What De Lille, BEE say about DA

I don’t know which was the more awkward moment for the DA this week – its Sunday press conference on Patricia de Lille, or the mess that was the Twitter exchange between its leaders over BEE policy.
Awkwardness aside, these incidents were significant indicators of the state of the party.
More important, they demonstrate why we generally must scrutinise opposition parties on the basis of what they say and do, rather than exclusively in relation to the monumental failures of the ruling party.
The De Lille matter raised important questions about the DA’s stated commitment to transparency and accountability in its own ranks.
Following a tumultuous battle between the party and De Lille, on Sunday they announced a peace deal which would see her step down as mayor of Cape Town in October.
In turn, the DA would drop all its internal disciplinary charges against De Lille, except those that might arise from investigations conducted by the City of Cape Town.
For the DA, Maimane said, the deal was an opportunity to close a difficult and painful chapter and to concentrate on serving the public.
To De Lille, it meant that her name was cleared.
Only the spin from both parties is simply disingenuous.
While one appreciates the principle of innocence until guilt is proven, it is quite a stretch for De Lille to claim that she had been cleared.
Apart from what may or may not come from the council investigation, the decision not to go ahead with the party’s disciplinary hearing simply means that voters are none the wiser about whether she conducted herself in a manner that is above reproach during her tenure.
In the absence of a procedural verdict, her liability as far as this is concerned remains a matter of public opinion, each influenced by subjective views on her and the party that charged her.
Contrary to Maimane’s claim, this deal is about the DA’s own preservation rather than the well-being of the people of Cape Town.
You may argue of course that the two are not necessarily contradictory.
Fair enough.
But approaching De Lille for a political solution – although standard practice in politics – was no doubt prompted by the need to shield the party from further damage that would have potentially come with the disciplinary hearing against De Lille.
The hearing was scheduled to take place on Tuesday.
The session would have been an open process where the DA would have had to place its allegations against De Lille on the table and, hopefully, back them up with evidence.
She would have been given the chance to defend herself.Considering the hostility of the last eight months, it is likely that De Lille would have used the opportunity to deliver a mighty blow to her detractors, in the full glare of media cameras, knowing that her days in the party were numbered, regardless of the strength of the evidence against her.
As leader, Maimane could not risk this.
So like any politician, he brokered a deal that would shelter his party from more public scrutiny ahead of next year’s polls.
By their very nature, political solutions are a licence for parties to manage tricky situations by departing from procedural or even moral expectations of the rules that govern them.
Simply put, it means when it came to the crunch, in order to calm the waters before the elections, Maimane chose political obfuscation over his claimed commitment to transparency and accountability.
Be that as it may, the De Lille saga is unlikely to have farreaching consequences for the party – less than how it bungled its messaging around black economic empowerment this week.
The Twitter dispute by its leaders about whether or not it had abandoned its support for BEE, is embarrassing at best.
At worst, it exposes yet again the ideological crisis in which the party finds itself.
It is easy to agree that the implementation of the ANC’s BEE policy is flawed and has benefited a few elite, or even that the policy has been used as a conduit for corruption.
Even ANC members will tell you that.
It is much more difficult to coherently sell an alternative policy when members of the party differ tremendously on their granular diagnosis of the South African economic crisis.
Here’s the problem – when members can’t convincingly sell it, voters won’t buy it.
Ironically, the DA’s policy offering on economic transformation is fascinating. It deserves to be soberly examined against our current economic challenges.
But again, by its own doing, its message got lost in the madness of its ideological clashes.
The news cycle will soon forget the cringeworthy moments of this week.
However what they tell us about the character of the DA is what should probably keep Maimane awake at night in the coming months.
- Makunga is the editor

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