The battle for the soul of the DA

So. Congress 2017 in the Gauteng Province of the Democratic Alliance is over. Except it isn’t.

John Moodey has been re-elected to the position of Provincial Leader for the fourth time and that’s that. Except it isn’t.

The DA marches forward – with all the venom and the verbiage spewed during the contest for this position put behind us – to win Gauteng in 2019. Except it’s not as simple as that.

So speaks a loser, you might think. It’s common knowledge that I backed the man who lost, one Ghaleb Cachalia. And it’s common practice for the winners, when losers lay complaints about the process, to put it out there that it is just a matter of sour grapes. Except it isn’t.

I have fought and lost innumerable elections of all types over the years. I’ve won a few too, but mostly I’ve lost. I am, to misquote Churchill, magnanimous in defeat. I am a Democrat and I don’t challenge the outcome of elections only after the result is in. I’m no cry baby. Those are my credentials, pure and simple.

I write this the day after Congress. When all the hype, the tension, the intense campaigning has subsided like the deflated balloons and the ticker tape on to the congress floor at Gallagher Convention Centre.

It was during this heightened emotion and extreme excitement among 1500-odd delegates, before voting for candidates began and before the results were announced, that I said to the Cachalia Team that I would not let matters rest, no matter what the outcome. I undertook to pursue every lie, every transgression, every instance of illiberal and ANC-type conduct, with everything I had. I said I would do it if Cachalia won and they would have to bear with that, just as the Moodey Administration must bear with it now.

So here’s the start of that quest.

Unhappily, I’m guessing that the number of formal objections lodged by the Cachalia Team against the Moodey one during this campaign was something of a record for any internal contest in the DA. Not a record to be proud of.

Not one of these complaints has been resolved. Not one.

And then there is my own objection, which I view as very serious, because it contends, with evidence, that John Moodey, the incumbent Provincial Leader – then and now – told an absolute porker about Cachalia that undoubtedly affected the opinions of voting delegates and the outcome. I’ll get to these objections lower down.

For now, let me describe the happenings at yesterday’s Congress …

My first challenge was trying to understand why I personally was not allowed into Congress as a voting delegate.

By way of background, I wasn’t notified of a branch meeting in the ward where I live to participate in the process of electing delegates to Congress. I still don’t know if such a meeting took place.

However, once it was clear that the list of delegates was in and final, I comforted myself with the notion that being a member of the Gauteng East Regional Executive by way of two positions I hold – the East’s elected non-public representative on both the Federal Council and the Provincial Executive Committee – would enable me to be a voting delegate.

Not so. I was informed at the registration desk yesterday that my name wasn’t on the list of delegates. Once again (because this had happened a few weeks prior at the Gauteng East Congress in Benoni), I took the matter up with the congress staff. But unlike the said congress of the East Rand where my status was successfully changed to that of voting delegate, it was definitively put to me that I could only be an observer at the Provincial Congress, because that’s what the Provincial Constitution decrees.

Now, I am the first one to admit that when the constitution of the party is discussed in any forum, including the belaboured debates at congresses where itsy-bitsy amendments are brought by way of resolutions, my eyes glaze over and I am happy to leave such matters to the cleverer people while I seek coffee and a cigarette.

Anyway, this lack of interest on my part came back to haunt me personally, because it seems that our Provincial Constitution contains the inexplicable ruling that delegates to Congress include CO-OPTED members of the PEC, but not ELECTED ones. Go figure.

So, there I was, labelled an observer, as opposed to a voting delegate. As a committed believer in the rule of law, I accepted my fate, no matter how ridiculous the clause that sealed it. So I observed.

If you’ve gotten this far (and I admire you endlessly if you have), this is the time to get sustenance before you read my observations …

My first observation was not something to write home about (and I wouldn’t be now if it hadn’t set the tone for far worse to come), but it jarred. There was palpable tension in the air, which on its own is fine, but under the circumstances, not so much. My problem lay with delegates themselves who were doing the rounds, like visitors to a trade fair, picking up freebies from every candidate’s tables like there was no tomorrow.

