An open letter to the Leader of the Democratic Alliance

By Gabbriel Bakker    04-Jun-2019 17:41 UTC+02:00

Dear Mr Maimane,

I hope you are well. I was thoroughly impressed with the recent edition of your ‘Bokamoso’ newsletter (“The real change we need starts in Ramaphosa’s cabinet”) as it firmly outlined a solid action plan for critical government intervention, namely urgent reform and overhaul. This edition is, to me, indicative of the fact that the DA truly does have a plan to take the first steps in fixing our nation’s government.

The DA used to be well-known (albeit reluctantly by many opponents) for the motto: “where we govern, we govern well”. In my opinion, as a 16-year-old citizen who is well aware of the DA’s perception by the broader electorate, this motto will ultimately prove to be validated above others. Mr Maimane, our country is brimming with populist parties and idealogies, and I am sure you are more grimly acquainted with the details of this situation than I am. I can appreciate the difficulty of your situation, balancing the supremely attractive option of following the other populists in Parliament, while still feeling the need to stay to core liberal values. Couple this with the largely white and mostly aloof caucus members sitting behind you, and you find yourself in a difficult position.

And yet, Mr Maimane, I am of the view that the DA can be populist in its own right. Being a populist does not necessarily mean subscribing to a left-wing radicalised ideology. Populism is simply defined as the “appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups” – regardless of ideology. The country knows what it wants, Mr Maimane. The “forgotten generation”, as you aptly phrased it, wants a means to lift itself out of poverty. The symbols of a good life: a decent job, a dignified home (which correlates to the issue of land reform), proper education and access to health – these are still the top priorities for the largely black poor. If the DA can truly relate and deliver on these issues, then people will get behind you, regardless of ideology. The country does not want ideology; it wants delivery.

The EFF will continue to grow on the basis of its mouth-wateringly attractive manifesto, desperately accepted by those who have no hope. This is because the EFF understands the issues of the marginalised, forgotten black citizen. From the election albums to the militant terms used, it resonates with their voters. The fact that it largely operates in African languages, as should be so in an African country, does not harm it either. It’s all style and no substance. Yet that is the masterstroke of it – the emotional connection forged with the voter. There is no emotional connection forged with socialism or nationalisation; instead, there is a connection forged with the EFF, because voters believe it will deliver economic freedom.

The DA has solid policies which it spends a disproportionate amount of time internally squabbling over. It needs to change its top-down aloof approach, and start from the bottom-up. If it can do that, then it can truly work towards being a party of the people. Zwakele Mncwango, DA KwaZulu-Natal leader, put it succinctly: “The DA leadership should start attending funerals and weddings of the people who they serve. We need to confront this perception that the DA is just people who sit in air-conditioned offices and go to the beach while black people protest in the streets.” This sentiment, aptly phrased by Mr Mncwango, should reflect the attitude of the DA as a collective – an attitude of community integration and roots serving to guide the party in all aspects.

A strong opposition, regardless of ideology, is in the best interest of the nation. I write this letter not due to preference for the DA, but for the opposition. A strong opposition means a strong Republic, and that is something I will always strive for.

Kind regards,
Gabbriel Bakker

*Bakker is a South African activist.

Leave a comment