This Is What Steve Biko Would Have Told Mmusi Maimane

The resignation of Mmusi Maimane from the Democratic Alliance raises important questions about the issues of institutional transformation in the party. What does this transformation mean for the DA and how does the party seek to achieve it?

For some, the election of Maimane as the first black leader of the DA ambitiously represented its radical break with its culture of white supremacy, whiteness, and racist legacies. And more so, it was seen as a shiny example of in-house transformation within the party.

Operating with this thesis, Maimane rhetorically positioned the DA as representing the dream of non-racialism in South Africa, which is based on the notion of racial integration, a pretext for ‘South Africa for One’. 

The moral decadence in the ANC under former president Jacob Zuma gave Maimane some credibility while partly giving the DA some claim to political authenticity.

But Steve Biko, a radical black thinker, would have warned Maimane and his supporters before white supremacists in the DA delivered his character assassination, and public humiliation. Biko would have told Maimane that ‘the integration they talk about is first of all artificial in that it is a response to conscious manoeuvre rather than to the dictates of the inner soul’.

Biko would have added:  ‘In other words, the people forming the integrated complex have been extracted from various segregated societies with their inbuilt complexes of superiority and inferiority and these continue to manifest themselves even in the “nonracial” set-up of the integrated complex. 

As a result, the integration so achieved is a one-way course, with the whites doing all the talking and the blacks the listening.’

In Biko’s terms, racial integration, advanced by the DA, ignores the reorganisation and reconfiguration of institutional and historical practices of white supremacy that reproduces the racial insubordination and the exploitation of black leaders.

But Maimane would have ignored Biko’s words and insisted that he was committed to non-racialism and stopping the ANC from collapsing the country.  Many people would have accused Maimane of dishonouring his elders, and of having the crises of cultural identities by failing to recognise what the right-wing politics of the DA stood for.

As Tito Mboweni, Minister of Finance, wrote: ‘I really and truly do not decipher why Maimane does not get it. The DA came about as a marriage of the PFP, DP and [the] remnants of the right-wing faction of the Apartheid National Party. Those parties never accepted black people as equal human beings.’

Mboweni has forgotten to indicate that this problem is larger than Maimane and also serves as the damning indictment of the ANC. Thus, it represents the political consequences of Rainbowism which lulled many black people into political slumber by concealing both cultural and economic sources of oppression and domination in South Africa under the guise of non-racialism.

Rainbowism not only blocked black people from envisioning more emancipatory institutions and practices, as well as social arrangements, but also deflected their attention from structural oppression and the role of parties such as the DA. This problem is connected to the ANC’s failed programme of social justice which has been hijacked by selfish leaders who have turned the party into their personal fiefdom.

So, the combination of the ANC’s moral decay and the ideological hoax of Rainbowism, which continues to suppress their political activism, causes confusions in black communities to the point of undermining their political unity and consciousness. On the other hand, the DA poses as a political vulture that captures black leaders who have been disappointed by the unending troubles of the liberation movement and its inability to contain corruption as well as unlocking the country from the chains of Neocolonialism and NeoApartheid.

Instead of transforming its inner soul, as Biko would have advised, to build an institutionally and culturally inclusive party, the DA employs these black leaders as tokens while aggressively using the rhetoric of ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ as a perfunctory effort to sell the party. 

As Biko wrote, ‘Let me hasten to say that I am not claiming that segregation is necessarily the natural order; however, given the facts of the situation where a group experiences privilege at the expense of others, then it becomes obvious that a hastily arranged integration cannot be the solution to the problem.’

For this reason, if the culture of its white supremacy and whiteness remains unaltered, the DA will continue to make sense to white people who support right-wing ideas, losing its influence in politics. 

The party cannot end its racist cultures by electing black leaders because its problems are systematically reproduced in its institutionalised and historical practices of white supremacy which serves as its normative vision. 

This vision guides its decisionmaking procedures, and the social divisions of labours on its key policy issues and its programmes of action. In this space, black leaders who join the DA find themselves taking decisions that support the domination and oppression of their own people because of this vision.

Maimane’s departure serves as a rude awakening for ordinary black South Africans, who placed their hopes in his election, and still subscribe to Rainbowism. They need to realise the prophetic cry of black students: ‘Black man, you are on your own,’ as Biko would have put it, as the ANC faces its own challenges of modernising itself and addressing inequality in South Africa.

  • Metji Makgoba is a Commonwealth Scholar at Cardiff University. He writes in his personal and ideological capacity.

OPINION: Metji Makgoba