YONELA DIKO: The DA’s Phoenix poster saga was inevitable, and it'll happen again

OPINION

The DA’s Phoenix elections posters and the behaviour by the party's KwaZulu-Natal leader Dean Macpherson and national leader John Steenhuisen shows a party that is yet to appreciate the seams and stitches that hold political parties together and keep them relevant.

If the party was truly on the ground in Phoenix, with footslogs of activists, ringing doorbells, attending community meetings, then its elections campaign would not be a hollow echo chamber between media tricks and voters.

The DA has reduced itself to a media party so that the first and only encounter people have with the party is through billboards and posters. This creates desperation of how to turn a media campaign into an entire election campaign effective enough to capture the community’s imagination. Such desperation inevitably leads to a search for shock value and hardwired lines to capture people’s attention, and nothing works better than fear and conflict.

When the party communicates with people only through billboards and TV adverts, it never truly knows just how huge the gap is between their posters and reality. This also shapes the entire culture inside the party where everyone, including staff members, thinks they are politicians through the ease of just writing a media piece and thinking they are a serious person.

As a result, the party has lost the basic protocols of a functioning organisation, particularly around communication. This result in leaders not taking an intimate look at the content that is developed by the organisation’s teams. All communications material is meant to market the brand, and it is up to leaders, before approval, to ensure that the content is educational. This helps give the marketing team parameters in their content development.

This clearly did not happen in the DA. Macpherson and Steenhuisen went rogue because they are desperate, and desperation always leads to the destruction of an organisation’s basic tenets. A desperate leader always thinks he knows best and takes every decision to prove just that.

It is Steenhuisen's duty as leader of the party to ensure that a positive brand image is created in order for citizens to have a positive brand experience with the party, not just to be on the news. After engaging with the party pamphlets and marketing material, people must walk away feeling good and enhanced in some way.

This means every idea, publication, post, and material developed by the party and its members must take into great consideration what sensation and perception people will have of the organisation after engaging with that content.

Leaders of the organisation are responsible for managing such perceptions and bringing all elements of the organisation into this one singular goal, particularly as it relates to external communications or content that we put out into the public.

DA'S PROBLEMS ARE DEEPER THAN POSTERS

Even if the communications protocols were followed, something that would have given the party a higher chance of better content before approval, it is still possible that the party could have come up with worse content.

When Macpherson said the party could afford to lose blacks but not Indians, he is capturing the essence of the party and what it truly believes about itself and about race relations.

White liberals have historically been called 'polite racists', who unlike those who show crass forms of racism, use language and policies and back-handed communication to excuse and perpetuate racial prejudices.

They are always devoted to the rule of law and order, but never to justice. They will sympathise with black people, but will reject any disruption and inconvenience to their lives. This puts the DA at odds with any policy on redress, because redress demands sacrifices from white people to correct their evil ways, and refusing this exposes just how they still feel about blacks. White liberals are the biggest pretenders and there is only one singular truth about how they feel about black people - they don't care.

There is absolutely no way content like the Phoenix posters will not be a recurring act of the DA, in different forms, because it’s what they truly believe about black people. There is no other race that could face senseless killing and the killers are called heroes. We are barbarians in their eyes, unfit for modern society, unfit for property, for community, and we don't have to be guilty, we just don't belong and anyone who shoots us into order, or death, is a hero.

BLACK LIBERALS REINFORCED WHITE RACISTS

Even as Steenhuisen was defending the indefensible, there were black people standing behind him, Solly Msimanga et al, because the blacks Steenhuisen is talking about are over there, criminals, not like those whom white people can tame, because the blacks standing with Steenhuisen are able to separate race from thuggery, from criminals, from vigilantes. Only blacks must disown other blacks to prove independence of mind and most importantly, to care about white sensibilities. Only blacks must be individuals and show no anger at the mass murder of their own. Other races are allowed to defend their own, to describe their thugs, criminals and vigilantes as heroes.

White liberals have always been aided by a distorted obsession with black behaviour among blacks themselves. So portraying blacks as criminals and self-destructive finds resonance with certain groups of blacks which like ‘ghettoising’ those in poor neighbourhoods and troubled communities as different and not worthy of being protected.

Criminalising blacks also helps white liberals avoid their obligations to correct the living condition of black people. So, focusing on black behaviour has helped liberals survive in black communities, especially among those who think all problems of communities are caused by black behaviour

CULT OF INDIVIDUALISM

It is ironic that the core principle of liberalism is ‘individualism’. The idea that it is the individual, not the collective, not government, not institutions, that matters. The problem, of course, is that the liberals don’t really care about the individual; their belief in the centrality of the individual is to ensure that the individual starts not caring about the collective, government, institutions and start only caring about themselves.

It is in that haze of the ‘cult of individualism’, where a Dean Macpherson and a John Steenhuisen can insult and offend people because they are hoping the individuals, who only care about self, will say, “this is not about me because I am not a looter”, and yet another will say, “I like being called a hero”.

Fortunately, people do care. They care about themselves; they care about others in their communities. They care about the slow pace of correcting injustices of the past, and they sympathise with government for not being able to solve all our problems. People care about the collective, they care about their institutions, and they care about those with whom they share these spaces.

As long as the DA does not appreciate this, another blunder awaits them on the horizon.

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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