Let me be clear on this: there are rules in the DA about what can be given away at events like congresses and these include the limit of R100 per delegate on the value of give-aways.

Workers at Cachalia’s stand were trying to dispense promotional material after engaging long enough to establish that those wanting the t-shirts, caps and cheap plastic sunglasses (the latter to denote Cachalia’s vision!) were actually his supporters.

But that didn’t work. Unlike any DA or DP congress I’ve ever attended – and I’ve attended many over the past 28 years – delegates poured into the area where candidates and their teams were greeting them, only to see what was available to take home. Over and over, Cachalia team volunteers pleaded with congress delegates to only take T-shirts sporting Cachalia’s face and slogan if they intended to wear them. They repeatedly ask delegates to take the cards and the pamphlets to read his manifesto and pledges.

I heard one Cachalia worker saying sternly to a delegate: “Can you at least give me the respect of looking me in the eye while I explain what Ghaleb Cachalia will DO in this province for all of us?” which showed a deep sense of frustration and disconnect from our own members from early in the day.

All of this to no avail. Delegates just shouted back the size of the T-shirts they wanted.

A cacophony of “Skipper, skipper!” “Small!”, “Medium!”, “Large!” and “XX!” resounded in a space where you’d expect to hear heated political debate. (Although a Member of Parliament and an Ekurhuleni city councillor, holding up Cachalia posters, could be heard, faintly, calling out “Cachalia for Change” …)

It felt like I’d fallen asleep and woken up in the midst of an ANC rally.

Enough of that. You’ve got the scene in your head more or less …

Fast forward to congress itself. There we all are, hundreds of members packed in to a  plenary hall plastered in blue, with truly massive banners all around, promising a New Beginning, pumping music, cheerleaders on stage, thousands of waving posters and flags  – all the elements to create excitement and a sense of belonging to a movement of the Good and the Brave, the Blue Wave, the ANC’s nemesis. I’m not being cynical here – these things work and it’s truly wonderful to be part of events like this, that get the blood coursing through one’s veins, that get people on their feet, that reinforce hope in our country and democracy. All good.

Until one Herman Mashaba gets to the podium, sporting a large John Moodey sticker on his chest, while his image is transmitted via massive screens to the audience of voting delegates, and probably, to the wider world on their TVs.

Not the DA way, folks, if you’re wondering.

In the DA, we do NOT allow Mayors, or any other esteemed and influential figure who get up on stage in a neutral capacity, to address elective Congresses ahead of the voting process while displaying or demonstrating any preference for any candidate. Ever.

The Cachalia team send complaints via their phones to the Presiding Officers. No action taken.

John Moodey takes to the podium to make his last plea for votes. Applause.

Ghaleb Cachalia gets up to do the same thing. Applause.

Booing.

Not the DA way, folks.

In the DA, we stand by the democratic rule that all candidates must have the space and the right to be heard equally, in an atmosphere of respect and dignity. We do not boo our own people. We do not humiliate. We do not derogate our own members. We do not bring the party into disrepute.

The Cachalia team send complaints via their phones and a personal visit to the Presiding Officers. No action taken. The complainants are told to refer the matter to the Federal Legal Commission. (That’s a body which sits in Cape Town, but only if the Chairperson of the Federal Council, on his own, decides if it’s a fit and proper matter to warrant such attention).

Then it’s 12:30 and it’s announced that delegates have until 14:00 to get their lunch and cast their votes in the ballot booths set up for that purpose downstairs.

All good until 13:15 when I receive a message on my phone from a member with the information that shoes are being given away at the Moodey/Moriarty stand. Yes, folks. SHOES.

I thought this must be predictive text making the usual fools of all WhatsApp users, but,  as I wasn’t far away from where the candidate’s tables were situated, off I trotted to do Observer Duty …

At the risk of being melodramatic, it is difficult to describe what met my disbelieving eyes. But I will.

Delegates were stretched out in a very long queue from Moodey’s table where chaos was reigning. It took seconds to comprehend what was going on. Behind the table were stacked what appeared to be hundreds of shoe boxes and these were being handed out by Moodey volunteers to the delegates at the front of the queue.

