Race-based recruitment targets will become a reality for the Democratic Alliance as the party plans to increase the number of black candidates selected for leadership positions ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Buoyed by its performance during this year’s local government elections, the DA believes it stands a good chance to win some of the ANC, controlled provinces — including Gauteng, the country’s economic hub — come 2019.
But DA leader Mmusi Maimane is well aware that for the party to win more provinces it would need to increase its support base in areas where the majority of residents are black people.
He said this week that he was working hard to ensure party structures at all levels diversify their intake of activists to ensure a varied pool of potential leaders.
“Remember, when you select MPs and councillors you don’t just pick them in a vacuum, you pick them from a talent pool. I needed to make sure that, when it comes to our recruitment of talent, we’ve got to develop … talent and recruit, as much as we can, black South Africans all over the country,” said Maimane.
He was quick to point out that the new recruitment strategy was not the same as race quotas.
The DA has previously opposed racial representation quotas, saying instead that it preferred programmes that would promote black advancement by making opportunities available. The party’s implementation of racial recruitment targets may be interpreted by some as a contradiction of its long-standing position.
“Quotas are driven out of racial representivity. So when you say quota you then say to yourself, ‘How many South Africans are black in the country?’ And if you conclude that 80% are black then it goes without saying that eight out of 10 must be black. That’s a quota, we don’t support that,” he explained.
“Here we’ve set targets to say, if we want to pick councillors, let’s go recruit to make sure that 20 in the selection are black, 10 are white whatever the case might be, so that when you then pick your talent pool is wider.”
The DA leader said the party has already started this process and achieved some successes with the election of black mayors Herman Mashaba and Solly Msimanga in the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros respectively.
These recruitment targets are part of a wider plan to transform the DA, which Maimane hopes will start to look different from the party he inherited in 2015, when he took over from Helen Zille as its first black leader.
“There’s a governing model that’s in place about who we select in government, how we work in government. There’s another plan about how do we strengthen branches and activists. It’s many things, it’s about more than just changing faces,” he added.
Maimane said he is not bothered by those who continue to label him a puppet of white people. He sees it as nothing but a discriminatory view aimed at undermining all black people who voted for the DA.
“It is fundamentally discriminatory. Not only does it insult the humanity of myself as a black South African, it says black people can’t think. Once you get into that, I think it is dangerous,” he said.
Racial transformation and racism, however, remain contentious issues, given previous allegations of racism by senior party members.
Maimane says the party has made efforts to get to the bottom of them.
“Let’s be clear. There were two people who spoke and said that. We then interrogated both those individuals because I wanted to understand what they are saying,” he said.
“The one statement was about how do we diversify the organisation. That’s something I’ve acknowledged, that’s something I’ve worked on. I’ve said the party needs to do a lot more work in this regard,” he added.
The DA leader poured cold water on accusations that his party was trying to co-govern the country using the courts. He said the DA wouldn’t need to seek constant legal interventions if Parliament adequately executed its mandate.
The DA has also faced criticism for continually pushing for motions of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma, even when it knew the prospect of success was slim. But Maimane, under whose leadership the DA tabled four motions against Zuma, defended the party’s strategy, saying it was meant to expose the hypocrisy of ANC leaders who projected themselves as principled leaders.
“People must not lie to South Africans. When Jackson Mthembu stands up to say the whole NEC [national executive committee] must step down, and then when you give him an opportunity to vote he lies to the people. You are misleading South Africans,” Maimane said.
“We must help South Africans see that Jacob Zuma is not the exception but the rule in the ANC and therefore everybody else is co-opted into this.”