Recognising race does not make the DA any less liberal, a candidate for the party’s leadership, Mbali Ntuli, has said.
On Saturday, she delivered a speech during a rally at College Rovers in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, outlining her policy positions.
Ntuli, an MPL in KwaZulu-Natal, is competing with interim leader John Steenhuisen and Gauteng provincial leader John Moodey to be the DA’s federal leader, which will be decided at a conference in May.
The DA’s policy on redress has been contentious within the party and a source of criticism from some outside it.
Like Steenhuisen, and as in the draft economic justice policy the DA unveiled last week for discussion ahead of its policy conference in April, Ntuli said the government’s BEE and affirmative action policies have failed and only benefitted an elite.
“Nobody in SA can deny that in 1994 it was obvious that the people who needed to be redressed were those oppressed by the apartheid regime. Those people were black, coloured and Indian people,” read the speech sent to the media.
“BEE and [affirmative action] had good intentions to try and quickly balance the scales but it’s clear from the implementation of the policies that they haven’t had far-ranging enough benefits for the people it meant to help.
“It’s primarily been used to benefit a few people who are now an elitist class.”
Ntuli said the DA needed to acknowledge that for the average black person who had been hired in South Africa “they truly do not believe that they would have had those opportunities without these policies”.
“The DA needs to be practical and understand that while we all want to live in a non-racial South Africa, race is still a huge factor in people’s lives.
“We need to understand that recognising race does not make us any less liberal, but rather gives agency to individuals who may consider race, gender, culture, religion and other things that make up their collective identity. People choose who they are so we cannot operate as though everybody thinks the way the DA does,” read the speech.
“The reason this debate has become an issue is because our economy isn’t growing, and everybody feels scared for themselves and their children’s future. If the economy was growing and everybody had a fair chance at opportunities and jobs, then this conversation would be less binary and ahistorical.
“Race shouldn’t be a proxy for disadvantage but since the state and state-sponsored policies like BEE have failed, 28 million people, predominantly of colour, remain jobless or live in poverty.”
Ntuli said affirmative action and BEE needed to be reformed, and the DA “should never be exclusionary to the increasing number of people who find themselves disadvantaged by a failing state”.
“Growing our economy is the key solution to all our challenges.”
The emphasis on growing the economy is similar to Steenhuisen’s manifesto and the draft policy, which states: “Ours is a growth first agenda, meaning that measures to promote inclusion cannot come at the expense of a healthy economy.
“The only way to fix South Africa is to get our economy growing so that we can create the millions of jobs we need to lift people out of poverty,” read his manifesto.
In terms of redress, Steenhuisen, while acknowledging “historical injustices committed on the basis of race”, proposed selecting beneficiaries based on their financial means, rather than their race.
The draft policy proposes a bottom-up approach that would focus on the drivers of inequality of opportunity which affected the majority of South Africans, with the private sector playing an important role in helping to move towards a more economically just society, and the use of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) as the objectives for the corporate sector, instead of the current BEE scorecard.
Ntuli also has a plan for a green economy.
“Any future government must be concerned with the climate crisis. This is about economics and not just green issues. It’s about the future of the South African economy and whether we have good, reliable and clean energy to create jobs in a stakeholder economy.”
Her proposals include stopping factory farming, abandoning the idea of fracking, supporting the green economy and a comprehensive climate change bill with a hard date to end carbon emissions by 2040.
On the topic of creating policy certainty within the party, Ntuli said she does not believe it was correct for a leader to pronounce on policy positions if it had not been agreed to by the party.
“I will never be a leader that causes confusion by pronouncing my own views as though they are those of the party. Especially the very views that divide us.
“To that end, I will be moving for a constitutional amendment to have policy conferences more regularly. A policy conference must take place at least six months before every single congress in future. The more our members and activists debate our policy in their structures, the less confusion there will be about who we are and what we stand for.”
She will also put forward a constitutional amendment to change the representation at policy conferences to ensure a greater diversity of voices.