The scene degenerated very quickly into a fracas. The word got out that the shoes – very fancy, brand new trainers – were running out. All hell broke loose. The Moodey posters erected above and around the tables fell down, the table was turned over, people shouted and yelled, pushed and shoved and wrestled. Moodey’s people tried to regain some order, but the crowd of people desperate to get their due, just ploughed right in.

At my feet, a young woman crawled out of the melee on her knees a metre from me, indicating that she’d hurt her arm, but hugging her shoebox in the other. Her box sported a Moodey sticker, showing footprints and the slogan “Walk the journey to 2019 with John Moodey!”moodey shoes blog

Moodey appeared briefly, looked completely shocked and disappeared out of the door. Michael Moriarty (Moodey’s running mate and successful candidate for chairman) could be seen in the midst of grasping hands and heaving bodies, shouting at the top of his voice, trying to instil discipline, bless him.

Someone tried to gain control by blowing a very loud whistle, to no avail. I started filming the bizarre scene on my phone, or so I thought. Swept up in the craziness, I didn’t press the right button. The party’s Chief Operating Officer and a former CEO appeared in front of me in the hullabaloo, asked ME what was going on.

My reply is unprintable.

At the risk of writing the understatement of the year, NOT the DA way, folks.

We do not buy votes with shoes, gifts, food, or any other party favours. We do not gain votes through threats or intimidation. We do not treat our people as voting fodder. We do not apply fear or favour tactics in our internal elections. We do not disrespect poor members of the party by appealing to their most basic instincts and swaying their opinions by competing to offer the most valuable gifts.

As written in our party constitution, we do NOT use strength to exploit the weak, nor may we in any way intimidate any member of the party.

Moreover, the party warns in its constitution that “any member, including a public representative, is guilty of misconduct if he or she … deliberately acts in a way which impacts negatively on the image or performance of the Party; … brings the good name of the Party into disrepute or harms the interests of the Party; and … acts in a manner that is unreasonable and detrimental to internal co-operation within the Party.”

Put another way, we are not the ANC.

You know what’s coming.

The Cachalia team sent messages of complaint to the powers that be. There was a brief meeting with the Presiding Officer. They were told to object to the FLC. Yes, THAT one.

No other response. No action taken.

Someone (I don’t know who) eventually stopped the brawl somehow (I don’t know how).

Everyone filed back into Congress, late. The business of the day continued.

To add insult to injury (if that is possible in this instance),  Moodey was heard to say in his acceptance speech that the shoes, in agreement with the donor sponsor, were for distribution to the poor. At this stage, I was outside trying to gulp in fresh air so I don’t know if he was covering up or making amends.

Covering up would be challenging given that the campaign stickers emblazoned on the boxes as described could not have been destined for anyone other than voting delegates.  Making amends? The only way of really making amends would be to acknowledge that he’d used unacceptable methods to garner support and to have stepped down.

So there you have it. The Provincial Leader of the DA in Gauteng bought votes with shoes.

But unlike the DA I know and love, he was not stopped, he was not confronted on a personal level to account for this despicable incident that actually caused injury to at least one of our members and could have been worse. He was not called upon to explain to the plenary of Congress what had happened at HIS table and to apologise for allowing such demeaning treatment of members. He was not disqualified from the race. Congress wasn’t halted or postponed to establish if votes had been illegally secured.

What does all this say?

If you’re still reading this, my admiration has no bounds. It’s probably time for a body break …

I don’t know what has become of my beloved party. I cannot grasp that proper intervention did not happen on-the-spot in each of the incidents I have listed, particularly the last one, nor on the numerous objections the Cachalia team had filed during the campaign.

And then there was mine about John Moodey coming out publicly on Facebook and branding Cachalia a liar for saying that the reason he left the Ekurhuleni Council as caucus leader this time last year, to become a Member of Parliament (in line with the party’s selection process) was because he had been personally invited to make himself available by Party Leader, Mmusi Maimane, with Moodey’s support.

In fact, I have called Moodey out for lying about this very matter. In fact, I have personal evidence that Maimane did indeed want Ghaleb on “the national stage” where he thought he’d add more value, and that Moodey himself had ensured that this invitation was acted upon.

