With reference to Eusebius McKaiser “The DA’s next leader should have a diverse political toolkit” (Mail&Guardian, September 23)
In an open, democratic society, political party leaders are subjected to media scrutiny and we are fortunate that the discourse in South Africa upholds this tradition. Leaders should be accountable, their actions and decisions scrutinised and voters should know what they’re voting for in a country where the political system has a net effect of inextricably linking the image of the party to that of the leader.
The media have rightly pointed out the weaknesses of all parties under their respective leaders over the years, and voters have made their choices, no doubt, with this in mind. The excesses of political leaders have also given the media much to scrutinise — state capture serves as a prime example, and the alleged political beneficiaries of the VBS bank scandal comes to mind. We are, as a nation, sadly, bequeathed with leaders who form an extractive elite siphoning from the economy to enrich themselves through the levers of state.
This, of course, makes it particularly difficult to criticise John Steenhuisen, considering the context. He has steered the DA, a party that runs clean governments and cannot easily be accused of the self-enrichment of its opponents, into territory that diametrically opposes the ANC on a philosophical and policy level. This at a time when the same media commentariat seems determined to defend the failures of race-based policies, which has done nothing but leave the black majority poor while enriching a political elite. Eusebius McKaiser, in this regard, has resorted to using straw-man arguments, damnation through faint praise and speculation to paint an image of Steenhuisen that is simply not borne out in fact.
This seems part of a staple of recent commentary against the DA — attacking the leader of the DA and lusting for a version of the DA that must be more ANC than ANC itself, regardless of the fact that democracy only works when there is a battle of ideas in political and public discourse, and for South Africa to be an effective democracy, ANC policy hegemony must be broken.
In this lust for an alternative ANC, McKaiser has regrettably whipped out the old Verwoerdian trope against Steenhuisen that only people of the same racial or ethnic group can communicate with, or represent each other. This same idea that underpinned apartheid and segregation is now being promoted as some virtuous idea under the guise of so-called “multiracialism” and it is sad to see commentators fall into thinking that should have died with the old order in 1994.
Instead of a focus on ideas, articles like those by Eusebius are written in such a way as to suggest that the DA needs new leadership — commentators pushing an agenda if ever there were one. Although the DA leadership election provides an opportunity for reporting for many journalists, resorting to straw-man arguments time and again to achieve this does our political discourse a disservice.
Steenhuisen’s longer content such as his newsletters and his speeches are not dissected the way those of other political leaders are. I take it that this is because it is particularly difficult to properly analyse a leader’s views when said views are backed up by evidence and best practice. It requires research, something that those opining against the DA seem less and less willing to do.
When one actually analyses Steenhuisen’s views and his political vision, one has a prism through which one can analyse his actions and hold him to account. Time and again, he has said that South Africa needs a political alternative based on the battle of ideas and he hopes to make the DA the nucleus of such. In this vision, elections are not a racial census but about clearly defined values and policy paths that South Africa can take.
Contrast this with the ANC, in which every policy idea over the past several years has been as a result of some sort of peace treaty to settle internecine warfare, with no concern for the actual circumstances of South Africans.
Steenhuisen remains the best choice to lead the DA, for no other reason than his commitment to the battle of ideas. He is one of the few political leaders in the country who place country over party. Leaders have to take big decisions, risks and weather the storms that emerge in pursuit of their visions. While there are many in the DA who can step up to the plate and lead the party with their vision and direction, Steenhuisen deserves the continued opportunity to fulfil his vision, and in this, he has my backing, and the backing of other DA members across the country.