Gareth Setati
Gareth Setati

The DA is just as guilty of patronage politics as the ANC

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is just as guilty of patronage politics as the African National Congress (ANC). Although this statement may come across as a clear logical fallacy, namely the Tu quoque fallacy, colloquially referred to as “two wrongs do not make a right”, it remains important to note that in this instance the appeal to the DA’s hypocrisy is not to discredit the point the DA may wish to raise about the perniciousness of patronage politics, that point may very well be correct, but rather the point is to discredit the DA as a role model on matters of curbing the politics of  patronage.

In the past several days, the so-called #Zillegate scandal concerning Western Cape Premier Hellen Zille and the Guptas provided South Africans the quintessential scenario showing not just that politicians will always be politicians, or that the DA will not necessarily be spared incumbency troubles if they were the ruling party, but it also showed that on the ground, the DA’s survival as a party also relies on patronage of one sort or the other, just as the ANC does — be it racial or financial.

Much has been said on #Zillegate, and we will not be addressing that here, instead we will address another matter that comes to light — the matter of patronage in our bodypolitik. Obviously with the limited time and space on a subject of this scale, we will only touch on a topical matter of the day.

There is a peculiar notion by which it is all too often canvassed by white DA supporters as though it is merely incidental that they are white by racial classification, vehemently support the DA, and unrelentingly dislike the ANC. We argue here that this widespread white support for the DA is far from incidental.

Perhaps a disclaimer may be necessary before continuing: the references to “white DA supporters and black ANC supporters” are aggregations that are used for the sake of brevity, and they should not be construed to mean that all DA supporters are white or that all ANC supporters are black, nor must the aggregations be construed to mean all members of all political parties are homogeneous in behaviour. Therefore the use of these aggregations within each group refers to generalities and not exceptions, and in this note the principle that is applied is that the latter often proves the former.

The general arguments, by white DA supporters, are presented such that the logical conclusion is that the DA being their political party of choice has little (or nothing) to do with race politics in South Africa, but more (or everything) to do with an “objective” assessment of the political choices available to them.

This is glaringly ahistorical and indistinguishable with disingenuousness.

Save for the DA’s opposition party counterparts like the Freedom Front +, Azanian People’s Organisation, United Democratic Movement, and other such seemingly trifling parties, which because of their insipidness are (un)fortunately not the focus of this note, it is put forward here that the majority of white DA supporters are in fact supporters of that party more due to race dynamics and historical fault-lines, and less due to some apparent careful study and consideration of the policies and leadership qualities within the ruling party and the official opposition.

In fact, and again in the general sense, it can be suggested with reasonable confidence that many people, on either side of the political divide, have hardly performed a thorough comparison of either party’s policies, and thence many people can hardly claim that their political choices are influenced and informed by this sort of considered comparison.

Interestingly, it appears needless to mention that black ANC supporters are regularly heard in private and in public proclamations being unreserved about their racial sentiments towards the liberation movement, and for this the DA supporters, perhaps rightfully, take exception and are swift to flag such behavior as ANC patronage politics — this train is never late! However, back at the ranch, as we’ve just discussed, the white DA supporters try ever hard to make theirs come across a far more “reasoned” decision devoid of patronage, as if there is something inherent in being a white DA supporter that accords such a person exceptional reasoning capacities and political consciousness. This notion is practically incorrect, and the correct observation must be that pound for pound, mainly due to historical issues, the DA’s political legitimacy benefits from patronage just as much as the ANC does, if not more.

It is this sort of posturing that is part of what continues to position the DA as a curious party whose majority constituency is seen as seeking to put wool over the eyes’ of South Africa’s voter base by suggesting that, all suddenly, perhaps overnight after April 27 1994, the white section of South Africa’s population suddenly became racially agnostic regarding politics and political parties of choice.

It is nevertheless admirable on the part of the white DA supporters that in principle they wish to rid themselves of toxic race politics, which in itself is a noble intention (and by the way non-racialism also happens to be one of the ideological pillars of the ANC). However, while it is admirable for the DA to establish a non-racial narrative, it smacks of a psycho-political guilt trip when in many serious discussions with DA members, race is hardly acknowledged as a significant contribution to their choice of this political party — such debates are always characterised by a lack of frankness.

This whole matter of apparent “objective” DA support by majority white South Africans is even more exposed as disingenuous when the obscurantism is skillfully sustained by nifty appeals to intellectual perfectionism, moral puritanism, as well as appeals to baseless optimism and political clairvoyance about how “if” the DA were to assume political power, they would necessarily be exonerated from the challenges of incumbency that so plague the ANC.