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DA maintains that race is a proxy for disadvantage, despite IRR criticism

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DA maintains that race is a proxy for disadvantage, despite IRR criticism

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DA leader Mmusi Maimane

12th February 2019

By: News24Wire

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) is holding firm on its view that race is a proxy for disadvantage in South Africa amid sharp criticism from the Institute for Race Relations (IRR).

This, after the DA's Federal Council adopted the party's manifesto at its meeting over the weekend. The manifesto, which was announced by DA leader Mmusi Maimane on Sunday, has redress as a pillar and states that race is a proxy for disadvantage in South Africa.

On Monday the IRR, a libertarian think-tank which counts Anglo-American and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust among its donors, released a statement in which it was highly critical of the DA and Maimane.

Maimane told the media on Sunday: "We believe race is a proxy for disadvantage and an accurate reflection of who is still excluded from opportunity.

"The party has not decided to move away from race-based redress policies. However we unequivocally reject the African National Congress's (ANC's) version of redress which operates to enrich and re-enrich the connected elite.

"Our offer is truly broad-based in that it seeks to break down the wall that exists been the haves and the have-nots."

He was at pains to point out that the DA's policy on BBBEE differed from the ANC in that it would seek to broaden economic participation, rather than benefit those connected to the ruling party.

"Give equity to employees, educate people, develop enterprise and ultimately broaden inclusion," he said, summarising the DA's position on empowerment.

IRR CEO Frans Cronjé said in his statement: "This past weekend, the DA's Federal Council determined to shut down any debate on empowerment, choosing instead to adopt the ANC's model of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), and the mantra that 'race is a proxy for disadvantage' as a justification for its position. It was the decision of a party that has surrendered itself intellectually and morally to the ANC's grand hegemonic hold over South African policy."

He disputed that race was a proxy for disadvantage.

"There are many, particularly the rich ANC elite, who have abused B-BBEE in all its iterations for their own purposes, who are not disadvantaged, and who do not require state assistance to accrue capital. The same is increasingly true of a burgeoning black middle class," he said.

"This is well-evidenced and statistically uncontroversial. Even if race was a proxy for disadvantage, the only reason not to use disadvantage itself is a public desire to pander to race. This is likely the hard truth of the DA's current position."

He believed nothing distinguished the DA's policy from the ANC's.

"The DA's argument is that it is able to better implement the ANC's model, more fairly and without bias. But, as for the model itself, it is the ANC's, down to the fine detail."

He said the DA had been "forced" to do this for two reasons.

"One, the increasingly anti-intellectual character of the party leadership - weekend reports state that Mmusi Maimane told those who wished to debate this to 'shut up'. Two, the political weakness of the party, internally and externally."

Cronjé said it appeared there was no debate at all on empowerment inside the DA, but merely a series of discussions about whether there should be a debate.

"It appears there was no policy alternative tabled for discussion at the Federal Council. If press reports are to be believed, the party has in fact produced a manifesto before it has even adopted or produced the policies that typically underpin such a document."

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the IRR was entitled to its views.

"We don't let any organisation prescribe its policy to us," he said.

"We've got a political party to run."

He said they endeavoured to find policies that would bring life to their vision of "one South Africa for all".

Malatsi said there was a "massive difference" between their policy and that of the ANC, and the DA definitely rejected the ANC's policy on BBBEE.

"We want to achieve social justice."

He said if one looked at who was excluded from the economy, it was clear that in South Africa, race was a proxy for disadvantage as the vast majority of those excluded from the economy were black.

He also said there was a debate at the council.

"The IRR was not present at the council."

Policy on BBBEE has long been an ideological battleground within the DA and the federal council adopting the stance it has can be seen as a victory for Maimane.

In August last year, the DA's then head of policy Gwen Ngwenya, said the party decided to ditch BEE. The chairperson of the DA's federal council James Selfe disputed this.

Ngwenya was employed at the IRR before becoming a DA MP in February last year and taking the position as head of policy. In an op-ed article she penned about BBBEE for Business Day, Ngwenya quoted extensively from the IRR's research.

Last month, Ngwenya resigned her position as head of policy, claiming in a scathing letter to Maimane that the party didn't take policy seriously and didn't capacitate her to do her job. She said the party didn't have the "courage of its convictions" in debating BEE.

However, News24 has learnt that her position was tenuous, given concerns that the policy positions wouldn't be delivered in time for the manifesto and given her neo-liberal views versus the party's commitment to redress given the realities in South Africa.

Some DA members took to Twitter to contradict the IRR, with DA MP Phumzile van Damme asking whether they were sad that the DA didn't adopt IRR policies.

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