/ 21 November 2013

‘Black caucus’ sets out its agenda for first DA policy conference

The DA is trying to draft policies that will draw new voters and party leader Helen Zille is credited for okaying the policy conference.
The DA is trying to draft policies that will draw new voters and party leader Helen Zille is credited for okaying the policy conference. (David Harrison, M&G)

Several Democratic Alliance leaders advocating change in the party will try this weekend to drive the party to adopt policies they believe reflect the reality of life in a democratic South Africa.

The party is holding its first inclusive policy conference at the Cape Town Civic Centre. Since the formation of the DA, its policies have been drafted by just a few party leaders, resulting in some leaders, MPs and rank-and-file members finding it difficult to understand or defend them.

Although the pro-change group consists mainly of black leaders and has been dubbed the "black caucus", sources from the group claim people of other races who share the vision are also involved in discussions about the new direction the party should take.

Between 150 and 200 delegates, who are members of the federal council, MPs and Western Cape MECs, will attend.

Masizole Mnqasela, an MP, federal council member and head of the Khayelitsha constituency, is one of those who will propose policy changes.

He said this week that the policy conference should provide some clarity on issues such as redress. He will propose that the DA should support black economic empowerment, affirmative action and other related measures as proposed by the ANC but call for a cut-off date, by which time people would have been equipped and empowered to fend for themselves.

"Perhaps we need to look at having a sunset clause where we support affirmative action blindly, but we then say until a particular period.

"Accept them as they are – wholly, no question – but put in a sunset clause that says we must support them for the next 20 years and then, after 20 years, they must fall away because by then we would have equipped and empowered people. They would have been given enough chance to gain opportunities and, if they don't take opportunities, it's up to them.

"But everybody will rush, knowing that if you don't do it, you lose, and afterwards people will go on an equal footing. That's the proposal I'm putting on the table."

He said the process could be reviewed after 10 years.

"But we can't [say we] support it and then put [forward] some reasons why not to support it. Then you might as well keep quiet," he said.

His other proposal is for MPs to be allowed to vote as individuals on Bills relating to these issues and not to have to follow the party line.

"When we vote, I, Masizole, would love to support [the Bills] because I am a victim. I am in the DA but I am a victim. I support the DA because I thought it would be conscious of that challenge," he said.

"We are conscious of the injustices of the past. Your conscience therefore cannot deny the fact that we have to do something today as part of the redress.

'Blacks becoming millionaires'
"People must be allowed to vote individually, using their own conscience on these Bills. We should not have a party position because I don't get represented well when someone says I don't support employment equity."

Mnqasela also wants the DA to focus its energies on broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE).

"We still have very few black millionaires as opposed to white millionaires, so we shouldn't be worried about blacks becoming millionaires. Why should we be worried when a black person becomes rich?"

He described the B-BBEE Bill and the Employment Equity Amendment Bill as the "bone marrow" that would decide whether the DA will grow or reduce its growth.

"There has been an ongoing call to have a policy conference so that we don't just have a policy that our members don't understand," Khume Ramulifho, the DA's South Gauteng regional chairperson, said.

"We get different views in public now about employment equity because we never really had a platform to discuss these policies.

"We welcome this platform because it'll give us power to contribute to the policy direction the party should take."

Policy formulation
Ramulifho said that, because the DA has grown from a small party, there is a need to change in how it does things, such as policy formulation.

"This is the type of change that we said we want to see. Praise to Helen [Zille, the DA's party leader] because now we've got this platform."

A member of the so-called "black caucus" said that, although the DA has enjoyed criticising the ruling ANC and its policies, the party knows that it will also face challenges if it is to lead a government.

The source said running the Western Cape has made that clear and the party now knows budgets control a bigger part of service delivery. The party's policies must also be realistic regarding the make-up of society and the previously disadvantaged, he said.

Ramulifho agreed: "We have to reposition ourselves as a party of government. All along we've been talking like an opposition party but, being in control of the Western Cape and now targeting Gauteng, we must change our focus.

"When you're in government, you're expected to deliver, not explain policy. We need to speak without ambiguity when we speak about land reform because people think the DA does not support land reform."

New policies
The pro-change group will put more emphasis on economic development, land redistribution and education.

"We talk about redress, reconciliation, diversity and delivery. We need to say, when we talk about redress, how do we deal with it in a sense that we pay much attention to skills development and employability," he said.

Ramulifho, who is also the DA's spokes­person on education in Gau­teng, said education policies are key to fully realising the transformation of South Africa.

"If we say each child should receive quality education, we're not saying a child in an urban area should get proper technology and the one in a rural area should get nothing. I'm of the view that after this conference we'll come out clear with a simple message."

The party's federal chairperson, Wilmot James, said the DA has been working on new policies and the extended federal council will debate and confirm new directions in about 20 areas, including education, innovation, energy, minerals, arts and culture, immigration, economy and trade.

Forward-looking platform
"Some policies required updating but most are new and modern, including those dealing with land reform, economic inclusion and redress, and innovation," he said.

The policies will be presented for debate and comment and then decisions will be taken.

James said what comes out of the deliberations will form the basis of the DA manifesto for the 2014 elections.

"I believe that we will have a forward-looking platform that will give hope to South Africans," he said.