YONELA DIKO: DA at a crossroads: In search of political relevance on the cheap


Tony Leon has always embodied the historic liberal project in this country, which has always been premised on an anti-apartheid slogan that can simply be put as “why oppress black people when you can use them”. It is a liberal project that Helen Suzman and those Democratic Alliance (DA) founders captured well, calling out apartheid on one hand, but rejecting universal franchise of equality and one-man one-vote for black people. It is the same liberal project that the current DA leader, John Steenhuisen, is counting on.

Steenhuisen is currently in search of ANC black partners whose politics is palatable to white liberals, repeating this historic white liberal strategy of searching for those blacks who they can use to moderate black demands and recycle their anger for white sensibilities. Of course, in true liberal style, this is presented as a choice between those who respect the rule of law and those who don't. This would be distinct from the 'Rule of good and fair law' which black people want, having suffered immensely under the rule of law from people who looked like Steenhuisen.

It is also part of the liberal machination of looking for affirmation from a select group of black people, with whom they hope to share the same reference point, in search of black affirmation that the liberals are in fact not racist.

White liberals have always sought out these blacks whom they can use to domesticate black radicalism. Then, they give these blacks a big slice of the public platform through their media stronghold, to be the leading black voice. This strategy has traditionally succeeded, until the racial tipping point.


After taking over from Mmusi Maimane, Steenhuisen said he wanted to move away from the “slavish race-based obsession of the last few years”. Steenhuisen wanted the DA to go back to their racial denialism, their interpretation of non-racialism, a race blindness that brings comfort to white liberals.

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What Steenhuisen and his ilk have always refused to accept is that racism isn't simply a matter of attitudes and beliefs but a “systemic adoption of techniques of domination”.


The first point of departure between any faction of the ANC and DA will be affirmative action, which is the core principle of the ANC, and which the DA recently resolved to oppose at its conference.

White people have been at the top of the food chain, Corporate South Africa, universities, and culture for four centuries. Theirs is the dominant culture. This means society is likely to believe in white abilities to run these institutions much more than blacks because those are the faces that have been at the heart of all that has come before. To open up society on the trope of individualism only serves to reinforce these historical biases embedded in society and culture. An active programme becomes necessary to shift the culture.

The DA is a classical liberal organisation which at its core uses the ‘cult of individualism’ to turn its back on the historical legacy of white collective advantages now imbued in the dominant culture. The DA gives white individuals a false sense of moral will cut off from the collective oppression of the other. The result is that liberals develop a sense of self-righteousness which refuses to understand the collective black experience. The atrocities of domination will never be dismantled with the individualism that sees and hears no evil.

Many black people, especially successful black people who are doing economically well as individuals, have bought into this exotic sale of individualism as the centre of our existence. That is until a racial tipping point is reached.


A racial tipping point is a line beyond which even the most liberal white people, the so-called good white people, are not willing to cross. It is a place of extreme discomfort for white people when they start renting moving trucks after too many blacks move into the neighbourhood, or when too many black students move into their children’s school. Patrice Motsepe’s son is OK, Cyril Ramaphosa’s too, even Robert Mugabe's kids, but those poor kids on a scholarship must not open that gate too wide. They should not get too comfortable and start making black demands. What of those kids at Brackenfell High, SACS High School, St John's, accusing the schools of undermining the black child?

These are white people who will march with you for equality, give money to the cause, even risk rubber bullets and short arrests, as long as they will go back to their exclusive enclave. It's the love for black causes that does not involve giving away power, dominance and comforts.

It is the racial tipping point that will give a Maimane a rude awakening so that he can turn his back on racial blindness of his colleagues and finally say, “if you don’t see I’m black, you don’t see me”, or a Lindiwe Mazibuko to finally realise that “there is no way that you can solve a problem caused by race without referring to race”.

Unfortunately, there are greater sacrifices to be made by whites beyond marches, but they always push them to this tipping point and none are willing to make that leap.


The shifts that are required to make real and meaningful change in racial inequality requires deeply uncomfortable changes to white lives. It does not matter how progressive white people think they are, they have never lived as blacks and will never sacrifice enough to experience black reality.

The word that makes white people shiver is 'justice'. They would like to keep their unjustified enrichments, their socially engineered schools and neighbourhoods, their economic power. They will support any black cause that does not involve them sacrificing their first mover advantage. Why must everything be always about race?

This is not mere justice against the violent white people occasionally caught in acts of madness in various little backward towns. This is justice in our urban living, against the subtle, cunning, and devastating racism of the liberal white. The physical acts of violence make the progressive whites uncomfortable, not because they support blacks, but because it is unnecessary given how effective institutionalised racism can be, where you can be screaming black support on the streets while refusing blacks real power and participation.

Without accepting black people’s lived reality and interpretation of their oppression, without freeing themselves of the mischief that seeks reconciliation on the cheap, there is no way forward for the DA.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on Twitter: @yonela_diko

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