Listen to the people, elect leaders on merit - City Press

13 October 2019 - What does it say about South Africa in 2019 that we have a new cabal of pearl-clutchers, again gasping in horror at the idea that race is irrelevant to whether any individual can improve the lives of ordinary South Africans?

There is something rotten in the heart of South African politics and media. It manifests in a wilful ignoring of the basic rules of language. In the past week, it has become clear that many top politicians and some journalists suffer from this wilful illiteracy, and City Press editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya’s piece, ‘Let’s make the DA white again’, demonstrates it vividly.

I wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Friend in which I argued that Western Cape Premier Alan Winde should replace Mmusi Maimane as leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA). I argue Maimane should resign, as the buck of the DA’s political failures of the past two years stops with him. I make the incontrovertibly obvious point that South Africans are not the race-baiting Twitter trolls our politicians and many journalists seem to think we are. South Africans, I seemingly controversially say, want political leaders to be elected on merit, leaders who can win the fights our country is losing. When it comes to considering merit, I argue, Alan Winde deserves proper consideration and elevation to the role of leader of the Democratic Alliance.

As MEC for the finance portfolio in the Western Cape from 2009 to 2018, Winde oversaw the Western Cape’s economy, whose unemployment figures show something going right in a country where so much is going disastrously wrong. In fact, more than 500 000 jobs were created in the province during Winde’s tenure as MEC.

Winde became Western Cape Premier after the 2019 national and provincial elections in May. In my original opinion piece, I make another point obvious to anyone familiar with the actualities of the recent election campaign: everywhere except the Western Cape, the DA under-performed to a damaging extent. Somehow the Western Cape DA managed to move from the narrow win or narrow loss the party’s internal polling was showing mere weeks out from voting day, to a more comfortable win of just over 55% of the vote. Electorally, the reality cannot be ignored: where Mmusi Maimane was the banner carrier for the DA, the party’s results disappointed; where Winde was the party’s banner carrier, the DA over-performed the party’s own expectations.

As part of his government’s plan to fight crime, Winde released in September a three-minute video to set out how the Western Cape will be training more law enforcement personnel to win the fight against crime. As I say in my opinion piece, even the most fervent critic of the DA, myself included, must acknowledge the inherent common sense and merit of the plan.

Let’s, then, put the case for Alan Winde to be leader of the DA clearly, as I do in my opinion peice: a job creator, a man with a plan to fight crime, and a politician who managed an electoral result to save his party from complete humiliation. That Winde is not or was not being considered for his party’s leadership is extraordinary.

Now comes the tricky bit.

Makhanya accuses me of blatant racism, saying I make the case for Winde’s election because he is a white man. But he should have properly read what I wrote before launching into the tired and convenient invective of self-righteously screeching racism at anything mildly related to the issue.

To address any possible misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, here is the paragraph that contributed most to last week’s epidemic outrage:

“A job creator. A crime fighter. These should be enough to get a politician to lead their party. However, Winde can be, for the DA, the gamechanger they undoubtedly need. Why? Because he is a white man.”

In any form of reasoned discussion, the most important word is probably “because”. It connects position with argument and reason. Am I making the point that Winde should be leader of the DA “because he is a white man”? Only a deliberate or accidental illiteracy can bring one to read the two-sentence paragraph quoted above to conclude that I am.

Makhanya seems unable to grasp the difference between electing a leader because he is white and electing a leader on merit who happens to be white.

Due to the reality of the political landscape in South Africa, only a fool would not bring into consideration the collective gasp of outrage from the adherents of identity politics were the DA to elect a white man as leader. Were the DA to discover some bottle and elect Alan Winde as leader based on the strong meritorious case for doing so, it is either absurd, naïve or disingenuous to think no mention will be made of the fact that he is, in fact, a white man.

And in that lies the opportunity for a DA under Winde’s leadership to change the game of South African politics for good. Makhanya seems not to have bothered reading what I wrote. Instead, we see him waxing diabolical about points never made by myself, the IRR or any of my colleagues or former colleagues.

Were the DA to elect a leader on merit who happens to be white, instead of continuing its pandering to those who adhere to the Verwoerdian notion that your race determines whether you can serve your country, the DA would be saying to all South Africans: Over and over, you’ve told us that job creation and fighting crime should be our top priorities – and we have chosen a leader with exactly the experience needed to win those fights.

In saying that to voters, the DA would show itself to be the only party willing to take the real issues of suffering voters seriously – so seriously, in fact, that they would do what the powerful disciples of identity politics consider heresy against the church of Verwoerdian racial nationalism: appoint the best person for the job, irrespective their race.

The DA would then expose for all to see the cabal of South African politicians and journalists willing to say to a man like Alan Winde: We don’t care about your record on creating jobs, or uplifting our people, and we don’t care about the fact that you have executable, practical plans to fight the scourge of crime – you cannot serve the people of South Africa because of the colour of your skin.

I repeat and stand by my advice to the DA. Get rid of the failed leadership you have. Listen to the people of South Africa telling you that you need to take unemployment and crime seriously enough to elect your leadership based on it. Elect as your leader a politician who has shown a remarkable ability to win against these inherited demons of almost a century of government failure.

The Verwoerdians of old clutched their pearls in horror at the idea of race not being the holy criterion of leadership. They were the guardians of the racial disgrace of their time – racial nationalists, drinking the Kool-Aid of identity politics.

What does it say about South Africa in 2019 that we have a new cabal of pearl-clutchers, again gasping in horror at the idea that race is irrelevant to whether any individual can improve the lives of ordinary South Africans?

Hermann Pretorius is Campaigns Co-ordinator at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).