Sunday Times

They’ll be cross, but DA still has no economic policy


The good editors at the Sunday Times sometimes show me letters to the editor of which I am the subject. They are furious, mostly, still, about me supporting Cyril Ramaphosa in the last election. My advice to writers of letters that don’t get published is to write shorter.

It is also strange how often the letter writers go out of their way to stress that they, themselves, are not members of the

DA. As if that might make their attack more printable. Why not just join the official opposition and help? I vote for the DA almost all the time. They’re better managers than the ANC and they’re thankfully no longer willing “partners” of the EFF, which they were in 2018.

But there’s something missing in the DA — an unbendable economic path from which it will not waver. Here’s a little teaser. We just borrowed another billion dollars from the New Developmen­t (Brics) Bank, to “finance ... the first phase of the Presidenti­al Employment Stimulus”.

That’s R14.5bn more debt to “create” 700,000 phoney public sector jobs so the Ramaphosa roadmap out of Covid looks better. But we have also just collected about R70bn more tax revenue than we budgeted for.

What would the DA do? There’s a standing joke in the party about what to say the next time I write that it doesn’t have an economic policy. But it doesn’t. And without one it can never escape the political hole in which it is trapped. What’s required is a sound, overarchin­g, appealing and practical statement of economic intent, a podium the

DA can live by but towards which it seems forever reluctant to walk.

Come this year’s local government election, the DA will again campaign on the government’s record of corruption and mismanagem­ent. It is powerful stuff but not enough. What would be better is the vision of a society bound by a powerful new consensus about how we create wealth here, one that can plausibly compete with the

ANC’s stale promises of reform and transforma­tion.

It’s important for the DA to get this right because race is about to damage it again. There’s a fight brewing over who gets to be the next mayor of Cape Town. One obvious candidate is black — Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela — and the other white — shadow finance minister Geordin Hill-Lewis. Whoever wins, a race row is inevitable.

Typically, the party then instinctiv­ely goes onto the back foot, forgetting the old adage that in politics, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

After the disastrous 2019 election, then leader Mmusi Maimane asked former DA strategy chief Ryan Coetzee to examine the party’s election failure. Along with former leader Tony Leon and banker Michiel le Roux, a comprehens­ive report was released. Maimane left because of it.

His departure was preceded by the return of Helen Zille, still an extremely effective political leader, as head of the DA executive, and followed by the election of former chief whip John Steenhuise­n as party leader and a virtual party congress that adopted an economic values document drawn up by new policy chief Gwen Ngwenya.

Ngwenya’s document was not the economic policy strategy I had hoped for. Instead she produced an economic justice paper in which the DA found itself deciding that it supported a social market economy, presumably after the German model, but I’d be amazed if DA leaders and MPs could talk for more than five minutes on it. And then Ngwenya added the 17 instantly forgettabl­e UN sustainabl­e developmen­t goals as the framework for any future DA economic policy.

Whatever. It’s a free country still. But an economic policy is not the sum of your education, housing and energy policies. It is a thing on its own, and a political party without one is a lost cause. And the “open opportunit­y” mound the DA tries to stand on won’t do either. That’s a neon sign outside a casino. In SA our missing ingredient is a consensus on how to create wealth, and then what to do with it.

Fortunatel­y, Coetzee’s panel left Zille and Steenhuise­n clear instructio­ns. On policy, the panel insisted “that the party urgently undertake a well-structured policy developmen­t programme to give effect to its vision for SA, that it is both values driven and evidence based and that appropriat­e resources are made available for it”. You could argue that Ngwenya’s developmen­t goals paper at least tries to do that.

But in its next breath the panel instructed that “the foundation of the policy programme should be an economic policy that would enable growth, opportunit­y and inclusion”.

That’s what they haven’t shown us yet. Because it still hasn’t been done.

I’d be amazed if DA leaders and MPs could talk for five minutes on a social market economy

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