Gwen Ngwenya: ‘Race is important, but doesn’t need to suck all the air out the room’
DAILY MAVERICK / 10 FEBRUARY 2020 - 11.22 / KARABO MAFOLO
The Democratic Alliance’s policy head, Gwen Ngwenya, has come under fire after releasing some of the contents of the party’s policy document a week ago before senior party members could see it. On Monday, 10 February 2020, Ngwenya told the Cape Town Press Club that it’s important to stand behind ideas even when they’re unpopular.
While the DA has flip-flopped in the recent past on its position on race quotas, particularly BEE, its policy head, Gwen Ngwenya, emphasised on Monday that a new draft policy that rejects quotas, is a “reaffirmation” of the party’s values.
The only difference would be that “the current policy was solidified before the  elections and it supported BEE. If this [draft] policy is adopted it wouldn’t support it,” Ngwenya told the Cape Town Press Club.
The draft policy document reads: “Individuals, when free to make their own decisions, will not be represented in any and every organisation, sector, or level of management according to a predetermined proportion. The DA, therefore, opposes race, gender and other quotas.”
Recognising that this may be a vexed aspect of the document, Ngwenya maintains that “leadership requires putting an offer before the people based on evidence and risking rejection, but there needs to be someone fighting for these values, especially when they’re unpopular”.
Ngwenya expressed frustration that she would have liked to have a “rich engagement with the media on the social market economy”.
“Instead, everyone wants to ask about race, which means we spend all our time discussing it. It is important, but it doesn’t need to suck all the air out of the room.”
The first draft policy document of the DA is about the values and principles of the party, which “are important because the way you govern cannot be divorced from your underlying values and principles,” said Ngwenya.
This first draft policy document highlights evidence-based decision-making, accountability, redress and non-racialism. The second draft policy, not yet released, will be on economic justice and the third will deal with local government priorities.
Ngwenya received internal flak for not widely distributing the draft policy within branch structures and among party leaders for comment before releasing it publicly.
In two months’ time, the DA heads to its policy conference to debate and vote on the party’s policies. A month later it will elect a new party leader.
Ngwenya said non-racialism and multiracialism were often used interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing.
“One is saying, either we live in a society where we can see colour, where we’re colour-conscious and live in harmony, that is a multiracial view. The other option [is where] we say that race doesn’t exist and that racial categories are illegitimate and that the future is one where we overcome the idea of race. The difference is in the approach.”
Although the draft policy document does not detail how the party intends to overcome the idea of race, Ngwenya said there would be more detailed policy documents for delegates at the policy conference.
As the policy head, Ngwenya emphasised that she would not be a voting delegate at the policy conference; her responsibility is simply to “put options before the party and then political members vote off that”.
Members of the public and party members can give their comments on the document via the party’s website.
Before working for the DA, Ngwenya was the chief operating officer for the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). She became the DA policy head in 2018 and resigned at the beginning of 2019, citing lack of support, a lack of experienced researchers and her belief that the party wasn’t “taking policy seriously”.
She remained an MP and returned to her position as policy head 10 months later. Ngwenya, who’s been critical of former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s leadership and a supporter of Helen Zille, was backed by Zille and the party’s interim leader, John Steenhuisen, to get her old job back.
While some may say she’s part of the “conservative faction”, Ngwenya dismisses this:
“It’s impossible to have differing political views in the same party because the media reports it as factionalism.”
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER