Last week social media was abuzz with a remark made by former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon, in which he referred disparagingly to Mmusi Maimane as a “failed experiment”.
I have been deeply affected by this remark and it has taken me a while to come to terms with why it has bothered me in such a personal way.
It does not surprise me that some people in the DA talk and think like this. Let me be clear: there are many good people inside the DA and who support it. But they cannot continue to ignore the wrecking-ball that the DA has become to race relations in South Africa.
The racism I experienced in the DA was not overt. Rather, it was that less honest, covert, paternalistic, difficult-to-put-your-finger-on-it kind of racism.
It was the kind of racism that questioned why we were spending time delivering services to informal settlements when they don’t represent “traditional DA voters” and “those who pay the rates”.
It was kind of racism that, left to its own devices, wanted me to prioritise grass cutting in the suburbs over providing people with the dignity of a toilet.
It was the kind of racism that would resist policies to address spatial inequality in Johannesburg, because “if living in the suburbs was easy, it would not be something to aspire to”.
I left the DA because, in a short space of time, it changed what it stood for. The DA I joined in 2014, which was led by Helen Zille by the way, would have released a statement condemning Leon for his remarks and distancing itself from the sentiment. Now, silence.
Instead, a process of political othering has begun. Mmusi was an experiment. Lindiwe Mazibuko was a diva. Mbali Ntuli was an egotistical prima donna, and I was “not DA material” to quote Zille.
This is why I launched a new party, ActionSA, and undertook this massive project. I could not be part of a party that had become the very label it had always fought against.
I did this because the majority of South Africans, of all backgrounds and races, have been left politically homeless by parties who have abandoned the project of unifying our country and its people. ActionSA must make its daily mission the realisation of our call to “Act As One”.
Race relations in South Africa are tenuous, to put it mildly. The notions of reconciliation and nation-building that were espoused by great men and women have lost their lustre. Increasingly parties are seeking to attract voters by appealing to racism and extremism, as opposed to inclusivity.
Ignorant racists, like the Penny Sparrows and Andile Mngxitamas, constitute a tiny minority in our country but dominate news cycles.
Racial inequality has become worse since 1994 and that inequality reflects the racial pattern of prejudice.
The worst part of this, is that political parties profit from this.
The ANC tells its supporters that apartheid is still to blame for their living conditions. The Economic Freedom Fighters outright says that white and Indian people are the cause of poverty and suffering. And now some in the DA — and this I believe is the nub of the reason Leon’s remarks bothered me so deeply — appear to have followed suit.
You see, when an Adam Catzavelos has a racist outburst that goes viral on social media it damages race relations in our country.
It is an altogether different matter when the former leader of the DA (a party that was known to represent the vast majority of white voters in South Africa) calls a black leader of the party an experiment. It fosters the false belief that this is the view of most DA supporters.
All of this is made far worse when the party, its current leadership and its rank-and-file do not disassociate from that sentiment and instead attempt to defend the intent of Leon.
It takes a spectacular level of ignorance to not realise the following simple truth: it is offensive for a former leader of a traditionally “white party” to call its only black leader a “failed experiment” after it has seemingly given up on the project of diversity.
Take a moment to think about the many talented and dedicated black leaders in the DA, people who emerged from the years where they were called sell-outs by the ANC to a time where a multiracial future of the DA is deemed to be a failed idea.
You see, it is not just Mmusi who was being referred to in those remarks. It was the entire project of diversifying the DA, making it attractive to the majority of South Africans who are not white, and presenting a multiracial picture that offered South Africans of all backgrounds a home. This was the project that I was committed to in the DA, and now continue to pursue through ActionSA.
So where does this leave us?
The official opposition, a party that is already considered to be a white party by many black South Africans, says nothing to disassociate itself from these derogatory remarks of its former leader.
The result of this is that many more black people will incorrectly harden in their increasingly immovable view that most or all white people are racist and are not interested in building an inclusive future for our country.
This bothers me deeply, because the vast majority of white people, certainly the many whom I have had the privilege of knowing, do not hold such racist views and want to participate in the project of fixing our country.
The DA was not representing the views of most white South Africans when it tacitly endorsed Leon’s remarks through its silence, it was deepening divisions to the detriment of those they claim to represent.
This is why I am angry about the events of last week. Mad scientists conducting experiments are deepening the racial distrust at a time when we need to be coming together.