Facebook altercation leads Donwald Pressly down the illiberalism path

An altercation on Facebook speaks volumes about the National-Party-like arrogance of the South African official opposition Democratic Alliance’s Cilliers Brink who said he didn’t care whether the author of a pre-by-election piece was written by a liberal in the same political pond. Donwald Pressly reports on his crystal ball about what this arrogance COULD do to the official opposition. It may have dire consequences. The trouble over illiberalism started, Donwald argues, with the late Colin Eglin.

By Donwald Pressly* 

Donwald Pressly

One of the problems of being a journalist and having been brought up in a staunchly liberal party – my father the late Canon George Pressly, an Anglican cleric and PFP leader (later DP) in the Free State and Northern Cape in the 80s – was that I was steeped in the goings on in the PFP. I was youth leader myself of the Progressive Federal Party on Rhodes campus for a spell. I was devastated when the then leader Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert betrayed the party by walking out of Parliament. I am not speaking ill of the dead, because I told him my view when he addressed the Politically Incorrect Group. My late father was also part of the armed movement of the Liberal Party, so we have demonstrated our family’s liberal struggle credentials. I remember my mother talking about putting some sort of mine down a drain in Kimberley ahead of the security police arriving to place my father under house arrest.

I had believed until I got to know the late Colin Eglin – he was president of the business professional club, the Cape Town Club when I was chairman – was a liberal. His personal behaviour at home to his wife was – as I witnessed – testimony to a deeply hypocritical man, which very shallow liberal values. He was an embarrassment in his personal life to the liberal value system. As was said of him, he was either abroad or in a bad mood. I attended his 80th birthday party and my partner at the time pointed out that for all the 40-odd years of Eglin in “liberal” politics, he had not invited a single black person to the function. Having been personally betrayed by a parliamentary colleague of his, I have already felt the wrath of the so-called liberals. I am proud to have stood up to bullying my whole life and I will – like my late misguided friend Rhoda Kadalie – continue to do so.

Translate to the present. This week I had a piece published in BizNews where I argued that the Ward 96 by-election in Tshwane was a watershed one. Democratic Allliance MP  Brink had a point of objection, in my haste to file the story I got a detail wrong about the ActionSA candidate. But he also objected to what he said was the wrong angle of the story. I had written pro-ActionSA propaganda, by suggesting that the new party, led by Herman Mashaba could cause an election UPSET. Obviously political prediction is always an inexact science. One of the things I did learn from journalism school at Rhodes and Duke universities is that words like “could” and “may” are handy tools of distance – let us underscore the point, detachment and disinterest not lack of interest – when writing. I used these words if I recall correctly.

See: https://www.biznews.com/leadership/2022/04/30/tshwane-actionsa-donwald-pressly

So when a spokesman like Brink says my calling it watershed is wrong, my hackles rise. I believe that I am a supporter of liberalism (not necessarily for the DA version anymore as I think it has proved it has ceased to be able to tolerate criticism even from those in the pond like me) and it is a requirement for me to call him out. He has now asked me – rather naively – if I am offended. Of course, I am. But it is not about me. I am worried that this National Party Afrikaner neo-Nazi – illiberalism – is now the idee fixe of the DA. I have written about this for many years, I saw the signs when I wrote about the boys club – mainly English speaking gay guys from UCT –who had nearly derailed the DA in 2019. The role of Helen Zille – who wrote I Am Always Right – also comes starkly into question.

See: https://www.biznews.com/leadership/2019/11/04/da-boys-club-donwald-pressly

Indeed, I do still believe that I have not got it wrong. It was a watershed by-election, or at least, it COULD have been. There is always doubt about political consequences, is there not? In any case, maybe I am dead wrong, but then that doesn’t mean that I should start writing stories along the lines that the DA won – and that is all there is to it. Surely? That would make me a DA propagandist. And that is NOT something I am EVER prepared to be. In this case I am proud to be accused by Cilliers of being an ActionSA propagandist. It is like saying are you still a hypocrite?

