gormless Musi Maimane, the anointed DA candidate for the Gauteng premiership. Gareth van Onselen wrote a detailed profile about Musi, the ‘hollow man’, in Business Day this week, wherein he exposes Maimane for the opportunist puppet that he is. Political parties that have to headhunt malleable candidates, circumvent party structures and then foist them upon the electorate, while the true power brokers pull the strings behind the scenes, cannot possibly be considered democratic in any way.
The DA has consistently (and with justification) attacked government and parastatal inefficiencies, incompetence and outright corruption. At the same time it has turned a blind eye to the Godzillas in the room – massive private sector corruption dating back many decades. Until there has been an Economic Truth and Reconciliation commission there can be no justice in this country. A fact that many good weather democrats just don’t want to accept.
South Africa’s economy has been constrained and its citizens’ rights have been curtailed by media and ITC monopolies and oligarchies over the past three decades. Government sanctioned licenses (e.g. Mnet, MTN, Vodacom) have provided massive incomes for a connected few at the expense of the majority. Helen Zille’s membership of the Independent Media Diversity Trust seems bizarre when compared to the DA’s thundering silence about the Naspers domination of the local media industry. A silence that is uncomfortably close to crony capitalism when you start analysing the relationship between the DA and many leading figures in the business world.
Of course that accusation can be laid to rest very easily if the DA supported a campaign for an economic Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Which is what the majority of South Africans want. They want to see the supermarket tycoons, the tobacco moguls and the media magnates in the dock to explain why they deserve their wealth, gained not on a free market platform but through government connections, monopoly concessions, collusion and systemic privilege. To deny economic transparency and justice to the South African public is to deny them true democracy.
When it comes to education the DA’s policies are also cause for concern:
Under the patriarchal and insular apartheid system South African university degrees were elevated to arbitrary indicators of intelligence, competence and human potential. Which explains the shocking level of hubris among privileged white South Africans today. The simple truth is that a South African university degree is neither proof of intelligence nor is it an endorsement of competence. And I’m not referring to the much maligned bachelor of arts degree here. One of the reasons why entrepreneurship in South Africa is struggling is because we have too many ill-read, incompetent and ignorant lawyers, accountants and other so-called professionals. People who parroted their way to a paint-by-numbers degree in the hope that educational apartheid will still entrench their job security. Thus far those hopes have played out, but only because a relatively small percentage of South Africans can afford exorbitant university fees and had access to quality secondary schooling that readied them for tertiary studies. This has created a distorted labour market where there are plenty of jobs for degreed pencil pushers, but not enough for the semi-skilled masses.
South Africa needs a radical overhaul of its tertiary educational system if it is to make a real contribution to the country’s prosperity. The DA however wants to further entrench above-mentioned outdated views with Centres of Excellence in a slavish aping of elitist institutions in the northern hemisphere, with total disregard for South African realities.
Jane Duncan from Rhodes University wrote three years ago:
“The DA’s education policy subscribes to human capital theory, which considers the purpose of education to be the production of skills for the market, and the raising of productivity and hence economic growth. Tellingly, its policy is silent on the role of education in producing a critical citizenry.”
This means that the old accusation of university collaboration with the industrial complex is alive and well in South Africa. The production of skills for the market she mentions means foot soldiers for the existing monopolies and oligarchies. It does not mean independent thinking risk takers who can grow the economy with new businesses that employ more people. It means more accountants and lawyers who add nothing to the economy but instead feed off it because of legislative protection.
If the DA gave a rat’s ass for the unemployed masses they would:
- Support free or very low cost modular tertiary education – massive open online courses that could be completed in segments that each carry its own certification. Combinations of certifications can then lead to a degree or diploma.
- Emphasise competence and not qualification. Support the development of a cost-effective skills verification programme and unlock the human potential that is this country’s biggest asset.
