“There is a kind of arrogance and racism that assumes if you are black, then you are a member of the ANC” uttered Mamphela Ramphele (paraphrased) at the Dispatch Dialogues hosted by the Daily Dispatch in conjunction with the University of Fort Hare in East London two weeks ago. These remarks were made at an election debate between the United Democratic Movement (represented by Bantu Holomisa), Economic Freedom Fighters (Dali Mpofu), Agang (Ramphele) and the DA (Athol Trollip). Ramphele was responding to a comment by Trollip who said that all the opposition parties present at the debate (with the exception of the DA) had been members of the ANC in the past.

What attracted my attention the most in deciding to attend the debate was that the opposition parties would have an opportunity to speak to us in the absence of the ANC. I wanted to know the essence of what they had to offer without the threat of an always responding or defensive ANC.

Indeed, 30 minutes into the debate I was impressed by all four opposition party representatives. They seemed prepared, articulate and knowledgeable especially about issues of concern to many of the residents of the Eastern Cape. Yet as the prepared speeches and alluring political rhetoric were put away and the floor was open to debate to include the attendants in the “dialogue”, the problematics were immediately visible and no more so than in the DA’s Trollip.

Many of the questions raised by those who got a chance to pose questions were wide-ranging and broad, but there were many common threads running through them that centred on (youth) unemployment, deracialising the South African economy, “fixing” the education system, land redistribution and so on. At the debate the DA tactically avoided questions about land redistribution, the deracialisation of the South African economy and the promotion of transparency in political funding, and gravitated toward answers that allowed it to not only blame the ANC for basically everything, but also promote historical erasure of colonialism and apartheid.

The ANC is of course problematic and naturally as the leading party in the country has to carry much of the load in failing to ensure that South Africans get to live a life of dignity, access and opportunity. Yet, many of the criticisms levelled against the ANC by the DA often took the form of fake concern for black South Africans. This is not only at this one debate but is representative of a larger fad in the DA of passing microaggressive comments toward black South Africans.

What is clear to me is that while the DA uses what seems like legitimate critique of the ANC government, the “ANC” is used euphemistically to denote and make larger statements about black people. At the debate the DA talked about how it wants a transparent government and that the ANC is not transparent and is losing legitimacy, and yet the DA’s lack of transparency especially when it comes to disclosing its funders was legitimised by Trollip as justified and necessary. Furthermore, criticism of the ANC’s “corruption” shows the way in which the DA still sees corruption as something that black “tenderprenuers” only do via (the ANC) government, while there is no critique of private sector and white-collar crime, which steals billions from millions of South Africans.

Trollip talked about how the DA will “encourage children to not fall pregnant … and give them a grant till [age] 21 to not get pregnant”. This is based on the premise that the ANC is promoting teenage pregnancies by supporting poor girls monetarily. This is the colonial inclination of pathologising black girls by seeing them as hypersexual, and as only getting pregnant to get a government grant.

In Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Roberts calls this the myth of “the welfare queen and the devious black mother” where “the myths about immoral, neglectful, and domineering black mothers have been supplemented by the contemporary image of the [welfare] queen — the lazy mother on public assistance who deliberately breeds children at the expense of taxpayers to fatten her monthly [cheque]”.

These myths about black fertility persist in South Africa today despite research showing time and time again that the number of girls who get pregnant for support grants to be very low, and that most of these are propelled by many structural issues, which include unavailability of reproductive health services. Yet propelling these pathologies against black people serves the DA because, as Roberts notes, they perpetuate “the view that racial inequality is caused by black people themselves and not by [an] unjust social order”.

This allows Trollip and the DA to erase the role of colonialism in the current structural economic violence in which many black people (especially black women) have to contend with while trying to prove that we (black) South Africans need “the white messiah[s]” in the form of the DA to save us from the ANC.

Common’ now DA, please!


  • Senior Anthropologist at the University of Johannesburg and Researcher at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Oxford University. Co-author of the "Anti-Racist Teaching Practices and Learning Strategies Workbook" with Warren Chalklen, PhD. Available: https://bit.ly/3huUEMP


Gcobani Qambela

Senior Anthropologist at the University of Johannesburg and Researcher at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Oxford University. Co-author of the "Anti-Racist Teaching Practices and...

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