Avishkar Govender
Avishkar Govender

True confessions of a liberal politico

I have been asked by young South Africans to explain why I have chosen to vote for the DA. However, let me first say that I encourage all people to vote and further let me say that I encourage all people to vote for the party that represents as closely as possible their own perspective.

I spent the first 10 years of my adult life, from 1997 to 2006, wholly independent of all political parties. In 1999 and 2000 I voted for the UDM and in 2004 I voted for the ID. In 2006 I worked on the ANC’s election campaign in Tongaat and was not able to vote in my home ward, which is on the other end of Durban.

So I have not as yet voted for the DA and I have not as yet worked on a DA election campaign. There have been many reasons for this but most importantly among them were that as a liberal I felt the UDM offered South Africa the option of an integrated new South African party. And as a liberal, I felt that the ID’s stance on corruption was spot on.

Interestingly, the DA, UDM and the ID all have the same zero-tolerance approach to corruption and have all been involved in exposing corruption. As a liberal student politico from the South African Liberal Students’ Association (Salsa) I had on many occasions come into contact with the DP and DA youth and students. In fact a number of Salsa members and leaders have gone on to join and represent the DA. But Salsa is not affiliated to the DP and DA and as a leader of Salsa at the time I felt that it was inappropriate for me to join a political party.

Nonetheless, having (finally) put my days of student politics behind me, I went on to do an internship under the DA and then the ANC in order to see what mainstream politics was all about. My colleagues called this political tourism and perhaps they were right. It was like political voyeurism in a sense because I was exposed to all of the important stuff without having any responsibility to bring in votes and support.

And perhaps there is a reason why I joined the ANC in October 2006, perhaps it is because I felt that the congress was my political home. But having been a member of the ANC for 2 years without ever being informed of a branch meeting and without ever receiving any of the ANC’s annual reports, as all members are surely entitled, it became clear to me that the ANC was indeed a very broad church.

A broad church which derided my liberal identity while pilfering my liberal principles. A broad church whose smallest operational units are branches not members; a broad 3-storey church which has no staircases, just a heavily-guarded, express elevator for those select few members who are prepared to turn a blind eye or who are prepared to “facilitate” government procurement.

As an ordinary ANC member, naturally I was on the ground floor but thanks to my resourcefulness I worked with people who were on both of the upper floors and so I got to see things that even my erstwhile branch leaders (whoever they are) did not see. But the thing that really irritated me is that I was treated like an Indian, not as a child of KwaZulu, which I am, not as a child of Thamizh, which I am, not as a liberal, which I am, and not as an ANC member, which I was, but as an INDIAN ANC member.

And that irritated me, firstly because I came to see that all Asian, European and coloured ANC members were essentially second-class members who were unable to progress to the upper echelons of the party structures and who were rather deployed at the lower levels to do the work and “handle contracts”. And though I am a very hardworking person, I have no interest in nefarious politics nor do I have any interest in being “redeployed to business”.

However, since I was busy pioneering corruption-free politics at my prototype WNPC, I wasn’t all that worried really. Until I completed my work and presented it to the ANC. Let me say that the stony silence I received from the ANC in respect of my offer of corruption-free politics set off the first alarm bell and then the unsubstantiated rumours that the ANC did not take ideas from “Indians” set off the second alarm bell.

As such I contended that the ANC made the mistake of undervaluing my worth as an individual and as a political operator and in order to prove this I tested the ANC. I reported a case of alleged corruption to every leader of the Tamil community and sadly the Tamil community leaders, all of whom are connected with the ANC directly or indirectly, did nothing.

And to prove my case further, none of the Tamil politicians in the ANC, none of the ANC Tamil civil servants and none of the ANC Tamil public servants did anything either.

And so I resigned from the ANC? Shocked and horrified at my resignation, my ANC friends, asked me to stay in the ANC.

And I did for a while, watching from the periphery, hoping that the ANC, post-Polokwane, would be a more ethical one. But then the ANC fired Mbeki in revenge and on that Saturday before Cde Thabo’s Sunday night speech, I cut up my ANC membership card and turned my back on the ANC once and for all.

Having thus set myself adrift in the howling political wilderness I tried to find a new political home. And though the ID seemed like the logical option, my constituents would not hear of it. Thus I found myself writing to the ID in resignation, saying that I had found myself at the centre of a personality cult which I felt was counter-productive to the objectives of a political party. Little did I know that 10 days later Cde Thabo would use the same words to castigate Cde JZ in his own surly letter to the ANC.

They say a week is a long time in politics and if you’re like me and politics is your life then an hour is a long time in politics after all it only takes 32 minutes to convert an ANC cadre into a liberal-for-life activist.

Changes in my own life, in my work and in my outlook, together with the march of political time, have led me to view Cope with suspicion because I strongly expect them to make a post-election pact with the ANC. The blunt tools of the IFP, UDM, ID and ACDP do not interest me and the MF is so anti-Tamil and Hindu-biased that it would be a sin just to consider them as an option.

So I was left with the DA. I disagree with the DA’s position on a referendum on the death penalty and I disagree with the DA welcoming conservatives and socio-welfarists into the fold. I disagree with the DA’s choice of liberal and the euphemism of an “open opportunity society” when they mean liberalism and of course I disagree with the DA’s decision to deny me membership of the DA.

But the thing about liberalism is that differences of opinion are encouraged and expected. And though I may disagree with the DA on fundamental issues, I do recognise that they are the South African member party of Liberal International, that they are supported by a number of liberal NGOs and that they have prioritised equal opportunity as the means to eradicate poverty.

As such the DA is liberal and I am liberal and so I’m voting for the party which represents as closely as possible my own perspective even though I am not a member of that party.

I suggest that you shop around, weigh up your options and do the same. After all in this life, our free choice is all that we need to change the world. Here’s looking to an open, equal opportunity South Africa and peace and prosperity for each and every person, which that will bring.

Nkosi Sikele Mzansi Afrika!