The Democratic Alliance's parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko has confirmed that the party will grapple with its policies on black economic empowerment and employment equity at the upcoming federal congress this weekend, and said she was aligned with certain people in the party who believed race mattered.
"Inequality is racialised," she said, calling for a balanced approach. "We can't ignore it, but neither do we want to entrench racial categories as a function of who you are."
She went further, contradicting the party's conservative elements that have told the Mail & Guardian that the DA must stay away from race-based legislation.
"I think over time our goal has to be non-racialism but we have to accept we don't live in a non-racial society," she said. "Poverty has a race, wealth has a race, access to opportunity and education, all those things have a race, and to think that we can just move on without changing any of that proactively is actually illiberal."
Mazibuko speaks about race:
The M&G reported on Friday that black leaders in the DA, dubbed the black caucus, will face off against the old guard at next week's policy conference in a battle over the opposition party's affirmative action stance.
Speaking after publication during the M&G Hangout on Friday, Mazibuko said there were a variety of views that would be consolidated at the conference.
"Mmusi [Maimane], myself, Sej [Motau], Helen [Zille] all of us have got fundamental similar views, agree that restitution is a necessity and part of it is race based," she said, later adding: "Do we believe race is a legitimate means with which to measure economic redress? I would argue that it is and it's a question of extent."
The party bungled a vote for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill in Parliament, which they backtracked on after an outcry from critics. However, Mazibuko was clear the party still supported the bills in principle, despite conservative DA elements railing against the party voting against any race-based legislation in contradiction to its history.
The DA has seen a variety of views emerge over the issue. A number of leaders from the more conservative core of the DA believed that aligning the party with any race-based legislation was the death knell for the organisation. Previous party leader Tony Leon has been vocal on the issue, along with DA stalwart turned commentator Gareth van Onselen.
In 1998, Leon called the original Bill "a pernicious piece of social engineering" in a speech at the time that was widely quoted by the party's critics this time around, to show that the party in its current form had betrayed its principles and commitment to nonracialism.
Conceded too much
But Mazibuko poo-pooed the criticism, along with political commentator Eusebius McKaiser, who said the party had conceded too much ground to its conservative critics.
Mazibuko acknowledged the criticism. "I've had a lot of interviews with people asking me about what happened in 1998," she said. "I was 18 in 1998, I wasn't in the DA, I can't account for what happened there.
"I can account for what happened now: we wanted to support employment equity, we thought the legislation wasn't as draconian as it turned out to be, and we took a group decision to say actually we shouldn't have voted in favour," she said.
Mazibuko on Tony Leon:
Over the years, the DA has had to explain and justify its affirmative action and redress policies, advocating instead "equal opportunity", the M&G reported on Friday. It is a hard sell to black people who are drawn to the ANC's policies, which are seen as creating an environment that favours the previously disadvantaged and enables them to play a meaningful role in the economy.
A predominantly black group within the DA is now pushing for the party to change its stance, though Mazibuko denied that the debate was split on racial lines and said it was along ideological lines instead. She insisted that the party's adoption of certain race-based policies was not in contradiction to its liberal roots.
Acknowledge the past
"The two tenets of liberalism are individual freedom and social responsibility," she said, explaining that the second element meant each society had to acknowledge its past.
Mazibuko on liberalism in South Africa:
She added that the DA's confused messaging over the issue was a consequence of the party still grappling with who they are in terms of this policy in 2013.
"The question then is what is our alternative?" she asked, going on to outline her preferred vision of employment equity, with an example.
Mazibuko speaks about how to hire in keeping with EE's principles:
She also came clean on the continued reports on competition between herself and the party's other rising black star, Mmusi Maimane.
"I get very frustrated when I read the Sunday Independent," she said. "People are saying anonymously that there is a battle royale emerging between myself and Maimane.
"Maimane and I are friends: I like him immensely and I think he's an amazing national spokesperson and he's going to make a brilliant Gauteng premier. If he decides to come to Parliament and contest the parliamentary leadership that is his right and I will face him in that battle when the time comes. But we will face each other like colleagues: People who know and love each other and believe in the same things, and who have no animosity."
Mazibuko answers questions on Mmusi Maimane:
She was honest about her ambitions to one day lead the party and possibly run against Maimane.
"I know the time will probably come one day when I'll have to go up against Mmusi Maimane, I welcome that day: When the candidates will not be the white candidate versus the black candidate, it will just be the candidates [and] what do they have to offer. My colleagues in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have been there. We're done with black and white candidates and it's exciting."
Mazibuko saw the party's weakness in the area of BEE as an opportunity: it had allowed for a debate in the public domain that was more inclusive of voters.
"I think that should happen more often in South African politics. I think we shouldn't be afraid to say we haven't decided on this issue, we're going to talk about it, PS what do you think, and invite those views and invite that interaction. I think it strengthens a political party, especially a party that's growing."
Mazibuko on debate in the public domain:
Go here to watch the full interview.