Opposition parties in South African ignore the lived experiences of race realities, concluded a panel of political experts at Wits on Tuesday night.
The panel, comprised mostly of political analysts, said that one of the challenges of a left wing party would be to articulate issues of poverty and inequality for people who experienced racial domination.
This was the consensus among the panellists debating the State of Opposition Parties.
Radio host and author Eusebius McKaiser and Wits deputy vice chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe co-chaired the event which included media executive Karima Brown, political commentator Stephen Friedman, and Professor Daryl Glaser, head of Wits’ political studies department.
Clear as mud
McKaiser, who recently published his book, Could I Vote DA?, opened the debate by critiquing the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) stance on “the race issue”.
The root of the DA’s problem is that its position on race is as “clear as mud” in a country where race is a very important part of South Africans’ identity and discourse, he said.
Furthermore, McKaiser said DA politicians have conflicting views on policies regarding Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).
He said this comes with the DA continuously displacing conversations of race with conversations of class.
Bowling over the black voter
The issue for the DA, as McKaiser describes it, is “how to bowl over black South Africans who are ‘gatvol’ with the African National Congress (ANC) , without running the risk of losing “the white ‘tannies’ in Krugersdorp” who aren’t and don’t want to be included in a party that is open about race.
The DA needs to buy into the social construction of race in SA and buy into BEE, he said.
Brown pointed to the strategic political blunders of opposition parties since 1994 and said she believes opposition parties have failed to be left wing. She argued that opposition parties make the mistake of using the ANC’s analysis and policies to oppose it, and instead form “pale imitations of the ANC”.
DA – a racialized party
The DA, which Brown described as a strongly racialized party, attempted to claim struggle credentials but ultimately lacked “struggle cred” and exaggerated the significance of Helen Zille’s personal role in exposing the murder of Steve Biko.
For Brown, the ANC understood South Africa more than any other party.
Friedman continued next with the sentiment that SA did not yet have a significant left wing party. He said if SA were to have a left wing party it would be formed out of a trade union, more specifically, out of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
He reminded the audience that “to many South Africans the ANC is still the party that represents liberation from racial domination.”
“70% of the population remains unorganised, excluded and voiceless despite having a vote.” A left wing party needs an agenda whereby they attempt to organise these communities, and pay heed to their lived experiences and concerns, said Friedman.
A multiparty democracy
According to Glaser there seemed to be an overall embrace for a multiparty democracy. However, he chose to look at parties which multiply within itself, focussing on the failed merger between the DA and Agang.
He said the decision to merge would have left them with fewer votes than they originally had. This had subsequentially left Agang lacking credibility.
During question time McKaiser pointed out that the ANC needed to take its opposition seriously and do an analysis on what the DA had done in the Western Cape.
“I’m tired being told by my family living in the poor areas in Cape Town how amazingly the DA is doing,” said McKaiser.