DA mops up after debacle around equity U-turn
opinion pieces for national newspapers as they sought to limit the losses among potential new black supporters, on the one hand, and more conservative traditional supporters on the other.
Changing the thinking in the party on the question of redress was akin to “changing a religious paradigm”, Zille said, as she staked out a new emphasis on “substantive liberalism”, rather than the “formalistic liberalism” of traditionalists, like former leader Tony Leon and representatives of the SA Institute of Race Relations, who have accused the party of betraying its liberal roots.
The difference, she said, was that the formalists concentrated on rights, like equality before the law and the right to equal treatment, “and the devil take the hindmost”.
Substantive liberalism, on the other hand, acknowledged that “the playing field has been so distorted by our history that we cannot assume everybody starts at the same place and we believe the state has a role in achieving redress”.
Nevertheless, the party rejected the “rigid racial quotas” and “Verwoerdian thinking” embodied in the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, which DA MPs had mistakenly supported when it was debated in the National Assembly.
As the party heads to a policy conference next week, some black members are reportedly still aggrieved by its change of heart on affirmative action.
But Zille said the party would not pander to either formalists or racial nationalism.
“How do we create a nonracial society and what kind of bridge or ladders do we have to construct from our extremely racist past to achieve that without entrenching racial preferencing as a permanent mechanism?” Zille asked.
It was a difficult question that everyone committed to nonracialism had to grapple with.
“Every time we come up with concepts that break a mould, it creates massive confusion and it has throughout history. You break the mould and everyone resists and fights back.”
The “set pieces” in the debate on affirmative action are that, on the one hand, it is by definition racial preferencing, which is good, and “the other side defines it in exactly the same way but says it’s bad”.
“We say, we are trying to make a bridge to a non-racial society.
“And so, to break the mould of how people see things is an enormously complex process, and one of the very good things about this is that it’s thrown this debate into sharp relief,” Zille said.
Not only ordinary supporters, but “some people in our own caucus” didn’t understand.
“Because it’s hard, you have to shake off just about everything you’ve ever believed in; it’s like changing a religious paradigm and that is why it is so difficult.”