South Africa’s main opposition party agreed to support race-based measures to overcome apartheid’s legacy while maintaining its rejection of employment quotas to give black citizens a bigger stake in the economy.
The Democratic Alliance’s announcement came after a conference that followed weeks of party infighting over the issue that peaked when DA legislators voted in favor of government-proposed labor law changes, only for its leadership to reverse the support. The DA previously avoided reference to race in its policies, opting instead for measures that promoted greater “diversity.”
“We specifically support race-based redress,” party leader Helen Zille said in a statement after the weekend meeting in Cape Town. “We support incentives for firms to implement programs of black advancement rather than punitive measures that hamper growth and jobs.”
Traditionally backed by whites and people of mixed race, the DA is seeking to expand beyond its Western Cape province power base and bolster its support among black voters in elections that must be held by July next year. Its goal is to challenge the African National Congress, which has governed South Africa since taking power under Nelson Mandela in the first multiracial vote in 1994.
The DA’s announced shift probably won’t persuade voters who have been skeptical of its commitment to promote blacks in the economy, Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa, said by phone today.
“Their position hasn’t fundamentally changed, because it still speaks to the opportunity rather than the legally enforced change,” Fikeni said. “They always had problems in supporting affirmative action. That hasn’t really changed.”
The DA won 16.7 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2009, up from 12.4 percent five years before.
The ANC-proposed amendments backed by DA lawmakers and rejected by the party leadership included increasing penalties for companies that don’t meet racial hiring targets.
Census data shows white households earn six times more than their black counterparts. Whites, who make up 8.7 percent of the population of 53 million, occupied 73 percent of top business management posts, the Employment Equity Commission said in an April 20 report.
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