In fact, Moodey’s lie was incorporated into his campaign team’s lobbying for votes, with delegates being told over and over that Ghaleb had deserted his caucus in order to satisfy his own personal ambitions.

For want of sounding like a stuck record – not the DA way, folks.

First of all, we’re actually required to stick to the truth.

In the spirit of our constitution, the party implores its members who stand for election not to belittle or disparage fellow party members. In internal elections, we are supposed to talk ourselves or our candidates UP when lobbying for votes, not our opponents DOWN.

John Moodey and his team have broken nearly every rule in the book over the past few weeks in his bid to get re-elected.

Another objection from Cachalia’s supporters is against allegations by Moodey backers that Mike Waters MP leaked a story to the Sunday Times about his serious concerns over a Membership Audit, which had found, inter alia, that 7 000 members of the party had been disenfranchised due to very shabby administration in the province.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Waters’s honour has still not been protected and that the allegation lies there in the public space, unresolved.

I don’t know what has become of my party. The party of Helen Suzman. The liberal organisation where the rule of law is sacrosanct. Where democracy is defended. Where dirty tricks are not tolerated. Where everyone is treated equally, no matter what their position. Where bully boys are put in their place. Where integrity and fair play is everything.

Instead we’ve got well-meaning staff and presiding officers, paralysed by the instructions of the top echelons which were, basically: get this Congress done and dusted with the best possible organisation with whatever funds you need to do it, with the least possible drama. Use whatever delaying tactics and personal charm you need to do it. Your reward is to get on a plane and come home to Cape Town.

I put it to you that the soul of the DA is fast being diluted, that our liberal roots are decaying, that our values are being more and more eroded and compromised with every passing day.

I put it to you that winning is not everything. For an election junkie and a party animal of unusual passion and a South African who loves her country deeply, that statement takes a lot for me to write.

Because winning more provinces in 2019 is of crucial importance to the DA and the country. The ANC has brought South Africa to the brink of disaster. Something of substance and real worth has to be there to take over, an alternative government that can rescue our country from collapse and a very bleak future. A movement that has the talent and the expertise within its ranks to haul South Africa back from the edge.

Now more than ever, quality counts. We simply cannot replace the ANC with a slightly better version, a party whose principles have been whittled away in our quest to win at any cost, whose members don’t understand what they are supposed to defend and uphold, who have joined up for all the wrong reasons.

However shocked I may feel today, having witnessed first hand the disintegration of the DA’s principals and the extent to which our most basic rules of engagement have been trampled on, this didn’t happen overnight. It couldn’t have.

Members are ordinary people who, when they join the DA, take their lead from, well, leaders. It has now hit home with me harder than ever that this is how the rot started. It begins and ends with our leaders, at all levels, in all party structures, serving in every sphere of government.

It is they who have sunk to these lows and members have just accepted these standards as the norm. It is not all of them. But I think it’s most –  either my commission or omission, or a combination – who have set in motion the slide down the slippery slope (to borrow a phrase from Tony Leon).

And as our party has grown – and it has, at a remarkable rate – more and more people have been recruited, been added to the totals, been used to boast of our increased strength.

Quantity has replaced quality because no attention has been paid to the fact that the soul of the party lies in the soul of the average member.

If he or she doesn’t grasp the values of the organisation and how it differs from any other political party they might have chosen, there is simply no point to their membership, their contribution.

And when ordinary members, who have been failed by the very organisation they’ve joined and have not received the training, the history and the education about what makes liberals tick and why the value set of liberals is key to understanding the kind of country we want to live in, then the soul is lost. And the vicious circle continues.

Those ordinary members with political aspirations become leaders and the soul of the party is diluted some more and so on and so on, until we’re a large empty vessel, competing simply to take over government, to run the country the way we see fit, to keep the majority and to enjoy the trappings of power.

Then it becomes a simple war between the worst of two evils. The whole of South Africa is then placed on a battlefield where the least corrupt are pitted against the most corrupt.

So. Before I give you, the reader, my final appreciation for your staying power, I say to John Moodey and his ilk: Take a bow if it makes you happy. Your win is brittle and meaningless because you bought it with shoes. Not with values.

