• Hlanganani Gumbi


The last seven days have clearly mapped out my personal focus for the next few years.

The first focus is building a credible and effective alternative tourism policy for South Africa. This after DA Leader Mmusi Maimane appointed me into his Shadow Cabinet as the DA Shadow Deputy Minister for Tourism. The second focus is contributing to the DA’s organisational review process following a disappointing election result.

For this post, I am going to focus solely on the second one as I believe it is more important in the context of where South Africa finds itself and I appreciate the party leadership for inviting everyone to participate in this process. I consider this as the first of a few steps in my contribution.

Significant input was made this past weekend by colleagues from around the country on where the DA finds itself today, how we managed the last campaign and our affairs as well as how we move forward. For ease of context, I am going to map out the positive broad consensus:

1. The DA held the political centre in this election. This means that we built up a movement of moderate people who are pragmatic, rational, and want practical solutions to our country’s problems. We simply refused to be an extreme political party that only cares about black people or white people like the EFF and FF+. We campaigned on a message that brings people together by projecting a vision of One South Africa for All

2. There is a genuine commitment from a broad section in the party and in South Africa about building One South Africa for All. This is important because it tells us that a large majority of society is committed to building an inclusive country and have rejected those who spread hate and seek to divide us. Despite the rise of nationalist parties, the moderate centre held firm, including a large group of unregistered voters whom we now need to reach.

3. The DA is the most non-racial political party in South Africa. If anything, the more we have grown, the more non-racial and diverse we have become in our membership, office bearers and voters. That has both been extremely beneficial but has also brought its own challenges that we are now grappling with as we build a movement which speaks to a common purpose and the inner aspirations of moderate South Africans.

4. That since 1994, we have had significant growth. We are the second largest party by a long shot as we govern over 30 municipalities in the country, spanning more than 4 provinces. We are also the only other party besides the ANC to govern a province and big metropolitan cities. We have a political and organizational infrastructure which is solid and lives beyond any leader.

So, when South Africans woke up to the headlines of DA Leader Mmusi Maimane telling the Federal Council Meeting, “Adapt or die”, what did he mean?

In the simplest possible narrative, Maimane told the party that we need to take the necessary steps to listen to the voters so we can serve their interests better. Adapting to the changing social, economic and political climate in South Africa and the world. Adapting to our ability to respond to citizen’s concerns and making sure our governments are what people expect of them. And keeping to the cutting edge of what makes us the non-racial government of the future which can deliver a safe, prosperous and just South Africa where we are all more secure.

So it is unfortunate that some articles characterized his message saying that he wanted the DA to be more like the ANC. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the very ANC which displays everything we wish not to become. It is the rise of a dangerous kleptocracy and authoritarian political elite under the ANC and EFF, that we wish to stop.

Federal Council, conscious of our responsibility to build a new government and political movement to deliver the kind of change we want to see, whole heartedly endorsed the organisational review process which will be lead by former party strategist Ryan Coetzee. Coetzee has assured the party that together with his panel, they will seek to conduct a broad organisational review which listens to all elements of the party. They will attempt to deliver an impartial and helpful report to the best of their ability. I intend to make an in person contribution to the review as well as an accompanying written contribution.

So what matters (from my experience with voters) in this process?

The idea that at the end of the day, what people care most about is JUSTICE.

Justice, particularly the idea of social and economic justice, and how that is expressed I believe is the most important factor in any political movement of the modern age.

Like the world over, the South African electorate has rejected establishment politics. The daily politics, where people feel they have little power because change comes slowly. The politics of gradual reform and not the politics of essentially rearranging the deck chairs. Under this environment, all political parties are presented with three options on how they quote on quote, “adapt or die”.

The first option is to become a nationalist political party, where all you care about is one race group or ethnic group, and have a narrow interest because you can speak to peoples fears and how you will protect them. The second option is to take some time to do deep introspection, listen to the electorate, and adapt humbly by accepting you may have to unlearn so much which you may have believed was true before. And the third option is to die.

It goes without saying that the first and third option is not what I want to be part of, or what the core group of caring South Africans want.

So then how does the organisational review do that in a meaningful way:

By redefining our common purpose so that it is more in tune with the heartbeat of the voters and the modern day.

In redefining our common purpose, we can answer 9 of the following questions:

1. Who are we?

2. Why do we do what we do?

3. Who are we fighting for?

4. Who are we fighting against?

5. What does social and economic injustice mean to us?

6. How do we reimagine life in South Africa?

7. How do we reimagine power in South Africa?

8. How does government and private business assist in fixing social and economic injustice?

9. How do we restructure the party to deliver a machine that works to achieve the above?

I would answer the following questions as such:

1. We are a progressive political party who care about the future of all South Africans

2. We want to protect the dignity and prosperity that all South Africans are entitled to by the virtue of being a human being

3. We are fighting for the unemployed and the working class so that they have a viable path into the middle class and so that the middle class have the security to care for and protect their families so they can pursue their dreams.

4. We are fighting against a social, political and economic system that creates extreme inequality between people, and eventually strips them of their dignity

5. Social and economic injustice means the unfair structural environment in South Africa which ensures black people have less money, remain the face of poverty and strips them of their dignity due to a perpetual cycle of unfair relationships

6. A South Africa where ALL people have their basic needs taken care of and have a reasonable chance of being middle class. There is a competitive economy, because the education, health, and transport system are working to make all South Africans better off. There is a more sustainable and fair distribution of income. Billionaires and corporates are playing their role to pay their fair share to correcting the social and economic injustice of South Africa’s history so that we are all more secure and prosperous

7. People have more power because they can hold political parties and public representatives to account, whilst small business is the most powerful institution

8. Government must play a critical role in making sure that the education, health and transport system in South Africa serves all people equally and to a high standard so that they can prosper. Billionaires and corporates will also pay their fair share to making sure that South Africa becomes a more fair, just and secure society

9. Devolving decision making authority to provinces, regions and local structures so that the party is more responsive and skilled locally. Being clear about who we are, what we stand for, and what we intend to do.

Building this non-racial alternative based on social and economic justice is fast becoming critical. Not only because South Africa is running out of time and faces serious risks of a revolution in young unemployed people, but because if that doesn’t happen first, it will be the rise of an authoritarian kleptocracy. It is also important because the electorate is rejecting establishment politics from the DA and demanding that whilst they accept our destination of one South Africa for all, we must redefine what that looks like and what that means to many ordinary people. We dare fail to adapt, it will not only be the DA, but the South African dream that will die.


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