Former shadow minister Cachalia: Dumping the DA and why SA politics needs to change

The first weeks of SA’s election year have been full of drama: new parties, new alliances, and shock resignations, especially that of DA shadow minister for Public Enterprises Ghaleb Cachalia. In this interview, Cachalia shares the details behind his decision to leave the Democratic Alliance (DA). He gives his views on the prospects of the Multi-Party Charter; the path the African National Congress (ANC) is likely to take when the election results are in; the rise of independent candidates – and the “power of the purse” in South African politics. Cachalia says an economically “parlous” South African needs fundamental change – and he vows to continue active involvement, driven by his need to help deliver economic prosperity and champion human rights, social justice, and the expansion of direct democracy.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:11 – Introduction
  • 00:37 – Recap of Resignation and criticism of Israel response
  • 01:59 – Freedom of Expression and Party Leadership
  • 03:30 – Support for South African Government’s Action
  • 06:11 – Failed Mediation and Lack of Policy
  • 08:55 – Authoritarianism and Drift to the Right
  • 09:48 – DA’s Attitudes and Failure to Win Hearts and Minds
  • 10:33 – ANC’s Dependence on Smaller Parties
  • 11:20 – Broken Parliamentary System and Need for Direct Democracy
  • 13:58 – Response to Resignation
  • 15:24 – Future Plans
  • 17:15 – Concerns about the Future of South Africa
  • 20:04 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the Interview

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One resignation that has more than one country talking is that of Ghaleb Cachalia. 

In this interview with BizNews, Cachalia details all the drama behind his decision to leave the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). He gives his views on the prospects of the Multi-Party Charter; the path the African National Congress (ANC) is likely to take when the elections results are in; the rise of indendent candidates who can be held accountable – and the “power of the purse” in South African politics. 

Cachalia says an economically “parlous” South African needs fundamental change – and he vows to continue active involvement, driven by his need to help deliver economic prosperity, and champion human rights, social justice, and the expansion of direct democracy.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

The reasons for his resignation: 

“I criticised Hamas’s attack, but I thought that Israel’s response was, to put it mildly, over the top: to kill 30,000 people, the majority of whom are women and children, and to continue doing it and flatten an entire country or an entire region is beyond the pale. So I am extremely exercised by this from a human rights point of view. And I made my points about it and said that this is an evolving genocide and it must stop. And the party under the leadership of John Steenhuisen took great exception to this…

“I said, I will not be silenced. I said, this is a matter of considerable moral and human rights concern…

“And then when I say…I’m going to speak, you fire me from the cabinet, from the shadow cabinet. I say, that’s fine. That’s your prerogative…but I’m an MP. I’ll go and sit on the sidelines. Don’t expect me to keep quiet. I’ll continue to do my job. I’ll do my job well. When you evaluated me, when the Chief Whip evaluated me, my score was 100% in my portfolio. So clearly I’m doing a good job, but don’t ask me to keep quiet. And I was not quiet. I continued to be vociferous. 

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“Then, sometime later, when the South African government made the application to the International Court of Justice…I supported them…and I said this in the TV interview. Oh, that resulted in conniptions from John Steenhuisen and his leadership, little coterie. And he, through using Emma Powell, who is the spokesman, sent me the most vituperative letter…She said she is reporting me for disciplinary proceedings, she is reporting me to be Red-flagged. That means I can’t stand as a candidate for the 24 elections, none of which is within her purview. 

“The federal executive looked at this and said no we are not going to do that…There were people who felt that I’d been harshly treated, and they spoke up for me. But they then decided to issue me with a gagging order, a so-called cease-and-desist order, which basically says, go and sit in the corner. Don’t mention the war. You can say nothing about this issue. You can speak about how wonderful John Steenhuisen is. You can speak how wonderful the DA is. You can speak about how bad the ANC is…But don’t mention the  war. 

“So I said, no, this doesn’t work. I will not be gagged in this fashion. They also said you can’t tell anybody that we’ve issued you with…this cease-and-desist order, otherwise you’ll be fired from the party.

“During this period, going right back to the start, I said to John Steenhuisen, let’s meet. He rebuffed that. I asked formally to the executive, to the structures for…formal mediation, ignored. At five to 12, when I sent the draft of my registration letter to Helen Zille, she sends it on to John for him to look at. Since it’s not firm yet, it’s we’re discussing. Um, he says, okay, I will agree to mediation, but Ghaleb must apologise first. So I say, what is the matter with this man? Does he not understand the word mediation and how the process evolves? …You don’t put a caveat up front and say apologise first…That’s kindergarten stuff.”

Lack of DA policy on the matter: 

“Since 2010, there’s been no policy on this matter. When I came to parliament, I asked for policy on this matter. It was rebuffed. They said, no, don’t put resolutions before Congress. The media will blow it up. It will hurt us. Don’t worry, we’ll have a policy conference. You will be pivotally involved. We will thrash out policy on this. Never happened. To date, it hasn’t happened. There are only statements by John’s Steenhuisen and big four pages of bullet points saying what he thinks. It’s never been tabled at Congress, at Federal Council or Federal Congress. It’s never been ratified by any of those bodies. So it’s not policy. It’s what he believes. And then he uses that to say that I have flouted policy. This is the prod, if you like.”

