A dying ideal: Non-racialism and political parties in post-apartheid South Africa
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Non-racialism as a concept has a rich and contentious history in South African politics. For many it was a core feature of the struggle against apartheid, uniting a range of forces fighting for a society free from racial discrimination. Indeed it is a central tenet in South Africa’s Constitution, forming a core part of the ‘founding provisions’ of the country. However, there is widespread contestation over what the concept entails, both theoretically and in practical terms. This article examines the concept of non-racialism primarily through the lens of South Africa’s largest political opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), but relates its approach to that of the African National Congress (ANC). How has the DA conceptualised and instrumentalised the vision of non-racialism, historically and in post-apartheid South Africa? This article argues that neither the DA nor the ANC has been able to do so coherently. The idea of non-racialism is a fracture that deeply divides both parties; this division is also one that originated historically for both parties. The article concludes that there is a clear shift in how the DA envisaged non-racialism during apartheid and how the party instrumentalises the concept today, and that this change echoes, to some extent, the experiences of the ANC. Both parties now equate non-racialism to multiracialism, on the one hand, and a (interim) racialisation of politics on the other. This raises the question of whether non-racialism, as conceived by some in the early days of the Congress alliance, is a dying ideal.