A hegemonic project is at its zenith when its driving logic, values and what it represents have become commonsensical. Hegemony at this stage of development is about the reproduction of relations in society in a way that continues to guarantee the dominance of hegemonic interests. It is about recreating the other in the image of those whose interests have become dominant. It is about being in power without the need to occupy positions of power.
What is important is that the powerless must exercise power in the interests of those who are not necessarily in positions of power in the political sphere but are the primary definers and sculptors of the content of economic and other relations. Those who occupy these positions of power in the political sphere must be properly assimilated into the world view of the ventriloquists in whose interests they exercise power. In part, this is the logic of the colonial mentality – a paternalistic mentality.
Despite the end of the apartheid phase of our colonial experience, this paternal and colonial mentality remains ubiquitous in South African society. And its ubiquity is partly resident in the Democratic Alliance (DA). If Patricia de Lille had the good sense of saying something stupid about colonialism, the DA would not have rescinded her membership.
So, what is the DA-De Lille imbroglio really about?
I think it is a mistake to focus narrowly on granular details of the twist between De Lille and the DA. The tensions between her and the party are but a symptom of a deeper malaise in the DA. The ventriloquists in the DA have a problem. They thought they had successfully created puppets out of black leaders such as Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mbali Ntuli and De Lille. Little did they know that puppets are sentient beings with free political will. As I keep on saying, black leaders of the DA may not be puppets, but there are too many in the party who see themselves as ventriloquists.
To some degree, this is a logic that extends to other parts of South African life. It is a logic that, for instance, assigns to leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), and the ANC itself, the role of court jesters of capital and whiteness. It is this logic that is informing the anger of DA ventriloquists towards their ‘leader’, Mmusi Maimane. Like De Lille, Maimane forgot that his security lies in saying something denialist about colonialism and apartheid. He should have remembered that his party discovered race only in 2013, when it broke with (liberal) tradition to declare that it had finally been converted to the view that blackness remains the main indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage in South Africa.
The problem is that Maimane believed the ventriloquists had gone through a Damascene conversion, hence the uncharacteristic passion with which he spoke about white privilege and black poverty in his Freedom Day speech. He took the mini-Mandela thing too far and forgot that the DA is not a white party. More importantly, he forgot that black poverty is real but white privilege is a figment of the imagination of racial nationalists.
The problem, therefore, is two-fold: first, people like De Lille have not been successfully assimilated into the paternalistic and colonial logic of DA ventriloquists. They simply do not know their place. As for De Lille, she should learn to respect the patriarchal manifestations of this colonial tendency. Second, the DA is duplicitous on the question of race. It speaks with both sides of the mouth. With one part of its mouth, it spews denialist rubbish about a quasi-postracial society where equal opportunity is the dominant religion. With the other side of the mouth, it professes its commitment to redress. In other words, it misrepresents itself to its black members and supporters as well as the black electorate.
It is this dynamic that has given birth to the black caucus inside the party. The black caucus is a product of the realisation that the logic of the ventriloquists is going to arrest the growth of the DA among black voters. The black caucus recognises that the DA will die in the end if it does not slay its colonial mentality and paternalism.