Thursday, May 14, 2009

White Liberals Quotas and Narratives

If Helen Zille, the newly elected premier of the Western Cape, is the face of liberalism in South Africa then liberalism is in some deep trouble.

Now I am not about to get twisted and lament the state of liberalism and liberals. I do, however, think it important to note that liberalism has made important contributions, particularly of the political kind between citizen and state.

One such prominent contribution is the emphasis on equality and inclusivity of all citizens as a marker of progress.

Liberalism has, in no small part, influenced the manner in which anti-racist struggle has been conceived and applied. The same can be said of the important and ongoing struggle to rid society and politics of its persistent patriachal frame(s).

In general, liberalism has evolved to reduce structural and other inequality whether it be drawn on race, gender, class, religion, ethnicity, origin, or any combination of these.

What then, if anything, should one make of the decision by the leading white liberal, and woman no less, to appoint an all-male and dominantly white cabinet in the Western Cape?

Is this her manner of building on Obama's nonesensical 'post-race' liberalism by adding a 'post-feminist' blindness and idiocy?

I think it mostly a waste of time to interrogate Zille's understanding or commitment to the grand 'narratives' of liberalism. It is a waste of time because her liberalism is contained by an overarching apartheid consciousness that significantly stunts her reach and grasp of the post-apartheid moment.

In short, she is out of touch, to put it mildly.

And she is not alone. The hoards of folks (of all colours) who brought her party to office in the Western Cape are similarly afflicted.

I find it quite odd that there is hardly a voice among the supporters of Zille, or other liberals outside the African National Congress (ANC), who have not pointed out how ridiculous it is for her to have ignored the need for equal gender and racial representation in her cabinet.

Her argument that she is not enjoined by a "gender quota" is absolute nonesense because she has merely replicated the power structure of male dominance which is a quota system of long standing, and oppressively so too.

For Zille, like the majority of white liberals and their 'non'-white agents, the matter of equality is predicated on notions of hard workers and committed individuals over an appreciation how those same folk hardly understand the standing inequities that make it necessary to be adamant about equality and inclusivity.

On this score the ANC is right to say that her cabinet does not represent South Africa. In fact, her cabinet does not represent any nation-state anywhere.

It is for this reason that Helen Zille cannot seriously be the face of liberalism, the same ideology that pioneered Affirmative Action and drew so many a committed soul to the struggle for equality.

So who then are the real liberals in South Africa?

Well who else broer? The ANC of course. Their commitment to equality and a non-racial/non-sexist society and state stands out prominently even as it is fraught with heavy-handed engineering that worringly seems to redeploy patriachal power.

But still, at this 'juncture' and moment, the ANC has again proved that their brand of borrowed and hybrid liberalism is more robust and nuanced than the old school apartheid-style sh*t that drives Helen Zille and her Democratic Alliance.



Dade said...


I wonder if Zille's supporters are reluctant to criticize her for the same reason that liberals here in the USA are reluctant to criticize Obama?

Specifically, for all Zille's (Obama's) faults, (s)he is better than the alternative?

Thoughtful post.

Ridwan said...

Hey Dade.

Thanks for your comment. I expect that some of it may be similar.

Most I think are just afraid to show dissent inside a party that is hardly mainstream.

Still, even Obama is truer to liberal form than Zille.

Peace brother!


alleman said...


She is out of touch, as can be seen in her idiotic pronouncement on Zuma's wives being at risk of HIV.

But I wonder if there is not a practical reason for her failure to appoint non-whites, and that is that her party just don't have enough black leaders that could be considered. I could be wrong, but I think that if she is serious about growing the DA then she will have more appointed black leaders if she had them.

And I also wonder if the all-male cabinet is not some kind of Margaret Thatcher thing. Apparently Margaret did all kinds of flirty things with her all male cabinet members, such as showing them she trusted them by taking her shoes off and tucking her legs in under her while they were having a meeting. In this way, she spurred them on to loyalty and hard work, and maintained a sort of feminine power over them. Obviously, these tactics won't work on women.

Ridwan said...

Hello Alleman:

It is good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

Previous to this election there were two faces 'of color' out of the nine members in the DA top leadership.

They are Joe Seremane (Federal Chair of DA) and Donald Smiles (Deputy chair of Federal Council).

Except for Zille, there are still no woman in the upper national leadership as you know.

There are, however, DA folks 'of color', both women and men, who represent more closely what South Africa looks like. They are not in Zille's cabinet but after the fallout she hurried them into "shadow cabinet" positions.

I refer to Sej Motau, Wilmot James, Kenneth Mubu, James Masango, Mpowele Swathe, among others.

If Zille wanted a black woman she could have elevated Patricia Kopane or Lindiwe Mazibuko or even the DA Spokesperson, Lindiwe Mazibuko, to her cabinet.

The total absence of any woman from her cabinet is just unacceptable.

I wonder why DA women like Juanita Terblanche, Patti Duncan, Annette Steyn, Annette Lovemore, Debbie Schafer, among others, were overlooked.

Anyway one slices it, Zille is indeed out of touch and her cabinet looks a lot more like the apartheid old boys network than a liberally progressive alternative to the ANC.

Makes me wonder why there are any women and folks 'of color' in the DA at all.

Thanks again for looking in boet.