DA must not now compromise on opposition to racial laws - Business Day, 27th May 2013.

In his fortnightly column in Business Day, John Kane-Berman, the Institute's CEO, writes that the Democratic Alliance (DA) should use the moral authority of the party's history and fight against the racial practices of the ruling tripartite alliance.

He who owns the past owns the future, George Orwell wrote. So the Democratic Alliance (DA) is both justified and smart to depict itself as part of the struggle against apartheid. For too long, the African National Congress (ANC) has got away with claiming a monopolistic role for itself. In the process, it has airbrushed out the contributions of others. One is the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), whose antipass demonstration at Sharpeville in 1960 resulted in the police massacre that first gave apartheid its international notoriety.

Sixteen years later, the ANC, like the National Party (NP), was caught napping by the revolt in Soweto. That revolt, one of whose effects was to show the ANC that resistance within South Africa was possible despite security legislation, was inspired by Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement. By refusing to accept "independence" for KwaZulu, Mangosuthu Buthelezi helped destroy the NP’s grand apartheid design. He further aided the release of Nelson Mandela from prison by refusing to negotiate with the NP on constitutional matters unless Mandela was given the same opportunity.

South African liberalism also played a part. The South African Institute of Race Relations and other watchdogs and whistle-blowers, along with the Rand Daily Mail and other newspapers, made sure that no aspect of the apartheid system was hidden. And then there were the millions of ordinary South Africans who simply ignored or defied racist laws.

So the DA is part of an honourable history. The more it succeeds in claiming its rightful place in that history, the less vulnerable it will be to accusations in the election next year that it will bring back apartheid. But it must beware lest in pursuit of power it betray that history — and the principled opposition to race classification and racial discrimination that was its single most important component. There are some things about which liberalism needs to be uncompromising. One is defence of the rule of law and equality before the law. Another is defence of individual rights, including property rights. A third is that the free exercise of these rights may be curtailed by the state only when absolutely unavoidable. And a fourth is that individuals should be treated as such rather than as members of particular classes, or collectives or races.

The DA may not attach the label "liberalism" to its name, but in its various permutations dating back to the foundation of the Progressive Party in 1959, it has been the parliamentary voice of South African liberalism. There were other opposition parties in Parliament. But they folded because they never offered a real alternative to apartheid. It was always a question of administering it more "humanely".

The question now confronting the DA is not whether it will do a better job of fighting corruption and incompetence than the ANC — not difficult. Rather, it is whether it can muster the courage and conviction to offer a genuine alternative to the increasingly racist — and punitive — thrust of policy now being put on to the statute book by the ANC with the support of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

That genuine alternative entails getting rid of racial laws, not endorsing them and then tweaking them to work better, as some of the DA’s proposals suggest. The party promises to "restore people’s faith in black economic empowerment" (BEE) — by now surely a lost cause. It wants to "streamline" and "alter", "not discard", the BEE scorecard. This is reminiscent of the old United Party trying to have it both ways with such formulations as "separate development with justice".

This is a case, Prof Hermann Giliomee recently warned the DA, of "batting on your opponent’s pitch". The DA neither can, nor deserves to, win this game.

Instead, the party should use the moral authority of its principled opposition to NP-style racial discrimination to lead a long-overdue parliamentary fight against ANC-Cosatu-SACP-style racial engineering.

First published in Business Day on 27th May 2013.