So let me tell you what my predictions are about the consequences of this arrogance. I believe that ActionSA is the DA’s blind spot. Helen Zille did not mention the POSSIBLE ActionSA threat to the DA going forward. She is a best foot forward person after all, so she wouldn’t I suppose. Instead she had an unseemly fight with RW Johnson, also a liberal journalist with the DA’s best interests at heart, about whether she had made her strategies for the DA public. She said it was a forecast of something. He did not point that she had not mentioned the ActionSA threat to the DA at all. I did. Having got fired by Independent Newspapers for making myself available as a candidate for parliament, I have paid a high price for my commitment to the DA in the past. I subsequently got fired by Fin24 on similar grounds. I won the battle against Iqbal Surve’s Independent Group at the CCMA, but was pleased to take a package and get out. Some member of the party, notably a former deputy mayor of Cape Town did not greet me for years because of my boys’ club article. Petty but true. I am a journalist first before I am a DA supporter. I suspect I am going to cease to be that soon. It has been a long reluctant journey for me.

I believe that this ideological shortsightedness is dangerous to the DA. If it cannot stand criticism from those in the same pond, heavens forbid how black voters or non-DA voters are going to feel about it. It is much, as I suspect, as my hatred of the National Party. I am once again not talking out of turn. I said this to former President FW de Klerk – when chairing a Press Club meeting – that I loathed his party but viewed him as a liberal. I say often to friends that I would much rather talk to FW than Eglin. Any day. FW became a liberal. He adopted the philosophy. Eglin never did I believe.

I predict that ActionSA, if it can keep itself together unlike COPE, can take at least a third of DA support in 2024, the national election. That would put the DA at a dangerous 17 percent. That could be overtaken by the Economic Freedom Fighters, making it the official opposition and natural coalition partner to the ANC should it fall below 50 percent of the vote. An IRR poll showed that 2./3rds of ANC supporters would go to the EFF if they switched. Only 1.3 would go to the DA. I believe the ANC will garner enough votes in the national election to give it just over 50 percent. But then, one can’t yet predict that. If it falls below 50 percent, an ANC EFF coalition is most likely. Then we are f….  er doomed. I think just this idea will bring out voters – even from the DA to the ANC to keep the EFF out. I can see the ANC posters “Keep the EFF at bay.” A powerful message.

It doesn’t mean that the EFF could still be the official opposition in parliament even with the ANC hanging on to power. And we all know what happens in slightly over 50 percent city councils. The MPs, lazy as they are in the ANC, may not turn up in numbers for a crucial vote. AND we have a vote of no-confidence or failure to pass the budget. That would force another election, or could. Then what? It boggles the mind. At present about a third of MPs of the ANC don’t always attend parliament as they are so many that they are dispatched to do “constituency work”. More like eating sandwiches while driving fast SUVs.

So the gloomy scenario is that even if the DA holds on to the official opposition status, anything could happen to jeopardise the ANC rule. As former President Kgalema Motlanthe says, we are heading towards anarchy. The DA should be thinking of throwing in its lot with the ANC, or as a second option combining with ActionSA, to shore up its support base as official opposition. It is as clear as daylight to me, and I would like to predict that this option is the most likely, especially if ActionSA gets near to or does win future by-elections.

But in the meantime, I will remain on as an independent observer, writing what I like. I think Steve Biko, who Zille wrote about, said that. Or was it? I may, the honourable man Mr Brink be entirely wrong, but I believe that liberals allow writers to be wrong. But I don’t think I am, and that is the point.

  • Donwald Pressly spent 25 years in the parliamentary press gallery. He still covers politics from home and he believes that his experience means he sometimes gets what he writes correct. He is a graduate in politics from Rhodes and journalism from Duke universities. He is a former chairman of the Cape Town Press Club and chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association. In addition he authored The Changing Face of the DA.

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