The Multi-Party Charter & the ANC: 

“And I begin thinking about the authoritarianism that’s rooted now under Steenhuisen’s leadership in the party. I look at the drift to the right as happens globally in politics at the moment, sadly, you know, in the so-called Moonshine Pact or whatever it’s called, where you get a toenadering with with the Afrikanerbond of all people. That tells you in which direction this is going.  So I say to them, look, man, you’re fishing in the same old pond of DA voters. You’ll pick up some of the few that you lost to the Freedom Front (FF) before under Mmusi Maimane, but you’re not going to win by these sorts of attitudes and this blinkered attitude towards issues that are close to majority of South Africans hearts who understand apartheid and who understand the disposition of land – and you are making statements which are tone deaf to that. You are not going to win the hearts and minds of those people and a result is going to be that you will just up your vote by a little if you’re lucky into the early 20 percent. That doesn’t shift the dial.

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“That doesn’t deal in any way, shape or form with the ANC and its hegemony, because the ANC will certainly come down in votes, but depending on how far they come down, it will dictate to whom they need. The rats-and-mice parties, whether they need the Inkatha, whether they need the ACDP or ACDC, whatever it’s called, or they will need…the Freedom Front Plus even. And lastly you because you’re a little bit bigger. You don’t talk to the bigger people first. You talk to the smaller people first because the bigger people have got more leverage. So that’s the route the ANC will take.

“And in addition to that, I say the system is broken. Can’t you see this? This is what the country is saying by and large. This is why people are not voting in the numbers that they should vote. Why they’re not registering in the numbers that they should register. Because this particular parliamentary system is rooted, is back in the dark ages. It’s in an Edwardian drawing room. It is not in the technological age. It… does not deal with the sentiments and wishes of constituencies. It deals with the party’s whims once it’s been elected and the power of…who funds those parties. That’s not how it should be. Democracy should be more fluid and more direct. And thank God we’re moving in that direction in terms of the allowance now of independent candidates. That’s gonna prove difficult and it’s gonna take some time to evolve, but the road has started. The constituency now begins to have a voice. You can vote for somebody and hold them to account.”

The response to his resignation: 

“The DA has been under the spotlight as a result on the issue of Gaza, on the issue of its own internal machinations, and on the issue of John Steenhuisen’s leadership. I think that’s good. There needs to be a shake up. 

“And people who say, you know, no, let’s not talk about this because we’ve got enough problems in this country, let’s focus on our own problems. No, no, no. Would you have said that to me if I lived in the 1930s in Europe, that I should keep quiet about what Hitler was beginning to do? I mean, Auschwitz was the end of the process. It was the final horrible, disgusting solution. It was…genocide. That was genocide. When it started with Kristallnacht, that wasn’t genocide, but that was horrendous. But the continuum led to genocide.”

His future plans: 

“I’m going to continue my active involvement…I will be driven by helping to deliver economic prosperity in this country, in whatever way, shape or form. I will be driven by championing human rights. I will be driven by aspects of social justice. And I will be driven by applying my mind to the expansion of direct democracy. Now, those four pillars, if you like, will guide what I do, whether it is in active politics in another shape or form, formally active, whether it is in pressure politics from an NGO perspective or some other perspective like that, whether it is from an advisory capacity in consultancy in this particular area or whether it is in business generation that that assists in investment and the building of economic prosperity in this country. “

The future of SA:

“Look, we’re at a very difficult juncture. We are economically in a very parlous position…On every single level, every marker for the economy is not good. 

“Then we don’t need to talk about the gemors that Eskom is in, the gemors that Transnet is, the gemors that Denel is, the gemors that SAA is and was. And those are not small little entities. Those are behemoths and they have a direct impact on the political economy and economy specifically of our country. So we are in a mess.

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“…,additionally, it’s election year, election in a few months time. Everybody’s out there with a promise that they will promise the world. They’ll give you pie in the sky when you die. We know the story. It’s the same old story. These things don’t wash. There needs to be a fundamental change, and there needs to be a fundamental break. And the seeds are being sown, and that has got to be plowed and moved forward. 

“The beginning has begun. It’s a journey now. And I’d like to be part of that, because we have a wonderful country. We have wonderful people. We have wonderful resources, but we can’t continue in this old paradigm that doesn’t deliver – and that is held back by the dictates of certain people in certain parties and how they run things and the power of the purse that gives them the money to do what they want to do but keeps a direct or indirect control of what they say and what they do. 

“We need transparency. If we carry on like this, I’d like to see every single politician in parliament wearing a jumpsuit, a white jumpsuit, you know, like the Formula One racing drivers have to have – and they have little badges here and badges here and badges there of different sizes showing who supports them and who gives them this much money. Then we’ll know what’s going on.”

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