In the years since the end of Apartheid in 1994 South African politics has been dominated by two political parties, the African National Congress (ANC) – or the party of Nelson Mandela – and the Democratic Alliance led by political activist, journalist and former Cape Town mayor Helen Zille. For the most part this has been a rivalry without consequence, the Black majority in South Africa consistently votes for the ANC, since they literally are the party that ended apartheid and the Democratic Alliance has fashioned itself as a multi-cultural alternative to the ANC as well as a check on corrupt one-party rule.
However, a recent ad campaign by the D.A. Youth League reminds us that multi-culturalism doesn’t sell without some substance to back it up.
The Youth wing of the Democratic Alliance has caused quite a stir in South African politics with their recent campaign poster that features a naked White man and Black woman in a loving embrace along with the caption “In OUR Future You wouldn’t look Twice”. While the poster is primarily featured on the D.A. Young wing Facebook page, it has become national news as some come out and support the poster’s message, some disagree, and others find the image itself to be immoral and tacky.
All of this, of course, occurring in the foreground of a nation that just threw off the shackles of a 70-year long oppressive pro-White minority regime less than 20 years ago. Mbali Ntuli, Chairperson of the Youth League, released a strongly worded letter reiterating the party’s support of the poster focusing specifically on how the Democratic Alliance as a party has always stood for multi-culturalism in the face of an all White or Black dominated political society:
People forget that this poster was intended for distribution on tertiary campuses. That it has created such a reaction among greater society perhaps speaks to the fact that this is still such a burning issue for all South Africans. The intention was to capture our target demographic with a daring and challenging poster and motivate them to go to our DASO stands were they would find out more about what we stand for and who we are. Our DASO leaflets containing the same image have on their reverse side everything that DASO has and continues to do for students.
What is most compelling to me however is not simply the poster itself, but what is says about the nature of politics in nations with legitimate mutli-racial and cultural voting blocks. The Democratic Alliance has always been looked at with skepticism by the majority black population in South Africa in the same way that African Americans look at the Republican Party with skepticism. Members of the ANC were being murdered in their homes, jailed and raped all while fighting against apartheid regime for over half a century and the party is the home and supporter of Nelson Mandela: the man known all over the world as the father of modern South Africa.
During the apartheid struggle the Democratic Alliance was a progressive anti-apartheid party dominated by White liberals. The party leader until recently was Helen Zille, the woman who exposed the murder of activist Steven Biko while she was a reporter in the 1970’s. However, D.A. members were dying to give Blacks freedom, they weren’t getting thrown in jail by the truckload and they weren’t protesting then going back home to their townships. The ugly truth is that the majority of Black South Africans don’t want to trade 70 years of oppressive racist White rule for progressive liberal White paternalism and the Blacks who want to play along with it.
The D.A. has very valid criticism of the ANC: the one-party rule has been horrible for South Africa. Corruption is rampant and cronyism is threatening to choke the best economy on the African continent. However, the Democratic Alliance does not want to fully accept or understand that as unresponsive and ineffective as the ANC has become on many levels, most South African still trust the party of Mandela more than the party of supposed White liberals. Rather than acknowledge this distrust and frustration, the Democratic Alliance puts up token minority leaders, chastises blacks for not leaving the ANC plantation and puts out obnoxious interracial posters that only re-enforce notions of White male dominance in a society that is still staunchly patriarchial. The poster itself is the worst kind of delusional shock progressivism, rather than showing a loving married couple holding hands, or even an interracial family. Instead, they immediately went for the crass and the provocative, proud of their shocking poster but failing to realize they are playing into dominant racial and power themes that are the main reason the party can’t compete against the ANC on the national level.
The Democratic Alliance, with this poster, is committing the same mistakes that the Republican Party commits in America and White liberals commit in general. Like Republicans, the Democratic Alliance wants to downplay or dismiss Black voter distrust. The GOP would rather tell Black voters to get off the Democratic plantation than acknowledge why Black voters don’t trust the GOP. And like White American liberals the Democratic Alliance wants to have voters forget the past and accept a convenient non-racialized present and future when the reality is this must still be done on the terms of the white majority. It’s nice to know that after only 18 years of freedom our friends in South Africa are already having the arguments that it took Americans 40 years to get to.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.