There is something about Helen Zille. There is the manner in which she puts on public displays of greeting people in Xhosa. The earnest attempts at channelling Brenda Fassie through song. The dance routines that one often imagines come from a satirical skit of “So you think you can dance”. And of course, there is the marching on the streets, to Luthuli House. There is something about her that is not prisoner to a strait-jacketed political style but rather freely embraces South Africa for what it is.

Yet, there is something about Zille that sees a rainbow where others ask where is the black in the rainbow. There is something about Zille that is calculating and designed to wreak havoc if one becomes too distracted by her dancing, singing and marching. There is something about Zille that begs the question: what does the DA of Zille want from the ANC?

It is very odd that a political party would march on another to protest what the other party promises to do for the electorate. We may argue that the DA march was a mere publicity stunt. We may also argue that the DA wants to contrast their manifesto to that of the ANC. That is too simple. Notwithstanding this, Zille did say on Power FM last week that “people don’t read op-eds” and the way you get their attention is by marching. But I am not convinced that that is all there is to it. So what does the DA want from the ANC?

The DA wants the ANC to confer it with legitimacy — nothing more, nothing less. Scholars of John Locke might argue that this notion is silly because the only way parties get conferred legitimacy is through the ballot. They might argue that the DA is merely socialising its version of the social contract through publicity stunts so that the DA may be conferred legitimacy on May 7 2014. But in South Africa, precisely because of our history, there is a legitimacy which is founded on the notion of liberation from oppression. It is because of a certain pain felt by the people that the ANC, because of their political liberation success, have been conferred traditional legitimacy by those very people.

The DA does not have this decisive legitimacy. The DA has a black liberation problem. Hermann Giliomee in his book The Last Afrikaner Leaders, devotes a section to the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), which was the predecessor to the DA. The PFP was the then newest incarnation of the Progressive Party (Old Progs). Giliomee writes that PFP leader Colin Eglin in 1978-1979 gave one Frederik van Zyl Slabbert the task of reviewing the PFP documents that codified the party policy on the qualified franchise. The question that needs asking is: for who exactly was this franchise qualified? This qualified franchise shows that in as much as the DA likes to claim that historically they were ideologically pure (they were classic liberals that is), this is far from the case. This shows that on the issue of race the DA is ahistorical even about its own history.

One may argue that that was before the now incarnation of the DA was formed. However this is also not true. In the 1999 election campaign the DA head of strategy, one Ryan Coetzee, came up with a campaign titled: “Fight Back”. Then DA leader Tony Leon went full steam ahead with that campaign, seeing nothing wrong with it. The question that this also begs is: against whom exactly was this fight being waged?

Clearly, the DA has a black liberation problem. One of the tacit requirements that the majority black population use to confer legitimacy to a political party, is precisely this visible commitment to the liberation of blacks. Liberation mythology may be deemed useless in governance, but one has to first win elections before one can govern. So this mythology has real world implications. It is also not true that liberation mythology is irrelevant in governance. This is because the extent to which one can gain legitimacy from the populace influences the scope of policy, which one may pursue in government. The DA, in temporarily merging with Agang, had once again displayed that they now felt the need for this legitimacy.

So I come back to my point of the march to Luthuli House. The DA was not merely engaged in a publicity stunt but rather they were hoping to get legitimacy by association. This a hope for an association with struggle symbols, be they: marching, Luthuli House, police brutality (which has become the norm these days) and political intolerance (which they reasonably expected from the ANC given events of the last such march).

The ANC by choosing to engage with the DA in their march, they had, regardless of the march outcome, conceded ground and showed lack of tactical awareness. When viewing the DA within this context of wanting legitimacy, one starts to appreciate why Zille is so eager to debate Jacob Zuma. This is all part of the: we need people to see that the ANC takes us seriously campaign. Winning the debate is not the victory the DA seeks — their ambition for victory is far grander.

Politics is like The Lord of the Rings, people will march to Middle Earth for a ring of legitimacy.

Twitter: @melomagolego



Melo Magolego

Mandela Rhodes Scholar. Fulbright scholar. California Institute of Technology. MSc in electrical engineering.

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