And the message you’ve sent to ordinary members is breathtakingly dishonourable. It says to DA members, this is how you win votes: with money, dirty tricks, lies, fear, favour and the abuse of power.

And it is bolstered by the DA leadership at federal level who sent a message yesterday that is heartbreakingly cynical and aloof. It says to DA members, we won’t tackle the bullies and the thugs. We will side with whoever wields the power, not the little guy with principles. And those of you who rock the boat don’t have the interests of our party or our country at heart.

Has the battle proved too tough? Have the liberals succumbed to mercenaries?

You decide.

Salute.

 

 

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sad day indeed. Thank you for saying what needs to be said. The behaviour observed must stop or the DA runs the risk of having the same issues as the ANC in the near future. Integrity and values must Trump all else.

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    1. LIFE IN SA says:

      Agreed, Mel. Yes, I think it was a sad day. The DA is way above the ANC in every way, including the conduct I’ve described. Members need a crash course in the DA’s history and values before things fall apart. No good having a party constitution if its own members and leaders don’t live it.

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  2. Ashley says:

    Cachalia was handing out skippers, sunglasses and hats – what is the difference between handing out shoes or t-shirts, sunglasses and hats?

    You also forget a little matter of Cachalia’s address which happened to be the address of the Da Silva’s during his time in the Ekurhuleni Caucus.

    And then there are the stories in the press about MWaters underhand, dirty dealings:
    “. . . Waters is also accused by sources of having pushed for Tanya Campbell to take over as Ekurhuleni caucus leader when Cachalia vacated his office. That position was eventually filled by former MP Phillip de Lange, who is reported as being sympathetic to Moodey.

    Prior to the caucus leader election, Waters is said to have accused De Lange of receiving a bribe from the ANC to pay his debt to the ANC. It is reported Waters accused De Lange of being “captured by the ANC”, and said it was possible the ANC had paid for his candidacy fee to qualify as caucus leader. ”

    You may need to start a new party which reflects the values of Helen Suzman again – because this one certainly doesn’t

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    1. LIFE IN SA says:

      Hi Ashley – well, there’s a big difference. T-shirts and other inexpensive regalia, branded with the party’s logo or the candidate’s name and slogan, wherever appropriate, are common place in the DA. The point is, which I wrote in my blog, that to avoid any notion that votes are bought, the items per person are limited to a total value of R100. Team Cachalia’s sunglasses were plastic and had his name printed along one of the arms with a slogan about his “vision”. I asked and was told that they cost R18 each. Well and good. There was no scramble to own such an item. The shoes are an entirely different story. They were brand new trainers/sneakers of considerable quality and something that many people would want to own. The reaction of delegates alone speaks volumes about the difference. The party will hopefully take steps to investigate this matter, including the value of these shoes. I don’t know what you mean about the “little matter” of Cachalia’s address, so you’ll have to expand on that.
      Insofar as the stories in the press about Mike Waters are concerned, that was exactly one of my points in this blog – that spurious allegations have been made against Mike to which he has lodged an objection and which have yet to receive attention from the party. He wants his good name restored and he has the right to call for a process to do that. You, on the other hand, clearly believe he’s guilty of “underhand, dirty dealings”, which is exactly what the “sources” who created these stories intended to achieve. You’ll have to watch this space …
      I don’t want a new party, Ashley. I want the party OF Helen Suzman to BE the party of Helen Suzman. There is too much value in the DA to walk away from, too much history, too much effort, too many good people. We need liberals to take hands and do this right. That is my objective.

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  3. texcollins says:

    This reads like the old Benoni rag. This is politics and if anyone thought it would be a boy scout jamboree think again. One guy came second and one guy came first. Rending your clothes and weepimg on your keyboard will not change a thing. So suck it up join the programme and move on.

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    1. LIFE IN SA says:

      Hi Tex – you can settle for a party like that. Not me, bud. Politics isn’t for sissies, you’re right. It takes guts not to descend to ANC tactics, which is easy. It’s a lot harder to win a clean fight. And I don’t rend or weep. I channel my anger quite constructively, I think!

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