They would also demand an investigation into why the University of Cape Town runs a rubbish LL.M. programme for foreign, mostly European students that acts as a front for a year long party in Cape Town. The exchange rate makes this a very cheap way for European students to stay legally in South Africa for a year without contributing to the economy in any way. The Law Society of SA states clearly that foreigners have to complete a South African LL.B. degree in order to practice as an attorney in SA. So how do European students with inferior first degrees gain access to a masters course in law? I have read one of these LL.M theses and a high school pupil could have written the flimsy document. The large group of German LL.M students of that particular year also seemed to be more interested in Cape Town’s cheap drugs and prostitutes than legal studies. It would be interesting to see how UCT justifies the space taken by post-graduate students from a European country with a codified legal system. Then they have the gall to refuse South African students entry on the grounds of limited space. It is a clear case of universities as profit centres run amuck.
Since 40% of university funding still comes from the tax payers I think it’s fair to demand that a political party’s educational policy favours the electorate and not minority interest groups such as companies and career academics. The spectre of greater private sector involvement in education and its implication for academic freedom should also worry any true democrat. South Africa has an unfortunate history of brain washing at school and university level. Switching from political ideology to economic ideology still remains an infringement of a citizen’s rights.
The DA has been very quiet on the subject of structural law reform:
Where is the proposed commission of enquiry into the practices of the South African legal profession? For too long this profession has been getting away with what amounts to institutionalised corruption and the fleecing of the South African public. The exorbitant fees charged by conveyancers and estate lawyers is an ongoing national scandal in a country that can ill afford it. Legally protected fees should be done away with to align the profession with the free market, standard property and estate transactions should be codified and those services provided by the state at low administration costs. Alternatively a mere diploma or certificate should be sufficient to provide such a service. Finally, the power of the Law Societies of South Africa should be curbed further than what the Legal Practice Bill currently envisages.
White attorneys still make up 63% of the country’s 22,000 attorneys. The majority of them have consistently opposed structural law reform in South Africa, mostly because it would benefit ordinary South Africans at the expense of the attorneys’ pockets. Currently, complaints about attorneys are handled by the Law Societies themselves, which means that the profession is policing itself. That would of course be the reason for the low incidence of disciplinary action despite numerous reports of attorneys committing fraud and over-billing clients.
As part of its window dressing attorneys are supposed to provide 24 hours per year of free legal advice to members of the public who qualify for this in terms of a means test. This test actually excludes million of South Africans who cannot afford legal representation. What are the DA’s plans to make quality legal aid accessible to every single South African? What are their plans to hold attorneys independently accountable? Where are the plans for a legal Ombudsman? In a discussion document from 1999, justice department officials conceded that there is a strong perception that South Africa’s law societies are not effectively investigating complaints against lawyers and are not protecting the public interest. What has come of that document 15 years later? Nothing.
If you are in any doubt about the parlous state of South Africa’s legal profession, here’s a recent case study as reported in Moneyweb. The lawyer in this instance, Ronald Bobroff, is a past President of the Law Society of Northern Provinces and the current President of the South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.
It seems to escape South African legal commentators and the DA that a legal system of European origin is still being forced upon a majority African population by a small professional minority. How this can be representative of a true democracy is mind-boggling. The legal profession in this country has been protected from its complicity in grand apartheid and entrenched inequalities for too long. They need to start adding value to the lives of average South Africans or face sanctions.
On a more symbolic note, the DA’s support for dual citizenship for a privileged minority is another smack in the face of black South Africans. White people’s lack of solidarity with their black compatriots is major reason for ongoing enmity and distrust. If countries within the EU such as Austria, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands can forbid multiple citizenship, why not SA where nation building is of much more importance. Or is it just another case of different rules for privileged white people?
It is extremely worrying to see that the venality of the ANC and the old National Party has infiltrated the DA as well. What does that say about us as South Africans? Have we become a nation of greed driven parasitic cowards? Helen Suzman must be turning in her grave.