Colonialism Issue: Rubicon Time For The DA

The so-called Twitter storm that has resulted from Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s remarks on colonialism (Daily News, March 17), has brought to the fore the fact that the DA prioritises political correctness and hypocrisy ahead of factual honesty and historical context.

Zille was quite correct in rejecting the assertion that the legacy of colonialism was only negative. As she attempted to argue, the manifold positive legacies of the colonial era cannot simply be wished away. But the fact that she rapidly reversed her stance and apologised for the perception that she was defending colonialism shows the extent to which free and diverse thinking within the DA has become marginalised.

The words of DA leader Mmusi Maimane leave no doubt about that: colonialism, he said, can never be justified.

One wonders how he feels about the line in the preamble of the constitution which exhorts us to “respect those who have worked to build and develop our country.”

It is also utter rubbish for DA spokesman Phumzile van Damme to claim that “there is not a single aspect of colonialism that can be said to be positive for Africans.” One wonders, then, how she would explain the exponential increase in the African population partly as a result of colonial medicine and the establishment of an order which was largely peaceful. And how does van Damme account for the emergence of African newspapers like Inkanyiso Yase Natal in 1893 along with, albeit limited, western-educated Africans?

All periods of history contain stains of tragedy and injustice. The colonial period was no exception. But it is disingenuous to condemn an entire era based only on its negative effects and legacies. Thus it is the height of hypocrisy for DA MPL Mbali Ntuli to label as “trash” any link between colonialism and development. Having received her education at institutions that are the products of the colonial era, she has no room to talk.

Of course, the basis of the discord within the DA concerns its precept of “one nation, one future.” South Africa is a highly diverse country. To impose “one-size-fits-all” thinking is to impose a new oppression. Unity can only be achieved by recognising diversity and respecting the history and heritage of the different components.

As long as labels like “racist” are attached to anyone who attempts to be objective about the past, there can never be unity and harmony. By failing to adhere to its slogan of “freedom, fairness and opportunity” and failing to have accepted Zille’s right to state an historical truth about colonialism, the DA has shown itself to be illiberal and beholden to the empty idol of political correctness.

If the DA wants to be credible, its spokesmen need to adhere to historical realities instead of trying to echo the uneducated mantras of the EFF and ANC on colonialism and the land issue. Failing that, the DA must recognise that it has reached a political Rubicon: by lurching to the populist left it will lose its traditional support base.

Published The Daily News.

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