Richard Anthony Chemaly.
When the delegates of the DA conference went in to vote to replace James Selfe, their consideration matrix likely did not include, “How would Ntate Herman feel about this?”
One cannot really fault any of those delegates because, until now, our politics have never really required South Africans to consider the impact of their vote and its outcomes on others.
If the DA had a word cloud of their most loved terms, the words ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’ would be right up there, but both of those words require that they be open to differing ideas. Credit where it is due though – being open to a high flyer leaving on ideological differences is exactly being open.
Perhaps deep down they weren’t so open to it, but they certainly have held their smiles together for it. It was just so painful to have to watch Maimane follow Mashaba’s resignation to deliver a speech that both saved face and indicated that Mashaba’s resignation was not only reconcilable with the party’s policy but, in many respects, encouraged by them too. I felt for the leader. Though he did a considerable job, it could not have been easy.
When Mmusi went for his current position as leader of the DA, head to head against veteran DA stalwart Wilmot James, and won, it caused some to question the DA’s ideological consistency.
On the one hand, back in 2015, promotion on merit was a vivid policy of the DA and to most, objectively, James was better “qualified” for the position.
However, when James was bested in a democratic vote, regardless of how it made some people feel, there were no reports of any prominent resignations, at least none the DA could ill-afford.
This resignation comes at a relatively difficult time for the DA, on the back of a diminished general election performance and some internal conflict heading into a municipal election cycle. The narrative being developed around them is also not helping. The resignation, however, does open a door that’s been previously closed.
In South African politics, we’ve often adopted a business-as-usual approach; something of an “all else remaining constant” presumptuous attitude … until now, and that is exciting.
Casting our minds away from the DA and looking at other political disputes, very few of them were based on ideology.
We can speculate on whether the EFF would exist had Malema not been expelled from the ANC and could ask if Cope would have ever come (and pretty much gone) had Mbeki not been pushed out.
One may be tempted to point to the 2008 resignations on the back of an Mbeki exile as a sign that ideological resignations are nothing new, but this is different.
Mashaba had no direct interest in Zille’s election. His job was likely safe and his popularity increasing dramatically across the board. Even if Zille wanted him out, she’d struggle to make it happen, if she managed to make it happen at all. In other words, Mashaba’s job was not at any significantly increased risk now that Zille was back in the DA upper-structure.
What was also endearing during Mmusi’s follow-up speech was that, as painful as it seemed for both of them, there didn’t seem to be any bad blood. It just seemed like the peaceful kind of breakup nobody has ever had; no threats, no intimidation and no blame game (well maybe a veiled one depending on who you ask) … just a “this isn’t working for me” approach.
Of course, when normal people go through a breakup, there tends to be a competition to see who wins; who gets the better next partner, who becomes richer, who marries first and whose next marriage lasts longer – but again, none of that here.
From the perspective of the DA, it’s tragic, of course. From the perspective of South Africa, however, if more politicians start taking ideological stands and compelling their party constituents to consider the cost of losing influential players, our politics are in for a good future. It adds a balancing aspect that many kingmakers must now consider.
Do I think there are many more politicians, from various parties, with that Mashaba resolve?
Maybe, somewhere in the ether, but here’s to hoping that they come out and begin making the political players realise that election victories have some negative consequences.
Do I think that they will come out and be more demanding of the kind of people surrounding them? Probably not, but as a Liverpool supporter, I’ve lived in hope for decades, and hope has begun to pay dividends. In terms of our politics, I remain hopeful.
Chemaly is an entertainment attorney, radio broadcaster and lecturer of communication ethics
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