OPINION | Contesting ideas can keep a party relevant

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Facebook and Twitter are fantastically stupid but they are also fantastically powerful.
In just a few years they have persuaded Americans to believe Russians that they should elect Donald Trump, and convinced the UK to shoot off its own kneecaps and call it freedom. And this week they revealed a dramatic truth about the DA.
It started, as it so often does in the DA, with a couple of tweets by Helen Zille, urging the nation to shoot off not just its kneecaps but also its face. (For more, Google “tax revolt”.)
Many, presumably rich people with dual citizenship, were delighted by the plan.
Those who will have to continue living in the Thunderdome once the dust settles were less thrilled.
But few took as public a stand against Zille’s idea as the DA’s own Phumzile van Damme.
Taking to Twitter, she threw a gentle variety of what the children call shade at the Western Cape premier, asking Zille to provide more details of what Baldrick might have described as a cunning plan.
When Zille wrote in another tweet that she was “waiting for the virtue-signalling trolls to get going” – down, boy, it’s just a dog whistle – Van Damme seemed to feel the sting of a criticism aimed personally at her, replying: “I am not as you describe below. It would be insulting if you dismissed healthy debate & questions from your colleagues as thus ... No one is the oracle & has the monopoly on ideas in the DA I joined & am a member of.”
No lover of ampersands could remain unmoved by that reply.
In an age in which everyone uses + instead & on Twitter, I was willing to announce her winner by technical knockout.
But not everyone agreed.
And over the past few days a certain kind of DA voter has emerged on social media to wag a PW-esque finger at Van Damme.
In itself, this is not interesting or illuminating.
These days a woman can tweet “Hello”, and within minutes she will have men explaining to her that she is just plain wrong and wouldn’t be flaunting her hellos around like that if she’d read Ayn Rand like they’d told her to.
Rather, what stood out for me was why the little PWs were disgruntled.
It wasn’t because Van Damme had opposed a tax revolt. It was because she had broken ranks.
She had raised her eyes off the blue carpet and tweeted directly at Great Leader, halfway through the mandatory daily singalong of Everything Is Awesome! from The Lego Movie.
It was madness, they cried! Just four months before an election?
What the hell was Van Damme doing, airing grie-vances outside the correct party structures?
What was she thinking? Actually, what was she doing thinking at all?
Do you see what happens when women think? We lose the Raj and Africa, women start playing cricket, and then it’s just barbarians throwing babies off temple roofs.
You could tell that many of the people who took Van Damme to task thought they were protecting a strong, disciplined, liberal voice of reason from the forces of chaos.
Many love the DA and what they think it stands for.
They weren’t doing that. Instead, they were offering the party a far more important service: they were demonstrating how political organisations rot. They were giving us a live demonstration of how the DA becomes the ANC.
The ANC is a foul carcass because it believes that loyalty is more important than a contestation of ideas.
It is a party of corruption and failure because it prizes obedience by the collective and punishes individual opposition. It is a blight on this country because nobody breaks ranks.
If the DA wants to end up like that, then it should continue to be scandalised by Van Damme. But if it wants to be what it thinks it is, then for God’s sake let her tweet...

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