Despite extensive efforts to seem inclusive, the Democratic Alliance has struggled to shake off its reputation as a political party with only white interests, and many black South Africans genuinely believe it would bring back some form of apartheid if it came to power.
With the municipal elections coming up next year, it should have taken strong action against its MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, not just a demotion in her parliamentary role, if it seriously wants to shed this image and be considered as a viable alternative to the ANC by the black majority.
Kohler Barnard came under fire last week after she shared, on her private Facebook page, a post in which the writer not only called life under the ANC a “circus” but also expressed a longing for the return of heinous apartheid-era leader PW Botha.
She has since removed the post from her Facebook page and publicly apologised for sharing it, saying she had done so without reading all the way through, and it’s inconsistent with her beliefs. But it might be too late: the post had already gone viral on social media and may have damaged the DA’s reputation.
Past and present leaders of the DA took to social media to try to do some damage control, calling the share “indefensible”. DA leader Mmusi Maimane added that the MP would face disciplinary action.
The DA can survive only so many such scandals. It recruited Thembu king Bulelekhaya Dalindyebo to the party, but he is now going to jail for assault. At Helen Zille’s outgoing ceremony this year, a social media furore erupted when veteran journalist Allister Sparks seemed to laud apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoed, calling him “a smart man”.
Many commentators have called Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, a puppet to white masters. Now would be the perfect time for him to prove that wrong and be seen to push for action against Kohler Barnard.
The DA recognises the only way it could control South Africa is if black people – constituting more than 80% of the population – voted for it.
Many black people are impressed by the DA’s record in political office and are dissatisfied with the ANC’s underwhelming performance. But they are scared to put their trust in a white party. This is understandable, considering South Africa’s past.
The DA did absorb many people who were part of the former oppressive regime. Have they changed their bigoted views overnight?
Incidents like this don’t help the DA to look like the inclusive party “committed to building one nation, with one future, reversing the legacy of apartheid” it wants to be seen as.
If anything, it plays into the ANC’s hands, fuelling insecurities about what might happen if black voters choose a white party. The DA cannot afford this, especially if it wants to win “the big five” in next year’s municipal elections.
It might take the sacrifice of Kohler Barnard to show they’re serious.
Siya Mnyanda reads politics and philosophy at the University of Cape Town, and works in the private sector