This letter serves the purpose of establishing some clarity about the DA Youth’s new DASO registration poster and the thinking behind it. This poster has, as you have all no doubt seen, caused a significant stir – for the first time ever the DA Youth is dominating the headlines and setting the change agenda in South Africa.
With all the comments, good and bad, we have achieved our goal of engaging South Africans in a frank debate about one of the most defining issues in our country today – tolerance. Our leader, Gana, has sent out a newsletter this morning going into a bit more detail about the poster itself. I want to take you a bit further back…
Established at the Federal Congress of 2010, the DA Youth has for the past two years been an organization that has both had to establish functioning party structures as well as champion issues and campaigns that are relevant and solution orientated for the young people of South Africa. You are all very aware the DA Youth has run numerous campaigns in the last two years that have very effectively highlighted issues about education, NSFAS, youth unemployment, POIB and entrepreneurship to name a few. Our ‘fixing the future’ document has also acted as a wonderful road map of tangible open and opportunity solutions to the youth crisis gripping our nation.
Whilst excellent in nature and in what they proposed, none of these campaigns fully highlighted or focused on our vision for South Africa, nor did they receive the attention they deserved in the public discourse despite the serious nature of the issues they addressed. Our youth as well as our federal party kept being accused of not tackling the one issue that people felt our party was too afraid to address, race.
It is my belief that as the youth of the Democratic Alliance we have a role far larger than that of simply rolling out campaigns or attending protests and the like. I believe that as youth leaders we have a mandate to find the courage to speak about things that really matter to all young people, whether in the DA or not. Race, whether we like it or not, still matters. I do not believe for an instant that there is a member of the DA Youth who is not in some way tired of fact that everything that happens in this country, whether it is about our party or the greater political climate, always resorts back to race. Do not misunderstand me, some issues really do have a racial element in our country and need to be explored as such, but many do not and are constantly used to further cement already firmly drawn racial lines.
The choice for us as the youth leaders of the DA becomes simple. Do we continue to try and work in an environment which reduces our every effort to race and refuses to accept our nonracial message? Or do we, because we are unafraid and know full well that we espouse a future of one nation and one future, decide to be the first youth organization to lead the conversation on our terms?
People may have different interpretations of what a leader is but we cannot deny that true leaders have the ability, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable a subject may be, to be courageous enough to discuss it if it is something they feel affects the very people they lead. We have a responsibility to not only our youth voters but to all our peers. If we have a vision of a South Africa where people will ultimately be in an open, opportunity society for all we need to lead and make that vision a reality. We need to inspire young people and show them exactly what we mean by these ethos – a South Africa that wouldn’t tolerate intolerance – as is the main point of this poster.
If there is anything that this poster has brought to the attention of us all it is that we need to decide as young people; do we want our generation to continue to be unable to shake race as our defining narrative? I think that this is one of those questions which our generation was going to have to answer one way or another eventually.
No matter how uncomfortable this conversation may be for some we must fight to have it as young South Africans, we fight because we appreciate that young South Africans before us had no voice and we fight because we represent so many young South Africans that STILL have no voice.
This poster was intended to start that conversation. The conversation is about race, but more than that this poster speaks to the principle of tolerance. This image could be replaced, as you may have all already seen from the parodies, by numerous others that all speak to the same principle. I have seen two young men or women, I have seen one of a Muslim and a Jewish person embracing, one of a Tamil and Hindi person and numerous others. The point is that we live in a country full of people that have forgotten how to tolerate people that seemingly don’t see the world as they do. On the other spectrum, and this is evident from the parodies and people’s responses, we are living in a country full of people that already do tolerate others views. This is the voice we should be encouraging to speak, that we should be giving a platform, that we should be reassuring that it is ok to not want to confine yourself to a socially constructed box, that it is ok because there are many of us who don’t fit neatly in those boxes either, many of us right here in the DA. That is who we need to be getting to believe in OUR vision for SA.
Part of addressing the issue of intolerance is about bringing people’s prejudices to the fore. This is done not with the intention of being belligerent and attacking people but about maturely acknowledging that people have them and getting them to talk about it. We need to ask them why exactly it causes them so much discomfort? We must facilitate, and more importantly, lead this discussion.
People forget that this poster was intended for distribution on tertiary campuses. That it has created such a reaction among greater society perhaps speaks to the fact that this is still such a burning issue for all South Africans. The intention was to capture our target demographic with a daring and challenging poster and motivate them to go to our DASO stands were they would find out more about what we stand for and who we are. Our DASO leaflets containing the same image have on their reverse side everything that DASO has and continues to do for students.
It would be nice if all of the people causing an uproar about this poster felt as strongly about the fact that there are millions of unemployed young people or the struggle by students to access financial aid. Ironically the same morning the poster went out we released a statement on the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), a gravy train for ANC YL members that literally spends billions of rands meant to help young people on things like flying young Cuban totalitarians around the world. Last I checked there were fewer than 30 comments on this statement.
Let us not fall into the trap of forgetting what we were trying to do here and listening to people who saw something which may have ruffled their sensibilities a bit. As liberal democrats we must allow for everybody to have their say and have an opinion. We must also allow people the opportunity to state and argue as convincingly as they can their argument. They can have their lines and we must have ours and that is simply that. We will not feel ashamed or socially bullied by some people’s disapproval of a campaign that promotes what we believe in, which is tolerance. People may argue what they want, and we will defend that right just as we defend the rights of those who do not have to accept those arguments as valid or true. We will not defend people who try to make other people conform to their views by coercion. We will not defend people who try to force others to comply with their preferences when those preferences show intolerance, unkindness, lack of imagination, failure of sympathy, absence of understanding, ignorance of alternative interests and needs in the human experience and arrogance in believing theirs is the only acceptable way. We will not defend those who try to claim a monopoly on moral judgment and who try to decide on other’s behalf what is good for them.
Our party has withstood the misinterpretations of many campaigns and posters. Fight back, Stop Zuma and recently the supposed sexist poster of our election campaign. I dare say we have many more to still come. Never did WE in the party, despite such misinterpretations by people who see through their own prism of experience, waiver from believing that we were doing what we felt would ultimately be bringing about the South Africa we would all be proud to live in. This may be the first time for the DA Youth but I assure you that all the young people in this party have withstood far worse criticisms for being in the DA than being called supposedly ‘immoral’ or ‘nudists’.
Thank you for all the wonderful feedback and support that you have given the campaign thus far.
I remain as always a phone call away.
DA Youth Federal Chairperson