In a radio interview ahead of internal elections which will see the Democratic Alliance (DA) elect a new interim leader, contender for the position John Steenhuisen explained that he wanted to steer the party away from race-based policies.
“We have become far too obsessed with race,” he told his interviewer Eusebius McKaiser on 702.
This puts him at odds with his competitor for the DA leadership, Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana, who said in an eNCA interview he wanted the party to “deal with the race issue”.
It also puts him in line with the party’s federal council chairperson, Helen Zille, who has vocally rejected any race-based policies.
On 702 on Tuesday morning, Steenhuisen was confronted on his policies and ideas, and why he felt he would successfully be able to take the party forward.
He said that Makashule had advanced the idea that if two candidates for the DA leadership were equally suitable for the job, the position should go to a black candidate.
“I disagree with [Gana] that race should be a tie-breaker between two candidates … we should not reduce race to a matter of representativity,” he said.
When pushed by McKaiser, Steenhuisen did acknowledge that “diversity is important”, and that in the “extremely unlikely” event that two candidates were “exactly the same” except for their race, he could accept a decision to choose the black candidate.
He said that he did not deny that “race matters”, but added that he believed “when you reduce it down to [representation], you have the failure we have now with the race-based policies” that have been implemented by government, such as broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE).
“Poverty is growing in SA while lowering globally,” he said.
“Race shouldn’t be a proxy for disadvantage. Surely disadvantage is a proxy for disadvantage,” he said.
McKaiser countered: “When you and Zille say this, I don’t know what you are saying,” adding that he feels it’s an example of tautology.
“There’s no reason to resort to racial classification in South Africa,” Steenhuisen replied.
“If you target redress at poor people, it will still benefit those who are black,” he said, as in South Africa “99.9% of poor people are black”.
He said abandoning race-based policies would enable government to “target policies at the people who need them most”, adding that “there are middle-class South Africans who have already benefited from redress policy”.
McKaiser asked why, if Steenhuisen acknowledged that in South Africa “99.9% of poor people are black,” he was “so scared to talk about race”.
Steenhuisen said it was “more practical to focus on disadvantage rather than race”.
He said “crude racial policies” didn’t help with the DA’s main goal, which was to “shift people out of poverty [and get] them into employment”.
Steenhuisen’s views earned him comparisons to Zille from McKaiser.
“Even though you are more careful than Helen with your language, philosophically, you’re in the same WhatsApp group,” he said.
“I don’t subscribe to the Zille school of politics,” Steenhuisen replied.
“I’m a liberal, the DA is a liberal party.”
Steenhuisen’s views on race contrast sharply with Gana’s.
Gana told eNCA he wanted to take the DA in a direction that was “more inclusive”, and that the party should talk “unambiguously about the issues of economic justice”.
“We need to also not only deal with the race issue, we need to deal with the gender issue,” he added.
“These are the issues the DA should be at the forefront of addressing.”
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)